Gosh, I guess it’s been a couple of months since I saw the post from a fella who was down in Florida, reflecting on who he had seen helping – and not helping – with hurricane relief. In it, he said:
When I first read these words, I thought (among other things),
“Really? So those who are victims of sexual assault, those who identify with #metoo, aren’t Christians? They are automatically atheists?”
But then, my heart went out to the man whose hometown had clearly been hit by a devastating hurricane, and I found some grace.
The next day, however, the post appeared on my screen again. This time, I quickly saw that 6.8k people had reacted to his post and another 8.5k had shared it, and I struggled a little more with it– because the truth of the matter was that all 8.5k people weren’t reposting from ground zero of a natural disaster. In fact, some of the people sharing the post were my dear friends and, because I know their hearts, I know they did not realize the impact their endorsement of these words had on me, and perhaps on others in my shoes.
So I thought on this post for a couple of months. And while I thought on it, I read many other posts like it: posts mocking the #metoo movement, hashtags in the wake of the Kavanaugh situation making light of women and feminism, memes laughing at the idea that women would always be trustworthy. The thing that struck me a bit was that most of these comments and hashtags and memes flashed into my life courtesy of Christian friends. I marveled that, just a year after so many identified themselves as survivors of sexual abuse, the online embodiment of the church would be responding with such callousness to the issue.
Why, I wondered, would the body of Christ walk away from this?
Don’t they know that these are living, hurting people they are talking about?
And then I remembered something, something I learned several years earlier from the book of Job: men (or women) unafflicted tend to read consequence and blame into any great suffering (Job 12:5). As I turned this thought around in my head, I remembered that even very kind, very smart people can be experientially ignorant. And experientially ignorant people, when given a microphone, occasionally say very harmful things.
Unfortunately, I am not experientially ignorant in regard to #metoo, and unfortunately, many of your friends, your daughters, your loved ones, even your sons: they are not ignorant either. But they might be hurt, and they might be questioning the existence of God and whether he or the church loves them at all, and those things they are seeing on the Internet (those things that might feel strictly political in your mind) might be widening the chasm between them and their faith.
So let’s pause for a moment, let’s backtrack. Let’s take a closer look at #metoo, and see if there are some things we might want to consider before we dismiss it as a trend or give it over entirely to the domain of politics. Let’s consider whether we might embrace it as a church.
Are you still with me?
Good, then let’s venture back to 1994.
Remember those long, flowery dresses that teenage girls wore? Remember the Mary Janes? Remember church services where youth groups sang “Lord, You Are More Precious Than Silver” on repeat because there just weren’t that many well-known praise songs back then?
Good, now sit with me. I am 13, and you can be too. We are in adjoining seats at a Y-Club church retreat worship service. We are clutching our matching Precious Moments Bibles, the ones with our names embossed in gold. All day, we have played games and gone to classes, and just now, a worship service is wrapping up that has touched our hearts in the most profound of ways. In fact, we each think our heart might just explode with it all. We are singing about God’s love and we understand that HIS LOVE, this love, is what we have been looking for.
The speaker at the front of the assembly invites us to go on a trust walk, to experience Christ more intimately. I look at you and you look at me, and we understand that we will go because . . . of course we want more.
Once you have tasted the goodness of God, you always want more.
And so we gather with the small group of students after the assembly. Our teacher tightens the blindfold around my head, and then does the same to you. He places your hands on my shoulders, and my hands on the boy’s shoulders in front of me. We both smile expectantly.
But what happens next is not what we expect at all.
Our group stops to kneel and pray and when they get up, the teacher’s helping hand takes my arm and gently hoists me up. . .
But his hand doesn’t stop on my arm.
His hand doesn’t stop for the rest of the walk.
As our group silently parades through the dark recesses of the campground, as we pause for reflection, as the other leader reads scripture about faith and trust, I feel that hand, those fingers venture places they are not supposed to go.
Is it happening to you too? I have no way of knowing.
I begin to shake. My hand tightens vice-like on the shoulder of the boy in front of me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I am hyper-aware of the softness of my dress against my skin, the shuffling foot falls on the path, the smell of the teacher as he pads near.
At the same time, I am aware of nothing at all. Reality softens into make-believe, and already – I am not sure if any of this is actually happening. It seems like he continues to touch me but it is hard to know now how and where or even how many times. It is hard to even know how I know it is him . . . though I know that it is. I am suspended somewhere between a dream and real life. Nothing makes sense.
God, I hope it isn’t happening to you too.
The trust walk ends at a chapel. Someone takes off our blindfolds. Someone else puts a pamphlet in our hands. Together, we pledge with the group:
I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend to all – the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.
The words pour out of our earnest middle school mouths and wash over me like acid. “Pure,” “Brave,” “Strong,” “True,” . . . what did these words even mean? Not what they did 20 minutes before.
How about you?
Okay, take a deep breath, are you still with me?
Then welcome back. It is once again 2018, where much of that 1994 fashion is gracing the racks of Target. I saw an ad yesterday for expensive Mary Janes. I’m writing this in a bookstore, and I bet if I looked, I would still find Precious Moments Bibles somewhere on the shelves. I don’t know what is happening these days at Y-Club retreats, but I do know I read the paper this weekend and saw that at least 14 preschool boys were violated by a male volunteer in a Sunday School class in a church I almost visited with my own preschoolers this summer.
As a very wise man once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
And yet, something new has happened . . . at least something new during the days I have walked under the sun. When what happened to me in 1994 happened, it was a very taboo thing to talk about abuse. If there had been a #metoo back then, maybe the hypothetical you I wrote into my memory could have talked to me. Maybe we could have said #metoo to each other, and we would have known that it was the teacher who was wrong, not us. Maybe we could have joined others who said #metoo and some other girl (or, let’s be honest) girls, could have been spared a violation. Maybe when people in positions of authority were notified of the abuse, it would have been the little girls who got the benefit of the doubt over the teacher because it would have been understood that sexual abuse was more extensive than anyone dreamed. Maybe other little girls, when they heard a rumor, would not have inferred I was a *#$#.
Instead, I never knew if there was a you or not. I only knew that there was a me, a me who I believed was dirty, untrustworthy, and unworthy of God’s protection and love. These, of course, are very dangerous labels for a person to wear, labels that make a person psychologically ripe for all sorts of terrible things later in life.
You see, what can look very minor on the outside can result in a major rescripting on the inside. You don’t have to look far in any direction to see the truth in this statement. This rescripting happens the best in isolation, so the more victims are hushed, the more alone or away from systems of support they are shoved, the more cancerous the growth. And make no mistake – these lies can be deadly.
But then a movement like #metoo happens, and all of a sudden – through a simple hashtag – isolation is removed. Victims can look across the Internet and across the pew and across the parking lot and across the whole country and see that they are not alone. A light shines into the darkness and suddenly they can breathe a little. Suddenly they see that the lies they’ve been living can’t possibly be true for every person who identifies by that hashtag, and a door is opened to healing.
Do you see the opportunity?
Do you see that this may have been exactly what your church was praying for when you asked God to open the eyes of the lost or the hurt or the suffering?
Do you see that this thing you are writing off as political might just be a movement of the soul?
I want you to think back to that post, that post that over 8 thousand people shared. Please understand that every click that made that post populate on someone’s newsfeed was a message to someone that his or her story was still something to be ashamed of, still something outside of the arms of Christ. Who was it that felt that way? You will never know. That’s the kicker. You can’t take these sorts of posts back because you don’t know who it hurt.
So let me ask you again: If you are a member of the church, will you still continue to distinguish yourself from this movement? To walk away? To call it politics, politics that you clearly disagree with? Or will you reclaim it: will you find some way to communicate that those who are abused are welcome in your story, welcome to reclaim their story, and welcome at the table of Christ.
This world is surely a messy, branded place . . . and no sooner does something positive take hold, like a movement identifying and decrying abuse, than it is sullied by a false accusation here, or an overstatement there. This is reality, and I am not naïve.
But – you don’t get to be naive either. Although, yes, sometimes people lie for gain, more often people bleed silently. The evidence of this is all around. Our churches get smaller and our world gets darker and people are literally dying from hopelessness . . .
. . . and there is always a why.
So I’ll ask you again: church, where are you?
Are you distinguishing yourself from the hurting, or are you embracing them?
Are you walking past the wounded, or are you walking toward?
Please don’t miss this opportunity to love.
Postscript: If you have been hurt and identify with #metoo, I want to encourage you for a moment. The world can be ugly and people can be hurtful, but my experience has been that darkness is as light to God, and things that happen behind blindfolds or closed doors or behind the veil of alcohol or drugs or shame or power are never unseen by him. Hagar called him, “the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13) because, of course, he does see . . . right past evidence, right past circumstance, right past what was worn or was not worn, right past public opinion and right into the hearts of those who are suffering. And he does not abandon his children. Just as he found Hagar, he found me –with his wounded hands and wounded side leading the way. This sounds like a miracle but of course, it is not exceptional: it is simply his nature. There is no #metoo that we can whisper that he cannot whisper back, there is nothing unseen under the canopy of Heaven.
If you are reading this right now and you wonder where he was in a moment like this, HE WAS RIGHT THERE, with a breaking heart, breaking for you, breaking over all this evil, with a beautiful plan to overcome. A plan that includes you. God doesn’t stop at #metoo, God never stops. He is #totalvictory, and He offers that to you.
If you don’t know this deep in your heart, please reach out to me via my website or social media. It took me decades to get there, but it doesn’t have to take you that long. There is healing and restoration. It might require some work, but it is worth it. There is beauty and restoration on the other side.
Joel 2:25, 26-27: “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten . . .. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be put to shame. Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.”