Are you on Twitter? If not, I get it, the not unjustified reputation of the site is one of toxicity largely unhindered by sane guardrails and one does certainly need to take precautions to protect one’s self from the more hostile trolls afield on Twitter. BUT it can also be a tool for great good, a fertile field for explosive social awareness change. Such is ongoing now with the “hashtag” #ChurchToo.
At first blush, this entry might seem to have little to do with the purpose of this site, but let’s see. For those who are unaware, #ChurchToo grew out of #MeToo which was the Twitter reaction to the ongoing flood of revelations about powerful men sexually harassing and assaulting women literally in all walks of life. The emerging reality, no surprise to women everywhere, is that if famous, highly placed women in entertainment, politics, and business were nevertheless routinely victimized how much more so were women with less power, visibility, and opportunity for recourse. These “ordinary” women who had suffered in silence for too long suddenly became extraordinary, telling their stories – often for the first time in public – about their own experiences with predatory behavior. In turn this movement has created cumbersome situations particularly in politics, where a noxious (on other grounds) GOP senate candidate looks likely to be elected anyway despite accusations (as was the sitting president) and Democrat members of Congress resist calls to step down in the wake of claims made about them. Many have observed that this is the potential kindling for a long overdue firestorm that will or, at least should, bring a reckoning to abusive men all across the continent.
The next wave could, and should, be #ChurchToo, as thousands of women pour out their tales being victimized by powerful men in the church and, in almost every case, when they tried to get justice the church protected the predator and re-victimized the woman, often a child, who complained. The problem is, while powerful men in entertainment and business are now seeking their actions investigated and, where valid, their careers summarily ended…while powerful men in politics are at least under fire and unable to hide from the fallout that pursues them…the power structure of the church, particularly the “evangelical” Traditionalist church remains strikingly silent.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s paid even a little attention to the toxic hateful habit of legalistic religious traditions towards LGB/T people that very often the same men who build their careers on telling you that your sexuality or gender identity is an abomination to God spend the rest of their time furiously denying and burying their own collective sexual misconduct. It goes without saying that people who publicly victimize powerless individuals within their midst would be given to privately victimizing women and girls as well.
The root of why these people resist acknowledging their culpability though, goes deeper. Traditionalist doctrines concerning the relationship between men and women do not serve as a moral authority to rebuke such behavior, they provide the foundation for it. One of the core doctrines of “Evangelical” and Fundamentalist and Charismatic beliefs is that God created women FOR men, and specifically designed them to SUBMIT to men. In recent years they have come to describe this as “complimentarianism” which is to say that males and females are so distinctly different that they only find their fulfillment in the role for which God designed them (which also serves as a pre-assumed catch-all rationalization for condemning trans and homosexual people) which is to say, for women, submitting to men.
Now, while I do not dismiss the reality that as a VERY general observation women might trend towards a gentler, more “soft” personality that might be viewed as given to submissivness, and males generally trend in the other direction – such an acknowledgment does not even a little bit justify men victimizing women and girls at will and justifying it by a twisted doctrine. But between bad doctrine and a base desire to hind scandal, the powers that be within local churches will almost always heap more abuse on the female victim, through things like accusing her of seduction, or condemning her manner of dress or speech, rather than expose the predator. He’s often off the hook with a profession of repentance.If you think I’m overstating this, read the #ChurchToo conversation on Twitter. Register for the site if need be.
When you feel the internalized guilt that any of us raised in the church environment feel, the self-hatred that these abusive men WANT you to feel, just remember from now on, their real character is being revealed hourly. They are not better, nobler, or more righteous than us. Quite the reverse. Don’t be quite, don’t accept the bullying, support and elevate the voices of victims. While the world is changing, change the church too. Maybe, as a bonus, their fetish for political power might be recognized for what it is along the way too. If it’s not too late for that.
Photo by Bill Showalter