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Naming Names

A colleague wrote on Facebook, wondering why women in the church have yet to join the wave of harassment and abuse allegations now crushing the establishment of entertainment and media like a tsunami. “Are we enslaved to fear, or just irrelevant?” she mused.

It was at the end of the longest day of these revelations in a while, and I know this colleague advocates for victims, and so I did not run with my first reaction–which was to break out the CAPS LOCK OF RIGHTEOUS ANGER about victim-blaming. I knew that wasn’t what she meant. I knew she was asking the question of the institution, not of me. But my reaction to her question was the same one I have of some many people asking a similar question, over and over:

“Why haven’t women been naming names until now?”

In that question, I hear the harmonies of men asking why women who are assaulted don’t come forward earlier, or don’t report assault to the police. They ask, “Why don’t you, as a victim, act in a way that relieves my discomfort in having this occur in my carefully-ordered world?”

Of course, as is repeated again and again, there’s no “perfect victim.” There’s no correct way to behave when you are traumatized. And our institutions are set up to protect the perpetrators in power, and not the victim. Sometimes that bias is subtle, and sometimes (looking at you, Congress) that bias is right smack in front of our faces.

That bias is also present in the narrative about naming names. That narrative is predicated on the assumption that previous to this moment in time, women did not talk about what happened to them, but when you think about that, it’s ludicrous. Women have been naming names for decades, and there is plentiful evidence of this once you start looking for it. Read more

Ask a YCW: Sexual Harassment Edition

Dear Askie,

I’ve been really shocked and saddened lately by so many of my female colleagues, friends, and parishioners posting #metoo online with their stories of sexual abuse and harassment. I knew such things happened, but I had no idea how widespread this problem really was. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this kind of behavior in Hollywood or Washington, D.C., but it’s deeply upsetting how many of these experiences seem to have happened in churches. We have trainings and policies to protect children and youth in the church, but it seems like so many of my younger female colleagues have experienced abuse both by other pastors and by parishioners. What can we do to protect them as well as female parishioners? As a middle-aged male pastor, what can I do to address this problem? I want to be an ally, but I don’t even know where to start.

Signed,
Overwhelmed by the Stories

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Me Too

silencing women

It started appearing on the Sunday afternoon in the week after the story about Harvey Weinstein broke. A simple Facebook post that caught me off guard and made me suddenly unable to breathe. It said:

Me, too.

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.  #MeToo  

Please copy/paste.

There wasn’t just one or two or three. I stopped counting at 10. Most of these were posted by colleagues and friends who are also pastors.

I did not copy and paste. I did not add my voice to the mix. I have shared my story in the safety of Young Clergy Women International groups and with close friends and colleagues. But to make it a status…well, that would change everything.

I’m looking for a job. Will this influence employers who may see it? Will my former Head of Staff (who, for the record, was not the perpetrator, and whom I never told) figure out which member had sexually harassed me on numerous occasions? Would those who worked with me at my former church know? Would members figure it out? What would my friends think? These and a million other questions swirled through my mind as I read and reread the words “me too” and my mind flashed back to those awful moments I, like too many women, have endured. Read more

Betrayal in Holy Week

In the Netherlands, the plant Judaspenning (coins of Judas) is so named as an allusion to the story of Judas Iscariot and the thirty pieces of silver he was paid to betray Jesus.

Spy Wednesday

This is “Spy Wednesday,” the day Judas betrayed Jesus. Orthodox Christians reserve Holy Wednesday for anointing and healing. I reserve it as a day for clergy self-care. What better way to anticipate bodily resurrection than with a Holy Week massage?

Today’s anointing, however, is actually a betrayal. The masseuse touches me inappropriately. As his hands move down my body, I freeze. Shouldn’t he know the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch?”

I struggle to say, “That’s too close for comfort.” Later, I berate myself for not being more forceful. But I’m in shock, with thirty years of “niceness” socialized into me.

He moves his hands. As soon as he leaves, my phone verifies that his actions are indeed illegal.

I feel more confident with clothes on, so before I leave I tell him that he crossed a line.

I’m not angry yet. I’m confused. I call my husband and best friend. I leave a message for the state board of investigations. I post in The Young Clergy Women Project facebook group: “…I feel an obligation to report, but I can’t help but feel awful about it. I worry that I’m going to cause this person to lose his livelihood.”

The clergywomen express their sorrow, their prayers, their anger, and their solidarity. They absolve me of guilt at reporting:

“It needs to be reported… A person who touches people in an illegal way should not be making his living as a massage therapist.”
“This is patriarchy and rape culture. He crossed the line.”
“He is the one who made this choice, he is the one doing the violating (not you in reporting it)…. I’m willing to guess you aren’t the first/last, as this could easily escalate. I hope you can let go of any guilt in reporting it. Prayers for you in this horrible, violating situation.”

Although I could have said these things to another woman, I can’t say them to myself. I need to hear them from my colleagues. Their clear articulation of appropriate boundaries helps me to sort through my own feelings. I am stunned at how my “niceness” translates into feeling sorry for the masseuse prior to being able to be truly angry with him. I imagine how awful it must be for folks who don’t have supportive communities with extensive sexual ethics and boundary trainings.

Maundy Thursday

I wake up early and can’t get back to sleep. “Stay with me. Pray with me,” Jesus says to the sleeping disciples. I suspect the perpetrator thought I was asleep when he touched me. But even assuming that he thought I was asleep, why would he do such a thing? I begin to find my anger. Read more