#metoo has stirred a variety of reactions. Annoyance, eye roll, compassion, questions, anger. In the most common responses, disbelief was rarely among them. That in itself speaks volumes. What became eye opening was the sheer number of people in my newsfeed, in the public eye, and across the world, that broke the silence, some for the first time, about sexual and relational abuse happening in their lives. What should have been shocking, however, was how few of these people in my life had revealed to me what happened, until I asked.
What’s more is how many women, and people in general, feel unsafe to share their experience. This truth has been highlighted with the recent senate hearing and the new hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. Many stories included sharing their story and not being believed or told not to tell anyone.
Society has an unspoken rule, leave the past in the past. Save that for your counselor’s office. We can connect, as long as it’s over smiles and with laughs. The lack of conversation happening around the hardness of life leaves people feeling alone, unsafe, and judged. It creates a cage giving simultaneous safety and death. Safety from judgments, from not being believed, from being silenced. Death because locking these things inside of us, not bringing them to the light, is like a poison. It will slowly bring death relationally, spiritually, and physically.
So what’s our part? As the church, what can we do? How are we to respond to something so offensive yet so common that the body created its own hashtag, #churchtoo, to point to the sexual, relational and spiritual abuse that happens within our walls?
First, own it. Look around, take a step back, invite others in to take an objective look at your church, your ministry, your realm of influence. A mentor of mine suggests we ask the question, “What is it like to be on the receiving end of me/my ministry?” Give yourself, and the people around you, the gift of honesty. Honest evaluation, and honest ownership.
Maybe you didn’t know, maybe it wasn’t intentional, and that is exactly part of the problem. What would it look like for you to bring intentionality around the felt-safety of those around you? What tangible changes could be made that the people around you would feel seen, and feel safe enough to speak? What would it look like if the people around you felt heard?
It will look differently for every person, every ministry, every church, but it will feel the same. It will feel like love. Costly, messy, scary love. Just the way Jesus does it.
Some practical questions to ask moving forward:
How present are women in your church? Are there women on stage, giving announcements, leading worship, at the welcome table?
How present are men in your church? Are they serving in childcare, youth group or other traditionally female-driven ministries?
How many different kinds of voices do you have helping direct your ministry? If you are surrounded by white males, you have a problem, or at the very least a blind spot. There is, generally speaking, only one kind of voice represented, one kind of life experience.
How fear driven is your decision making? Are you scared of ruffling feathers, of people leaving, or people no longer donating? Ask yourself what would stop you from making changes to your ministry, and compare your answer to the way Jesus led his ministry. Remember, God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control. Is the way you lead your ministry in line with this? If not, what is God calling you to? At the very least, some serious self-evaluation. Maybe some radical, uncomfortable changes.
This is not a one size fits all problem, and there is no one size fits all solution. There is a one size fits all God who speaks through the Bible, and those around you. He is speaking to you about this. Will you join him?
Melissa is a women’s ministry leader in and outside of the church. She is currently employed by the Institute for Christian Psychology. She lives in Louisville with her husband and four children.