For the last week or so, my Facebook feed has offered testimony after testimony from women under the hashtag #metoo, sharing their experiences of unwanted sexual advances from men with positions of power in their lives — elite music camp “star teachers,” coaches, dissertation advisors, bosses, pastors — men of all kinds, sometimes drawing on even the slenderest forms of “leverage” to coerce women into doing what they wanted.
For the first couple of days, I was truly shocked.
Then I got embarrassed that I was so shocked.
In so many cases, the stories were not accounts of a single time, or a single creep.
They were matter-of-fact lists of men named only by role, encountered through the years and in many different places.
Part of the point is that the details of any given one scarcely matter, because in some sense, of course, they are all the same story, told over and over again by women of all backgrounds, and often multiple times within the life of even one woman.
The details don’t matter because we might be too easily tempted to use them as a way to parse these stories, to identify some sort of behavior in the teller, some sort of mixed signal, some part of the context that meant that it was “all an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
We’d like so much to think so.
There are mixed signals and unfortunate misunderstandings, to be sure.
We can always look for those if we so choose.
Or we can seek to learn from the vast experience of all those for whom these are not isolated incidents, but rather all-too-predictable patterns of living and working alongside men.
Maybe an isolated story has the power to shock us.
But a fact of life that stands in plain view, testified to by countless family members, friends and coworkers, can only reveal how willful our blindness and astonishment truly are.
That should embarrass us — and challenge us, too.
The Church at its best has always been grounded in the understanding that all people are created in the image of God, and are precious to God.
That means they are never to be seen as objects for someone’s particular use or purposes, or as the means to an end. All are worthy in themselves, and always to be seen in light of the fact that God did not consider Creation complete without each of us — and not for some to serve as “helpmeets” for others, but for all to serve together as coworkers in the vineyard.
This is never to be taken lightly. Particularly by those in a position to give particular help or hindrance, to do good or harm, to enact justice or injustice for others, or to act on behalf of neighbor or of self.
Sin should not shock us. But it must motivate us.
Jesus believed there was joy to be found in working together in service to the Kingdom.
May we work for a day when it is the stories of such joy that speak of our common lot, and not the heartbreak and shame of bearing someone else’s inhumanity.
See you in church,