Category Archives: Theology

When Your Church Shames and Silences Others

Source: Belfast

If you watch and read the news you’ll notice that allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace and the church hasn’t died down. This is not a surprise. As long as there is continued and growing support for people who come forward with their experiences the issue won’t disappear from media outlets any time soon.

Whether or not allegations become known to the public, there are people who bravely come forward and share their stories and the experience of not being listened to, not being respected, and not being supported.

If you call yourself a Christian, I believe it is important to know that God does not support harassment of any kind. Don’t believe me? Then don’t take my word for it, take God’s word for it.

When people come forward, remember that you are not a public relations agent. It’s not a time to worry about the reputation of the accused or your church. As a church community and especially as members, it is important to support administrative processes within the church that take allegations seriously. It shouldn’t matter who you believe or whose side you are on; every church needs to have policies and procedures in place where the accused and the accuser are both listened to fairly, and people with a bias are not allowed to be part of the investigation.

When people have been harassed or assaulted, the last persons they want to have to meet with is a team of  board members, that may or may not consist entirely of men, and have to beg and plead to not only be believed, but listened to and taken seriously.

I’m disappointed when I encounter women who don’t think it is important for churches to have policies and procedures in place that prevent church staff from being in situations where harassment can occur in the first place.  We live in a society where words are meaningless, expectations must be placed in writing and made clear to everyone. It’s not enough to trust that someone is a “good” person or a “godly” man. 

It’s not enough to quietly transfer the troublesome staff member to another department or church, or pay hush money to the accuser (this prevents the victim from being able to share his or her story and allows the accused to not be held accountable).

Jesus cares about people who have been sexually harassed and bullied within a community that claims to be his followers. Jesus is a healer and he wants to see victims healed in his name. It’s important for us to boldly let the board members and elders at our places of worship know that as followers of Jesus we won’t accept the dismissive attitudes and actions of leaders and church attenders who don’t believe in the importance of holding harassers and bullies accountable to their victims and the church community.

Ask yourself these following questions:

Does my church have respectful and justice oriented polices and procedures in place that help to prevent sexual harassment and bullying? Are there policies that specifically address sexual harassment and bullying?

What is the process for making a complaint against a staff member?Does it protect the accuser from being slandered and shamed, are co-staff and witnesses protected from retaliation?

How does my church currently handle friction and controversy?

Are there any women elders or board members? Do they come from diverse backgrounds (age, class, income, educational background, etc.)?

Has my church ever paid anyone hush money? Was this recorded in the church finances, were church members informed of this decision?

These are just a few questions to ask yourself about how your church handles the serious topic of harassment.

The following are some articles that provide some important, but sad examples of what happens when churches support harassment by church staff members:

What He Thinks About What Happened At Willow Creek

John Ortberg and His Observations on the Topic

Vonda Dyer. Believe Her.

 

Oppression Olympics: Keep It Out of the Church

Oppression Olympics in its simplest definition is when marginalized groups or individuals try to one up another person or group who is also marginalized.

It can sound something like the following:

“I always vote. My grandparents were denied voting rights because they were Asian American; I don’t take the right to vote for granted.”

“Well my great grand parents had to live through the holocaust.”

“You think that’s bad, I’m Native American and we had our land stolen from us.”

“At least you’re a male, I’m female and we only represent…”

STOP!

oppression olympics quote

I was recently in a course on with a woman who was incredibly competitive with others in the classroom. Part of our assignment was to tell OUR OWN story. We were each assigned 20 minutes to share the story of our journey of faith and spiritual growth. We each respected the lived experience of our classmates except for one person who used the course to engage in oppression Olympics. Unfortunately for her, none of us were interested in competing. We all gladly gave her the Gold, Silver, and Bronze.

intersectionality-is-real.jpg

As Christians it’s important to remember that suffering, oppression, selfishness, and harm against people is a part of the sinful world in which we live. God is not a judge holding up the score cards with 1 -10, rating us on a scale of least to most oppressed. If we care about more than ourselves we will listen to the narratives of others. It is not possible to listen and compete at the same time. If you are listening you won’t be able to keep score, you will be too busy being present.

It can be draining when so many people and groups are all claiming to be the most oppressed and when there are so many people demanding this and that, some of which can be accommodated while others cannot. We easily become overwhelmed with those who are shouting the loudest trying to be heard by law makers; afraid by all the angry protesters who are letting the world know they won’t back down, or dizzy and cross eyed from reading all the handmade signs with witty phrases about various causes.

I wish that no one was marginalized or oppressed, but that is not possible. I am a woman who is both marginalized and oppressed in a variety of ways by the dominant culture where I live; but I am not the only one who has a story to tell and demands justice. I’m not interested in trying out for the oppression Olympics. I am only interested in ensuring that institutional laws and policies do not continue to discriminate and oppress people.

If people are willing to stop competing and instead listen to what others are sharing, we will be able to recognize the needs of other groups. Competition among humans is what leads to division. When we listen to others wholeheartedly we will replace competition with compassion.

God didn’t call us to compete, he called us to care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Horror of the Cross and Women’s Monthly Flow

In the city I live in, there is currently a shortage of free menstrual items for women and young girls who are homeless, low-income, or living in poverty. It has been so problematic that a woman and her friends took the initiative to start a donation campaign exclusively to collect pads and tampons.

Over a year ago I had asked a local church if we could do a women’s hygiene donation drive, the response of one of the women’s ministry leaders was that it had to be at one of the women’s events. This caught me off guard. Why did this important need have to be regulated to women’s ministry? What would happen if this need was advertised in the Sunday bulletin. Would it really make both men and women uncomfortable? Are periods only a woman’s issue?

I sometimes feel that that Church is only comfortable with blood if it is associated with Jesus being tortured on a cross. Not many seem to object to images of a bloody Jesus hanging from the cross despite the fact that he is no longer on the cross. Jesus defeated the cross, he is resurrected in heaven, free from the blood and gore caused by the Roman torture devise. Yet we can’t let go of that bloody image. In fact, we are so attached to the blood of Christ that we celebrate it and pretend to drink it during the Eucharist. I’m not saying we should not remember how gruesome the crucifixion was; that would be minimizing the amazingness of Christ’s sacrifice; what I’m getting at is our acceptance of a bloody Jesus and the rejection of a bloody woman.

Niddah is a Hebrew word used to describe a woman who is menstruating or a woman who hasn’t completed her ritual bath requirement. The literal word niddah means “removed” and is also used to mean “cast out”.

When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. Whoever touches anything upon which she sits shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening; whether it is the bed or anything upon which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. If any man lies with her, and her impurity falls on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.” Leviticus 15:19-24

If she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count seven days, and after that she shall be clean. On the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf before the Lord for her unclean discharge.” Leviticus 15:28-30

How nice of the priest to make an atonement for the SIN of a woman having a period. Something that she has no control over, something that is a healthy part of being a woman.

Christianity doesn’t have any purity laws, but when it comes to menstruation, we certainly act as if it is impure by not allowing it to be a topic that is openly discussed among both men and woman. We treat women and their periods as impure when we glorify the bloody stories of war, murder, and genocide found in the bible, but then shame anything that has to do with women who bleed.

If there are food banks, domestic violence safe houses, or shelters in your area; consider finding out if they need any menstrual products and donate proudly without shame or embarrassment. Let’s change the discourse about women and their periods from one of sin to that of being a gift from God. Sometimes periods don’t feel like a gift from God, but they are. Consider that without a proper menstrual cycle some women wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. Similar to the beauty of the cross, is the beauty of menstruation.

 

 

 

 

 

#Metoo and the Bible

bible women

Over the past couple of weeks, social media lit up with hashtags and comments by mostly women sharing that they too had been on the receiving end of sexual harassment.

It was no surprise to me that so many women had experienced sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can be emotionally, mentally, and spiritually draining. The harassment might be physical, but it affects a person’s sense of well-being; especially if they keep their experience to themselves. Imagine carrying shame, embarrassment, and sometimes confusion on your own; it eventually becomes a mental burden.

One would think the church would be a safe place to seek help and share experiences, but sometimes it’s not. The bible, the very book that is used by Christians as a guidebook for godly living, is filled with horrific stories of the physical abuse and oppression of women, sometimes at the hands of godly men. Hello King David, I’m talking about you!

In the Hebrew scriptures, the stories of revenge against rapists is more about protecting the family name and their female property rather than respecting the woman herself.

In Genesis 34 Dinah’s rape was avenged by her brothers who killed all the men of Shechem and pillaged the village of items including women. On the surface this might seem like a victorious story, but it’s not. The women who were captured certainly didn’t need to be taken by men as a revenge prize. The capture of these women are equally as appalling as the rape of Dinah. In both cases women were violated. These women were seen as nothing more than possessions to be had by any means without any thought about how they might feel.

The story of the Levite’s Concubine can be found in Judges 19-21. It is a repulsive story of a traveling husband who offers his wife to a group of strangers to be gang raped. After being assaulted all night she manages to make it to the doorstep where she likely died. In the morning her husband finds her unresponsive and places her on donkey. Once at home he dismembers her body into twelve pieces and sends her body to different territories of Israel. There was no mention of a memorial, funeral, or burial. All we are left with is another story of a man who is angry that his property has been violated is no longer of any use to him.

As a person who has read through the entire bible, I have no memory of any verses and stories about sexual harassment against women that would be inspiring to a victim.

The bible clearly tells us that God is our rock, our strength, our protector; but I certainly wouldn’t encourage women to turn to the bible for any heroes or heroines of assault.  A woman’s body belongs to her, not to her parents, nor her husband. Scripture will not inform you of this.

no means no

So… all this to say: When dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault, don’t look for inspiration in texts of terror (as feminist theologian Phyllis Trible would call them). Instead, seek out verses that strengthen you, ones that remind of God’s love for you, those verses that remind you that while God did not stop bad things from happening to you, he is still with you. You are still his beloved daughter, you are not damaged goods. His love, mercy, and grace will bring healing to your life and your body.