#MeToo is a social media movement that cuts a small but significant hole in the dark façade of silence. Most social media protests fade like the news of the day as the next wave of hurricanes, shootings, and revelations crash on our shores. It is too easy to find fault with movements that merely ask for a click of a button to join. There is not much flesh in the game, but in this case, there is a massive amount of flesh in the game when we talk about the reality of sexual abuse.
“Me too” is not merely joining a sisterhood of survivors; it is outing oneself. It is the first step of not merely breaking the silence; it is finding words to name, “I was sexually abused.” Many of those speaking of their experiences of being sexually harmed rightfully call the experience ‘sexual harassment.’ It is. But words matter. Naming sexual harassment or even sexual violation is not enough. Our culture must come to name that sexual abuse — overt and criminal and subtle and socially ignored — is not a sad reality that an unfortunate few suffer but a common cultural experience that is as inevitable as the flu.
It is easy to dismiss my words. The nature of my work in sexual abuse creates an inevitable bias that slants me to see what others choose to ignore, but I can also see shapes when there are only shadows. No one can escape the interplay of bias and blindness. But the tragic and heartbreaking benefit of Harvey Weinstein is that the shadow has taken on form. The suspicion has been verified, and the rumors have faces willing to stand directly against the bully, the sexual perpetrator who has used power, influence, and cold hard cash to inflict his sexuality on a whole industry.
There is no industry, community, or setting where perpetrators are absent. The one I am most concerned about in this writing is the church. The extent of sexual violation in the church is not less; it is only subtler. The numbers of stories I have heard from women related to men’s unsolicited touch, wandering eyes, demeaning comments is legion. When a woman attempts to address the double-entendre, or inappropriate look, touch, or innuendo, she is labelled as a prude, a man-hater, or a witch. Perhaps the most excruciating accusation (in some conservative circles) is “you’re a feminist.”
What the Weinstein debacle should scream is that sexual abuse is still ascendant even in one of the densest enclaves of feminism. And there is the problem. Already I heard from a Christian friend, “The liberal media are willing to jump on the conservatives who offend women, but it took forever for the socially-sensitive left-wingers to out the pervert among them.” I didn’t differ with him. The enlightened left refuses to believe Woody Allen’s accuser or do little more than squirm that he married his step-daughter. The rape of a 13-year old by Roman Polanski is a minor flaw in comparison to his genius as a filmmaker.
Even if my friend’s remarks are true, it is a swerve from addressing the harm in our community. We so often look to highlight the hypocrisy in others to keep the light from exposing us. What does it mean as a Christian to say, “Me too”?
First, there is no place for pride or presumption that the church is free from perpetrators. The church, as one predatory narcissist told me, has the lowest hanging fruit. People are nice. People are told that love believes all things and refuses to hold a grudge. Women historically were not given a voice and are told to submit to men, starting with their husbands. The church is ripe for condescension and patronization at best, and worst, a hunting ground for vulnerable children and women and men to be under the sexual oppression of powerful men.
Second, if we can’t name and address sexual abuse in our past or the past of our spouse or friends, then we are certainly not going to address it in the present. It is a simple assumption: What you fail to face in the past will blind you to the future. It is simply not honorable to tell someone who has been abused: “You just need to take that to Jesus” or “The past is the past and you need to let that go, forgive, and stop being a victim.” These are sentences a conferee told me her pastor said to her two weeks ago.
How is such wicked theology allowed in our day? If he had told her she needed to believe the earth is flat and if she doesn’t believe in a young-earth theory of creation she is going to hell, someone (I hope) would shout: “Hell, no.” But we endure leaders who offer not even crumbs to victims of abuse, but instead give poisonous fruit as an antidote for their heartache. There needs to be a deep, systemic acknowledgement that the kingdom of darkness loves sexual abuse. It perpetuates it not only through an individual perpetrator but enhances it through systemic denial — defending the perpetrator and re-abusing the victim.
Finally, like all areas of heartache and sin, we have to name not only where we have been harmed, but also where we have harmed. As I laud the women who have exposed Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reily, Donald Trump, and Harvey Weinstein, et al, I also have to address my own sexual culpability. Have I misused, shamed, and pressured women for my sexual gain? Yes. Heartbreaking, yes. To defend myself by saying I have never perpetrated harm like Harvey Weinstein is to strain out a gnat and swallow the camel. I don’t need to compare myself to anyone above or below; I simply need to stand before Jesus as my comparison.
I have been abused. Me too. I have harmed and used. Me too. May all our conversations call our hearts to say, “Me too.”
Dr. Dan Allender, co-founder of The Allender Center and founding president of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, has pioneered a unique and innovative approach to trauma and abuse therapy over the past 30 years.