Sunday, December 17, 2017

The "Me too" Tsunami

This reflection has been forming for some time. A better description might be that like molten lava, it has been working its way toward the surface. It is prompted by Facebook posts, but news reports, by conversations with friends. What is the important subject that has awakened me in the night and has nagged at my consciousness for weeks? The “me-too” movement. It began with the sad revelations of a movie mogul whose “couch auditions” though well-known within the industry, remained unnamed and unspoken because of fear of retribution and the closing of doors to acting opportunities. From that first revelation, a virtual Tsunami of revelations has washed over our national consciousness. One doesn’t need to be a prophet to predict that this wave will not end soon. But let me get to my humble reflection.
First, I am both angered and saddened by the what women have endured and what has only recently come to light. As a man who has been a feminist for decades supporting the rights of women, I stand with those who have been abused and will continue to work for equity and justice. As a father of daughters, I want my children to not only be safe but to have unfettered access to opportunities free from harassment. I know this struggle will not be won overnight and I recommit my efforts to support women and all who are victimized and oppressed.
Second, and this is where my reflection may draw criticism. I have hesitated to share these thoughts as I have seen both men and women attacked as they seek to add some nuance to the conversation. I completely understand it may seem insensitive and disingenuous to say, for example, that not all situations are alike, that not all alleged perpetrators are evil, that there is a larger context that needs to be recognized. The Tsunami metaphor is perhaps instructive as it dramatically surges forward and washes away indiscriminately everything in its path. Rage, while certainly appropriate, sees only red. Ultimately, however, we need to see a full spectrum of colors.
Understand, please, when I tell a story from my own experience, that my recital in no way condones or minimizes the enormity of the issues before us. Many of my working years were as a pastor and a professor. My particular denomination has ordained women as pastors for many years. Despite these advances, challenges remain. We have offered training on boundaries and appropriate professional behavior for many years. Once again, despite these efforts, challenges remain. Back to the story. A friend and colleague’s leadership gifts were recognized over the years and he became a bishop and then became the leader of our bishops nationally. He was a true servant leader. And then an allegation of inappropriate behavior was lodged against him. A woman from a church he served decades before brought accusations. The policy of our denomination for many years has been to remove the accused from their position and to conduct an investigation. This friend, because of his national position and the potential negative publicity, was told to clean out his desk and leave. I don’t know if an investigation was conducted, but I do know that this was the end of his ministry career.
Here’s where I suspect I will get “slammed”… But I want to be honest and hope that my comments will be helpful in the dialogue about how solutions for these pressing issues might emerge.
While I agree with the policy of “removal and investigation” and its intent to protect “alleged victims” I have, as a male, felt that the pendulum of justice sometimes swings too far in one direction and becomes “guilty until proven innocent” or just “guilty”. Let me be perfectly clear. Women need to be heard and listened to. Their rights need to be fully protected under the law. Whether it’s the church or Congress or the entertainment industry, we need to put in place policies and procedures and protections for all parties. I am glad to hear that legislation is being developed in Congress to do just this. This important work needs to be done in all work settings and soon. But this alone will not address a deeper problem that I believe is at the core of these issues.
What is the issue? The “sexualization” or our culture. Another way of saying it, “Sex sells…” T.V. ads sell cars, alcohol, drugs, alcohol, clothes using alluring images of men and women. This may sound prudish, but we all know it’s sadly true. Just go to a jr. high school or even an elementary school and see what girls and boys wear. When I say this, I know I will be attacked, as “blaming women”. No, I am simply saying we have so “sexualized” our culture that children are being socialized to join the game.
Turn on your TV and see that sex has essentially become a recreational activity with few if any responsibilities. And in a society where winning and losing are glorified, it’s only a small step to sexual behavior becoming a game where men are programmed to be “conquerors” and women, well…
Here’s another example that has bugged me for years. You remember when the TV weatherman was a nerdy Bill Nye, the science guy, a figure who unraveled the mysteries of the daily forecast. While I am glad there are now weatherwomen, I grieve that they are often bedecked in clothes which flatter their figures more than the forecast. I suspect I will get blasted for that comment, but sex sells even storms.
If I were to summarize this missive it would be threefold:
1. Women need to be heard and justice needs to be done on their behalf.
2. Justice needs to not only retributive but ultimately restorative.
3. We need to have a deep societal conversation about the role of sex in healthy relationships.
Thanks for reading. I welcome your thoughts, feelings, and comments.

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