#MeToo in the Church

By March 20, 2018

International (MNN) — When the #MeToo movement began, it quickly swept across the internet and continues today. Women are speaking out about sexual assault, harassment, and inequality they have faced, specifically in the workplace.

#MeToo as a Global Movement

TeachBeyond’s Wyndy Corbin Reuschling says the Harvey Weinstein victims who have spoken out have prompted women from other professions to begin speaking out as well.

“The behavior of bosses or any other kind of male superior and the ways in which that that not just impedes what they think of the terms of professional growth, but just kind of assaults so to speak on [women’s] very sense of well-being, identity, purpose,” Reuschling says.

“That issue has come out of the shadows, and into the light as a significant moral issue, related to the abuse of power, related I think certainly to how gender ideologies play themselves in, in terms of how men treat women, women respond. So, I think it was a cluster of ideas and a cluster of issues that are now bundled together in many ways as a protest that we will not and cannot continue like this.”

Twitter has confirmed that more than 1.7 million people from 85 countries have used the ‘Me Too’ hashtag.

(Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash)

The social media movement was also an encouragement to women around the world to hold strikes and protests on International Women’s Day on March 8.

The New York Times reported women in Spain started protests around midnight and around 120 more demonstrations in the nation occurred that same day. Women in Spain are paid about 13 percent less than men according to the Eurostat.

Women held demonstrations in Italy, England, Manila, China, and other countries as well, standing together in support of respect and gender equality.

Yet the problems aren’t just in secular society. They often affect the Church and Christian organizations as well.

Inequality in the Church

“I think the Church has had a long history, I think I want to say [of] ambivalence about the presence of women primarily in leadership positions where women are giving voice and are of presence,” Reuschling says.

In America, the rise of female pastors has been slow and continues to be. Christianity Today reports one out of every 11 Protestant pastors is a woman. This doesn’t seem like much, but that’s triple the number of female pastors from 25 years ago.

However, most female pastors today say they still receive more critical and judgmental comments about their leadership than men do.

Reuschling recalls working at a Church years ago when a male colleague, “perhaps as a joke, said, ‘Well, I know how we’ll solve the problem. We’ll just make the women here honorary men.’”

Reuschling says she remembered thinking about what he had said and how she wished she could become an honorary man of the Church.

“But on the other hand, I found myself thinking about the ways in which perhaps the difficulty in the Church or any kind of Christian context is that certainly, people are grappling with how to interpret Scripture. Some kind of narrow their focus to quote problem passages. But I also think that there are assumptions about men and women that work themselves out in Christian context that carry a level of a theological layer so to speak that I think both makes it more difficult to talk about this topic,” Reuschling says.

“My sense is we have deep theological commitments, we have deep commitments to Scripture that orient us in certain ways, but I think also, the inherited traditions of many of our Christian organizations, especially related to males as being most important, does tend to add to complexity that is kind of harder to poke at because, for us, then we’re kind of poking at deep theological convictions, aren’t we, that create a layer that other organizations may not have.”

(Photo courtesy of TeachBeyond via Facebook)

Reuschling says she believes male figures in the Church are well-intentioned and don’t intend to cause harm. But she also senses they would be baffled if women in the Church and Christian organizations spoke out about the inequality they have faced.

She expects if a #MeToo movement was started specifically for females who have worked in or are working in the Church, their professional experiences of inequality would be similar to those working in secular organizations.

Separation and Stereotypes in the Church

But unity – no matter the gender – is imperative in God’s Kingdom. He wants to use males and females as leaders working together to build the Body of Christ. In order to do this, Reuschling says the Church needs to build male and female relationships through prayer, breaking down segregation, and refusing to believe stereotypes.

She points out the Church often segregates men and women, which is not helping the growth of the Kingdom.

“Even in churches, men and women are separated by a lot of things,” she says. “I’m not opposed to those kinds of things of men’s Bible studies and women’s Bible studies, but it can sometimes be an echo chamber, can’t it? And somehow, as we pray together, and are in community together, and read Scripture together, perhaps we begin to see things through the eyes and the perspectives of others that we would not have experienced.”

Resushcling looks at Vice President Michael Pence’s commitment to never be alone with a female colleague.

“I don’t find that all that helpful,” she says.

“I know Christian women would say that that makes a certain assumption about them as somebody that cannot be trusted, and it certainly doesn’t say much about men who [can] be trusted as well in a friendship. So, I’m not so sure that’s a healthy practice. I think it continues to set up barriers for friendships and good collegial relationships and I’m not advocating ‘let’s be unwise’, but the starting point seems to me to be one of suspicion. And, I’m just not sure one can have a healthy relationship in the context of the Christian community if the assumption starts out with suspicion.”

Change for the Church

Ultimately, Reuschling says we need to recognize inequality as a problem. We need to stop focusing on stereotypes, believing men will act a certain way and women will act a certain way. And instead, we need to focus on who a person truly is.

“I think once we start to caricature each other and reduce an identity to something, we then treat that person according to that identity,” she says. “I don’t want to do that to my male brothers in Christ who are also complex persons, who also have wonderfully rich aspects of their personality.”

The starting point for Christian communities, Reuschling says is examining our practices, how we’re treating one another, and what assumptions we’re making about women in churches and seminaries.

One of the best ways to unify the Church is through prayer.

Pray together for God’s wisdom of leadership, equality, and healing of those who have been hurt in the Church and who have been hurt in secular society.

“I think that harm is in a variety of ways from not just discrimination, but the sexual assault that has come with this. And my sense is that victims carry a lot of the burden of having to work through issues of reconciliation and forgiveness and it seems to me that Scripture calls us to be on the side of those who’ve been harmed and who’ve been victimized, and so even beginning to give voice to those things in prayer would be, I think, important.”

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