#MeToo – a Christian response

Recently actress Florence Masebe has added her name to the #MeToo campaign[1].  This movement keeps on growing, as it should, until the voices of these women are clearly heard and society responds appropriately.  For those who are not familiar: the #MeToo campaign is an international movement against sexual harassment and assault of women.  #MeToo spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.[2]  Women who previously felt they had no voice or platform are finding the strength and courage to stand against the scourge of sexism, misogyny, harassment, and abuse that they have endured.

The common thread in the stories of these women is that men have misused their position and power. These power abuses included unwanted advances, trading sexual willingness for favour from ‘the boss’, and an expectation that it is acceptable for a man to act in this way.  The prominent men implicated include Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Aziz Ansari and Roland van Hauwermeiren.  But there are also many unnamed men who have perpetrated injustices just as bad.

You would expect that this would not happen in the Christian context but where people have power, abuse of this power is always a risk.  This was brought home to me when I read about two unrelated incidents/accounts regarding two respected Christian leaders: Beth Moore and Bill Hybels.

Value women

Women are made in the image of God, co-creators with men (and God) of culture and life on earth.  Women and men are equal in capacity, dignity, and value (irrespective of your position on role distinction in marriage and church).  In too many ways we (both men and women) have been conditioned by society to think of women as the lesser of the two.  This is plainly evident when you look at the history of voting, access to education, value of the first-born child, remuneration at work, or access to employment.

It is also evident when you look at the way many men have used their physical strength to exert power, both sexually and physically, against women. Though some women are larger and more muscular than certain men, this is by far the exception. Looking at statistics, how can it be that:

  • “on average, one in five South African women older than 18 has experienced physical violence”[3]
  • “Four women are murdered every day, three by their partners or ex-partners.”[4]
  • “Police crime statistics in… 2014/2015 [indicated] a total of 53 617 sexual offences [were] reported to the South African Police Services (SAPS). This translates into 147 cases per day. The difficulty with using statistics released by the SAPS is that many incidents of rape go unreported.”[5] (emphasis added)

And this is to say nothing about verbal abuse and other forms of discrimination.  How is it that these statistics have become so normalised in our society that we accept this as tolerable behaviour from men to women?

A Christian response

We need to stand up for the inherent equality of men and women based on the image of God in all human beings.  If we truly understand the value that God places on women we would reject and confront the ‘acceptable attitudes’ of our contemporary culture.  The attitude and actions of Jesus Christ with the women he met in his ministry demonstrates this clearly.

In Zechariah 7:9-10a we have the “quartet of the vulnerable”[6] in society: the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner, the poor.  Deuteronomy 10:18 says God defends, loves and cares for the vulnerable of society.  Christ-like living and the Holy Spirit in us should be compelling us to act in similar ways to God: defend, hear the cry, love and care for!

The question we need to ask ourselves is: who are the 21st century equivalents of the quartet of the vulnerable.  My answer certainly (and most unfortunately) includes women.  We are to stand with and stand up for the broken, the marginalised, and the victims of abuse and harassment.  “We are called to stand with every woman who has had her life turned upside down by the hands of another.”[7]

We also need to listen.  As men we need to overcome our default response; “how could that be true?” or “she was asking for it”, or “I would never do that”.  We need to really listen.  There is no room for defensive and insecure responses.  If a woman is brave enough to expose a wrong, the very (absolute and abysmal) least we can do is listen!

It is important to clarify that I am not writing this because someone from our community at ECCC has brought any such abuse to my attention. However, as someone who seeks justice for all, I would like to assure the women of our church that should they need to be heard, there stories will be received and they will be listened to. Also, this is a call to all of us, particularly those of us who have power, and in this instance, it is the good men amongst us, to stand with us against any injustice.

[1] http://ewn.co.za/2018/04/23/listen-florence-masebe-time-to-talk-about-sa-s-metoo-campaign

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement

[3] https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2017-05-15-statistics-sa-one-in-five-sa-women-experience-physical-violence-young-women-hard-hit-by-hivaids/#.WwP-4UiFOHs

[4] https://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2017/08/31/the-horrific-reality-of-south-africas-rape-problem-will-shock-you_a_23192126/

[5] https://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/

[6] Term coined by Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book Justice

[7] https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/january/simone-biles-metoo.html

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