By Pastor Erika Uthe
In the wake of yet another scandal surrounding sexual harassment and assault, a maelstrom has taken social media using the hashtag #metoo. It is a way in which individuals can self-identify being a victim of sexual harassment and/or assault – some do so along with story, others with the brave, courageous, and damning #metoo stark and lonely on the screen, and still (more) others who have not yet found voice, chosen not to give voice to, or are otherwise incapable of posting such a revelation for the world to see. What has made this social media movement so powerful is the sheer number of women and men who have posted #metoo.
Yet we are not helpless to the reality that, for too many, is a daily occurrence. As people of faith we are called to stand with and act on behalf of those who have no voice, to call out the evil of sexual violence, and to continue to reform culture – both within the church and in larger society. We would be remiss to turn a blind eye to the stained history and unfortunate reality of the church on matters of sexual abuse. Certainly, people of faith have been complicit in both abusing and silencing victims. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is not a denomination immune to the brokenness of sin and yet I am proud to be part of a church body that fully and unapologetically enacts a zero-tolerance policy on matters of sexual misconduct with all rostered ministers.
Having named the sin of perpetration and complicity we not only receive forgiveness, but we are also empowered to act. The cross of Christ demonstrates that a broken past does not always and certainly does not demand a broken future. Indeed on the cross, we experience God’s #metoo and know that all brokenness and evil are overcome and brought to new life. Victims, perpetrators, silencers, the church: all are brought to new life in Christ. Which is why we are called to act.
In a courageous act of participating in the #metoo campaign, Pastor Lee Schott, of Women at the Well congregation within the Mitchellville Correctional Facility posted the following on behalf of the women in prison:
…We’re sharing this here on behalf of the hundreds of women who can’t speak for themselves on this point. Among the 700-or-so women incarcerated at Mitchellville, Iowa, 90% are survivors of sexual assault and/or domestic violence.
That’s practically everyone.
Think of it – a string of hundreds of #metoo responses right here. Hundreds of friends and sisters,. Daughters. Moms. Grandmothers. Nieces. Neighbors. Precious children and amazing, strong, resilient women.
They are almost never isolated experiences. They reflect injuries repeated across years and decades. They become interrelated with addiction, mental illness, dislocation, instability, and poverty.
…Be overwhelmed. And know that many, many more voices are not being heard.
We can change this part of our culture, if we care enough. If we dare. This witness is part of the change, right here.
God is calling the church to be part of the change. Any witness to Jesus Christ hanging defenseless, wounded, victimized, and shamed on the cross can witness God’s #metoo. And any witness to Jesus Christ risen and living can witness healing and restored wholeness that comes from a death to all that is evil and broken and life to all that is holy and good.
But in order for true change to really happen, #metoo must only be a beginning. There are concrete actions that congregations and communities of faith can take, as suggested by the ELCA in a social message, Gender Based Violence:
Although specific actions will take shape differently among individuals, congregations, church leaders, social ministry organizations, and church related institutions or other agencies of this church, there are common aims.
- Recognize, name and root out the violence and its sources wherever it is happening.
- Ensure care and create safe communities that foster healing.
- Provide education.
- Create accountability.
Advocacy and action will take shape differently when directed toward a local organization, a local community, or the state or federal sphere. They will be different when sought by individual Christians as citizens than when sought through the ELCA’s various institutional efforts as a public church. Yet the common aim is to participate in robust advocacy and action that fosters safe and healthy communities. This church is encouraged to:
- Become allies with others.
- Seek improved laws and social patterns.
- Challenge organizations and agencies to adopt and use policies and practices that prevent and reduce gender-based violence.*
These actions matter. To all who have been impacted by sexual harassment and violence. To all who may be protected from such action in the future. To God, who stands in solidarity with the abused, the abuser, and the bystander.
We confess that God’s light and goodness are stronger than darkness and evil.** We confess that God, in Jesus, has the power to put to death all brokenness and bring to reality a world in which violence is not perpetrated against the vulnerable and no more do we hear the cries shouting, “#metoo.” And until that day comes, we work. Every action a prayer, every prayer an action: that those who come after may be spared and that those for whom it is too late may find peace and life in Christ, whose #metoo wraps up all others and raises them to life in him.
*A social message on Gender Based Violence. 2015, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
**A hymn based on text from An African Prayer Book, Desmond Tutu, 1995. Printed in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, p. 721. Augsburg: Minneapolis, MN.
Pastor Erika Uthe serves the Southeastern Iowa Synod on behalf of the whole ELCA as the Director for Evangelical Mission. She enjoys getting to meet with congregations to help develop mission and vision strategies for renewal, working with stewardship, racial justice, and multi-cultural ministries, and dreaming what God has in store next for the synod. Pastor Erika served most recently at St. John Lutheran in Ely, Iowa where she currently resides with her husband Russ, and daughters Francesca and Charlotte.