Not far from my church in Prince William County, allegations continue to be delayed in the charges pressed against Jordan David Baird, the son of a well-known mega church pastor at the Life Church in Manassas. After five young women have named Baird’s taking indecent liberties with them while serving in a youth ministry capacity, the church continues to remain ambivalent and ignorant that anything has or is taking place.
We might refuse to believe it, but it’s there. It’s present in every awkward conversation, every uncomfortable meeting, every offhand comment in small group, and even in some sermons. In the context of the recent #MeToo movement that struck many chords with women acting to name and call out the many stories of trauma, harassment, assault, and abuse they had experienced, another has slowly begun to emerge in the last several days. #ChurchToo. And this hashtag alone has brought out stories not limited to using scriptures discussing “submission” as a solution to an abusive marriage and a call to repentance for a youth who had voiced her experience of rape (https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/11/22/16690384/churchtoo-abuse-survivors-harassment-religious-communities).
The #ChurchToo movement I think does two things: For one, it points out our inherent numbness to an acceptance that no public space is removed of varying degrees of sexual harm. The sad reality (and equally stale proclamation) that the Church has prided itself as a place of refuge has now become one of the many thorns in the institution’s side. A church that thought it was living past the days of priestly scandals among other newsworthy events is swimming in a formless void in need of God’s creative redemption. You may find yourself in a church where some might laugh when insensitive comments are made or patriarchal remarks come up in conversation, but who is the Church to allow these norms to fester rather than to stifle them? And not just in the context of the congregation, but also in the clergy world, where pastors speak up about comments made about the clothing we wear, our body image, the disproportionate criticisms made toward clergy women, patronizing comments addressed at young clergy, only to be told to move on. Don’t let it get to you. Or my personal favorite, “Why are you still angry about that?” The cries of the people fall on deaf ears because of a variety of factors. In some cases, the local church doesn’t address these concerns enough or at all. In others, it doesn’t want to exaggerate a surface-level brokenness. And in others, the local church is in it for itself and its own survival, fearing engaging in any form of situation that will widely mark it as broken. #ChurchToo
Second, the amount of churches that have catered to the privilege and prestige of a religious leader or particular family of power is astounding. Oh, let’s just band aid it with forgiveness and move on. Forgiveness is not means of rationalizing another’s behavior. We can forgive regardless of what that timeline may look like, but the wound is never completely sutured. And while I am not suggesting that a hashtag is the prophetic agent that will resolve the rampant trauma that seeps through the cracks of our sanctuary walls, I do believe it signifies a need to rethink how we understand the incarnation. God incarnate, in the person and ministry of Jesus, opens a path of mercy and redemption. And we cannot just limit this understanding to his teaching, but from the very moment in a stable where a reliable and gentle call, “Do not fear,”shattered any trepidation that Mary, Joseph, or the shepherds may have had. Some of the most significant words we can ponder in this time of great disappointment, anger, and trauma are Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
For many, myself included, this idyllic picture of refuge Jesus shares is something we are still trying to ensure and protect. And for those who are already making positive strides, lead us in that difficult work. And as the multilayered tapestry of the Body of Christ, called to be a Church that reflects Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, may we hear with sincerity these witnesses crying out from the pews and remain committed to re-fostering an ever-fading refuge.