Beyond the Hashtag

#MeToo. Have you seen it? All over social media, women have been using the hashtag #MeToo to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. #MeToo was started by Tarana Burke, a survivor of sexual violence, when she created Just Be Inc. more than a decade ago. In an interview with PBS News Hour on Nov. 15, Burke explained that Just Be Inc. is a nonprofit that provides resources and support to young women of color who have been victims of sexual trauma and harassment.

#MeToo. Even in 2017, women the world over are discounted, diminished, silenced, and treated as sexual objects by men. There are women everywhere, even in the city where I work, Des Moines, Iowa, who are victims of human trafficking, are forcibly controlled by their partners, and are struggling to raise children as single mothers.

Indeed, we still have work to do. I’ve been keeping track over the past several months, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep up! Anthony Weiner was sentenced to 21 months in prison for sexting with a fifteen-year-old teenager. Because of his uncontrollable habit of exchanging lewd pictures and texts with underage girls, Weiner lost his seat in Congress, the bid to resurrect his career as mayor of New York City, and his marriage.

Fox News CEO Roger Ailes resigned in July 2016 after Fox paid out more than $45 million in sexual harassment and discrimination charges over many years. Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox news in April because of sexual harassment claims, after which Fox Sports executive Jamie Horowitz was fired on July 3, apparently the result of a sexual harassment investigation.

Harvey Weinstein was fired in October from The Weinstein Company, the mini-major film company that he co-founded, after allegations came to light of rampant sexual misconduct over many years. The Motion Picture Academy expelled Weinstein and released this statement this, “We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.”

Anti-abortion activist and House Republican Tim Murphy from Pennsylvania was embroiled in scandal last month after reportedly encouraging a woman half his age with whom he was romantically involved to terminate a pregnancy. Murphy resigned on October 21.

This past summer, James Damore, a senior engineer at Google, circulated a memo, lamenting that Google was focused too much on diversity and that women do not have the skills to be engineers. Damore was fired, and Google admitted that they still have work to do.

Just last week, accusations that Senator Al Franken forcibly kissed and groped a radio newscaster on a USO Tour in 2006 brought a quick apology from Franken. The matter will be reviewed by the Senate Ethics Committee.

Even Iowa has not escaped notice. In late September, a $1.75 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by Kirsten Anderson, former Iowa Senate GOP Communications Director. Anderson filed the lawsuit after being fired in May 2013, just hours after she filed a complaint about a toxic work environment, which included a “boys’ club” culture, taunts, comments about the sex lives of co-workers, nude pictures on a computer, and off-color jokes.

In addition, this past May, Jane Meyer, former Iowa associate athletic director from 2001-2014, was awarded $1.43 million in a wrongful termination suit. Meyer claimed that she experienced discrimination because of her gender and sexual orientation and was retaliated against after going to the Iowa Board of Regents. All eight jurors in the Polk County courtroom sided with her. Even after the passage of Title IX in 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program that receives federal funding, there is still a significant lack of women in both administration and coaching at the college level.

The Council of Bishops recently spent several hours in ethics training, just as all United Methodist clergy are required to attend ethics/boundary training every four years. The bishops were reminded that sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault are rooted in misguided attitudes about power, authority, and gender. These statements come from our Social Principles in the 2016 Book of Discipline.

¶ 161 F) “Women and Men: We reject the erroneous notion that one gender is superior to another, that one gender must strive against another, and that members of one gender may receive love, power, and esteem only at the expense of another.”

¶161 J) “We believe human sexuality is God’s good gift. One abuse of this good gift is sexual harassment. We define sexual harassment as any unwanted sexual comment, advance, or demand, either verbal or physical, that is reasonably perceived by the recipient as demeaning, intimidating, or coercive… Sexual harassment interferes with the moral mission of the church.”

¶ 161 P) “Sexual assault is wrong… It does not matter where the person is, what the person is wearing, whether or not he or she is intoxicated, if he or she is flirtatious, what the victim’s gender, or any other circumstance.”

My heart has been heavy this fall as I have witnessed the viral effect of the #MeToo hashtag. The hashtag reminds me of the pervasive nature of sexual harassment and misconduct around the world, but I am also grateful that women are beginning to speak out. It’s time to for both women and men to move beyond the hashtag with a consistent Christian ethic to empower each other to say, “Enough is enough. Women are created in God’s image as equal partners with men, and we will no longer tolerate this kind of behavior.”

Like so many other women, I have experienced sexual harassment in my career more than once. I have also listened to the stories of and cried with many women whose lives have been deeply affected by sexual misconduct/harassment. It’s agonizing to decide how to address it, if at all. We can acquiesce, explain it away, or keep quiet… Or we can act.
I regret some of my own decisions to stay quiet. It’s easy for others to call us out, saying, “Why didn’t you speak out? It’s your fault for not saying anything!” It’s not that easy and clear cut, is it? Especially when there is an imbalance of power and speaking out may affect our job, our family, our safety, and our future.

The effects of sexual harassment or misconduct never leave us. My prayer is that when the very humanity of both girls and boys and women and men is betrayed and violated by an imbalance of power, we will find someone who will listen to us with a loving heart, and we will all make a commitment to advocate for one another in compassion and humility.
A few weeks ago, allegations were made that Roy Moore, who is running for the Senate in Alabama, made sexual advances toward a 14-year-old teenager when he was 32 years old. Other women have stepped forward with allegations as well. Moore’s Christian faith has played a central role in his election bid, and he has denied the allegations.

Ed Setzer, who is the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center and teaches at Wheaton College, published an article about Roy Moore that is on the Christianity Today website. Setzer quotes widely reported comments in the Washington Examiner from Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who defended Moore. He said, “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager, and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became the parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Setzer responded, “Bringing Mary and Joseph into a modern-day molestation accusation, where a 32-year-old prosecutor is accused of molesting a 15-year-old girl, is simultaneously ridiculous and blasphemous… Even those who followed ancient marriage customs, which we would not follow today, knew the difference between molesting and marriage.”

How critical it is to engage in deep listening to the stories of others without automatically dismissing them. God is calling you and me to be instruments of grace, peace, hope, and justice. Our voices must not remain silent, just as Mary’s song to God after the annunciation was a radical call for bringing the down powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich empty away.

I yearn for the day when every woman, man, girl, or boy is free to be the unique person God has created and called them to be, without fear of harassment or misconduct by someone in power. Remember that your clothes, your hair, your body shape, the color of your skin, your age, your accent, your country of origin, or your gender identity has nothing to do with the embracing of your life’s calling. In particular, Tarana Burke has helped me to become even more sensitized to the fact that white men victimizing white women is receiving a lot of publicity, but we don’t always hear about black women being victimized.

God loves you as the beloved child of God that you are. If you ever feel unsafe, if you need someone to hear your story, or if you have nowhere else to turn, may you have the courage to share your story with a close friend or relative or your pastor. We promise to listen to you. #Me Too.

A Way Forward

For the past five days, I have been meeting with the Council of Bishops (COB) at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. I cannot think of a more beautiful and serene setting for our work around a way forward for The United Methodist Church in regard to issues of human sexuality.

I am sending my blog several days early because of the timeliness of the theme.

With an interim report from the Commission on a Way Forward in hand and an overwhelming commitment to the unity and mission of the church, we explored three different models presented to us by the Commission. The Commission’s mandate is to help the Council of Bishops fulfill its charge to bring a recommendation to a special 2019 session of General Conference.

The Council of Bishops is deeply grateful to the Commission on a Way Forward for their sensitivity to the variety of deeply held views of faithful United Methodists around the world. Three models were presented to us, each one emerging from the mission of our church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

  • The first sketch of a model affirms the current Book of Discipline language and places a high value on accountability.
  • The second sketch of a model removes restrictive language and places a high value on contextualization. It also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  • The third sketch of a model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one Council of Bishops, while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization, and justice.

These sketches of models are intended to provide space for different views, an overarching unity of heart and mind, and an emphasis on the mission of the church. Each sketch represents values that are within the Council of Bishops and across the church and also includes a gracious way of exit for those who feel called to leave the denomination.

The moderators of the Commission on a Way Forward, Bishops Ken Carter, Sandra Steiner Ball, and David Yemba, noted that the values highlighted in any one model also live within the fabric of the other models. Values expressed by any one model are not exclusive to one or absent in another. The values that may be associated with the identity of any one model are there because it may be a value lifted to a higher level of preference or differentiation among the models. Bishop Steiner Ball encouraged the bishops, “Operate with a heart of peace and an openness. All three models grew out of mission, vision, and scope. Each one of these models connects to a story and experience that is represented in this body.”

The bishops began a process of prayerful discerning and offered substantial feedback to the Commission, but they did not take a vote on any of the three models presented in the interim report of the Commission on a Way Forward. The Commission will continue its work with guidance from the COB, both groups of which are open to learning, listening, and improvement. At the same time, the bishops have made it a priority to engage intently with clergy and laity in their annual conferences.

The Commission will process the feedback received from the bishops at the Lake

Junaluska meeting and will continue to welcome further input from clergy and laity around the United Methodist Connection through conversations and discussions with their respective bishops on the strengths and limitations of each model. The bishops received a handbook of basic resources, which will be available on the Commission on a Way Forward’s website as a PDF.

The members of the Council of Bishops have great hope for the future of The United Methodist Church and are united in the desire to lead our denomination through this challenging time. In this season of conversation, visioning, and discernment, we covet your prayers, ideas, and willingness to imagine who God is calling us to become as United Methodists in a rapidly changing world.

I have made it a priority to meet with the General and Jurisdictional Conference delegation and various other groups in the Iowa Annual Conference in the coming weeks and months. We will be engaged in teaching and discernment together. I will also be present in each of the eight districts in the spring to have conversation with both laity and clergy. Please watch for the schedule to be published. You are welcome to attend whatever time and location works best for you.

Unity is God’s gift to our world and to The United Methodist Church. God continually calls all disciples of Jesus Christ to pray, seek, and work for unity at all levels. During morning worship today, we read this scripture from John 17: 20-22, “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one.” At the end of worship, we sang this hymn.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

May it be so.

The Power of Difference Making

Adolfo Kaminsky saved as many as 14,000 Jewish lives in World War 2. How? Because of his commitment to the resistance movement in France… and his dry-cleaning expertise! On the Sunday, October 29 edition of 60 Minutes, the story of 92-year-old Kaminsky dispelled any discouragement I have been feeling about the state of our world and the power of each one of us to make a difference.

Kaminsky and his family were Argentinian Jews living in France during World War 2. Even though Argentina was neutral at the time, his family was sent to a concentration camp outside of Paris. Adolfo watched as thousands of Jews were herded onto trains and sent to Auschwitz. He said, “Every week, I saw a thousand people be deported. It was horriblesuffering…there was just a huge, unimaginable quantity of people murdered.”

Amazingly, Kaminsky’s family was released after three months, and his father decided the family would have a better chance of surviving if they split up and assumed false identities. When 18-year-old Adolfo was sent to pick up the new identifies, his eyes had already been opened to the horrifying reality of Nazism’s goal to exterminate the Jews, and the resistance leaders discovered Adolfo’s hidden gift.

Because of his dry-cleaning experience, the young Adolfo was able to help the French Resistance overcome their greatest challenge: how to erase permanent blue ink from official documents. If the Resistance could figure it out, forgers could modify the original documents of Jews as well as create new ones. The solution? The use of lactic acid from the dry-cleaning process. The ability to alter as well as create identity cards, passports, food ration cards, birth certificates, and marriage certificates enabled thousands of Jews to escape discovery. The forgery operation of which Kaminsky was largest in France, sometimes producing up to five hundred documents a week.

When CBS interviewer Anderson Cooper asked if he was afraid, Kaminsky responded, “Afraid of what? The risk was the same if you did nothing, so at least working in the Resistance, I could fight. I was fighting for humanity.” Discovering and using Adolfo’s gift unleashed the power of difference making.

Our theme for the 2016-2020 quadrennium in the Iowa Annual Conference is Creating Difference Makers. Difference makers are those who change the world by modeling the self-giving love of Jesus through their words and actions. Where do you see difference-makers in action?

  • Several women at Britt United Methodist Church started a clothing ministry in their church building this past summer. Grace Abounds receives donations for all ages from the church and community, including school sports gear and concert attire. A school counselor says that Grace Abounds is a great resource for students in need. Thank you, Britt UMC difference makers!
  • The confirmation class at Lisbon UMC held a bake sale in October for hurricane victims. They baked themselves and asked their adult mentors and others to help as well. The students made $669.72, which was sent to UMCOR. Thank you, Lisbon UMC difference makers!
  • Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon, Director of the Office of Pastoral Care and Counseling, and UMCOR Disaster Response Coordinator Pastor Catie Newman recently sponsored a Spiritual Care Training in listening skills, the grief process, and how people react emotionally in a disaster. The goal is that after a disaster, such as a tornado or flood, trained caregivers from Iowa can be sent to churches and communities to provide a caring and listening presence. Thank you, spiritual care difference makers!
  • Sioux City Grace UMC had been significantly behind in apportionments. Early this year, however, the congregation transitioned from paying nothing to keeping current on 2017 payments. They have also made a commitment to pay back apportionments from previous years. Thank you, Sioux City Grace difference makers!
  • Justice for our Neighbors has provided free, high quality immigration legal services, education, and advocacy at seven sites in Iowa for eighteen years. From January 1 through July 31, 2017, JFON Iowa handled 1,866 cases involving family reunification, escape violence, citizenship, work authorization, and advice and counsel. This includes individuals from 54 countries. Thank you, JFON attorneys, volunteers, and financial contributor difference makers!
  • The Communities of Faith L3 Team (Loving, Learning, Leading) is working to provide the best environment for every existing and new community of faith in the Iowa Annual Conference to be engaged in vital ministry in their communities. The COF Team participated in developing our new vision and mission statements and Wildly Important Goal of each church having a discipleship pathway by 2020, and in recommending that a new position of Director of New Faith Communities be created as a result of our Strategic Priorities. They are also tasked with fostering a Conference environment that is conducive to transforming communities into vital ministries in Iowa, providing tools for doing so, and aligning the structure of our Annual Conference for this outcome. Thank you, COF difference makers!

  • Since 1869, United Methodist Women have been serving women and children the world over. The UMW is currently actively advocating for the bi-partisan Reach Every Mother and Child Act (Reach Act) in Congress. The act would focus on partnerships with government and the private sector to end preventable maternal and child deaths by 2035. Thank you, UMW difference makers!

Was Adolfo Kaminsky a forger or a difference maker? Kaminsky and three others operated a secret lab right in the center of Paris, pretending they were artists in order to avoid drawing the attention of neighbors. He and his colleagues fought the Nazis with their sewing machines, which they used to create perforations in stamps. They fought by forging signatures and reproducing watermarks. They fought by assuming every day the risk of being discovered.

Their work, which mostly involved removing the word “Jew” from identity documents, had to be done precisely, quietly, and very quickly, and then the clients had to disappear. “Having ‘Jew’ stamped on anything meant you were in danger… The smallest error, and you sent someone to prison or death,” said Kaminsky. “If I couldn’t have saved so many people, I would not have survived myself. Most of my friends who were survivors committed suicide. So many people were treated like animals with no respect. It’s just really hard to bear.”

After Paris was liberated, Kaminsky, who was much admired by the French Secret Service, was asked to produce documents for French spies who were being parachuted behind enemy lines. After World War 2, he began to forge documents for people in other repressive countries who were fleeing for their lives, such as Venezuela, Portugal, Greece, and Spain.

At the end of the 60 Minutes segment, two elderly women whose lives had been saved by Adolfo Kaminsky were interviewed. They praised Kaminsky and the other forgers in France as difference makers, saying. “If it were not for them, we would have died.”

The power of difference making. I see it, hear about it, and experience it every single day. Do you? How is your church giving hope to others this week? How are you changing the world by the ways in which you love God and your neighbor? How will you teach the children to become difference makers and remind them that every person on this earth has the potential to teach kindness, spread joy, see the best in others, and model the grace of Jesus? The power of difference making.