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.

5 thoughts on “Beyond the Hashtag

  1. Thank you Bishop Laurie for your voice and witness! And thank you for reminding us as United Methodist, our core beliefs, through our Social Principles, clearly name sexual harassment as wrong.

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