Christmas Eve is one of the biggest days for churches. In our church alone we’ll see about three hundred people more than we usually do on a Sunday. Even though most of America’s traditions point otherwise, we celebrate Christmas because Jesus was born in Bethlehem to the virgin Mary. If you read Matthew 1:19-26 you’ll see one of the two passages in the entire Bible that talk about that virgin birth. I don’t know how many sermons I’ve heard on Joseph being a good guy for trying to dismiss her privately or secretly instead of public shame and disgrace, but there is a new hashtag on twitter called #ChurchToo that has completely changed the way I see this story now.
You might have heard of the #MeToo that came around a few weeks ago, and all of the Hollywood accusations going around, and closer to home we have Roy Moore’s accusations. They all involve sexual abuse, some have publicly apologized, some have flat out denied the accusations, but it’s been hard to watch. But then I came across #ChurchToo, and my heart broke. Here are a few excerpts:
This sentence plays in my head every single day. #ChurchToo
A teacher and an esteemed member of the baptist church in grew up in was caught with a student. 4th grade. Others came forward. The church protected him. My best friend was one of his victims. She committed suicide in High School. #ChurchToo
I was 13 and the pastor’s daughter. A prominent church member molested me, and I reported him to the church. The church covered it up, fired my father, and made the church member an elder. #ChurchToo
That and, questions like "what were you wearing?", "did you lead him on?", "are you sure it was rape- did he *actually* penetrate?" from my Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) leader #ChurchToo
A guy I met at my church’s junior high camp sent me sexually explicit emails about how he’d molested his sister’s friend while she was asleep. He was proud to finally be brave enough for his “confession.” I got in trouble for opening the emails. #ChurchToo
At a friend’s youth group, in response to a talk on purity and modesty, l went with tears in my eyes to a female volunteer. I shared that l had been raped and felt shame about not being pure. She responded by asking if l had repented of my role in what happened. #ChurchToo
I wish that these were the worst or the majority of the stories shared, but they aren’t even close. There are literally hundreds of stories shared, most of them without mentioning names or churches involved, and therefore having no ulterior motives for the person sharing. The fact that I feel the need to specify that these women who are finally sharing their experiences with churches and abuse don’t have a reason to make up these stories is sickening. This isn’t a witch hunt; this isn’t thousands of people from all over the world unifying to bring down the church with made up stories. This is people opening up about times the church, the people who claim to follow him, got it wrong and stopped being the bride of Christ.
Yes, the Bible talks about modesty. It also talks about cutting off body parts that cause you to sin (Matthew 5:29), being better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your next if you cause a little one to stumble (Luke 17:2), and killing the rapist and protecting the woman from shame (Deut. 22:25-27). And just for the record, the verses right before and after that last one do not say that a rapist gets to marry his victim and just pay off the father, it’s more along the lines of two consenting people having sex before marriage and having to stay committed to each other (Hebrew words don’t always translate nicely into English).
Some of the other misogynistic misinterpretations of the Bible have to deal with Eve being the sole reason sin entered the world (Adam ate the fruit right along with her and Romans 5:12 says it was when he sinned that sin entered the world, not when Eve sinned), wives submitting to their husbands (which is not the same thing as submitting to abuse) and women not being able to speak in church (some denominations still believe this means women can’t be pastors, even though there has long been solid exegesis to show that Paul didn’t mean all women for all time).
The church has a very real problem. We claim to believe “in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary”. One of our core beliefs is believing that a teenage girl didn’t have sex with her fiancé. We praise her fiancé for not wanting to shame her even though it had to be difficult. In our own modern lives, some have little hesitation in saying women are just liars when it comes to sexual assault. We take their pain and their bravery and twist it around to make them out to be the bad guy. And at our worst, we acknowledge that there is abuse but cover it up because they are a big tither (or whatever other reason we think makes it ok).
I don’t know what the solution is. I am much more thankful now for our church’s Safe Sanctuaries policy that tries to prevent abuse from happening. But a policy doesn’t solve everything. There are still dozens of other areas we need to address, but an awareness that a problem exists is the first step in doing something to bring about change. So read through some of the comments, weep with those that are hurting, and pray that we can start to do something about this.