“Who, me?” “Not me! I would never do such a thing.”

For those who come across this piece in some distant future, it would be helpful to state what’s happening in the U.S.A. at this moment, November/December 2017.  An outbreak of accusations against well-known men by women who accuse them of sexual offenses (harassments, manipulation, pressure, molestation, and such) is a daily occurrence.  Prominent men are resigning their positions or being fired by their boards.  No one thinks we’ve seen the worst of it, but everyone expects this to be the leading edge. 

A woman friend tells me she’d love to see a movement of men stepping up to say, “Me, too,” in some kind of admission that they are partly at fault for the climate of sexual harassment in our culture.  “Either they have done the things we’re talking about–the sexual innuendos, the flirtatiousness, the manipulation–or they have been complicit by their silence,” she says.

I’m still thinking about that one.

It’s a minefield walking out in front of the world to say, “I’m to blame.”  Particularly if you feel you aren’t.

And that’s what prompted what follows.

When a pastor tries to drop something sane and healthful into that bubbling cauldron, he runs the risk of offending one group or the other, of misspeaking (choosing the wrong words and opening himself up to the wrong interpretation), of being accused of self-righteousness, of failing the women or condemning the men.

One sentence can do all that?  Of course.  Words are powerful.

We should choose our words carefully.

But, let us take my friend’s suggestion to heart and give it a try anyway.

Me, too? Maybe so.

I’ve done plenty of wrong in my life.  But sexually harassing or mistreating a co-worker is not one of my sins.  As far as I know.

Get that?  “As far as I know.”  To the best of my knowledge.

The problem, of course, is one can have a faulty memory.

Put yourself out there as some paragon of virtue and women who have known you over the years may step forward and say, “Hold on, mister.  I remember a time….”

And so, the man holds his peace.

I’m not the judge of my own righteousness.  Even if I acquit myself and declare myself to be the most righteous person I know, that may prove nothing but my own myopia.

I don’t see my sins quite as sharp and distinct as you can. My sins appear as tiny specks, yours overshadow the landscape like sequoias.

I see through the lens of my own thoughts, experiences, upbringing, convictions, treatment, teachings, prayers, and a thousand other influences.  Such vision is not going to be 20/20.

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never crossed that imaginary boundary in my dealings with anyone who worked in our church offices over the decades.

I have not sinned in this way.  (I wipe the sweat from my brow and think, “Finally!  A sin I haven’t committed!”)

As I’ve reflected on the churches I’ve served–from Kimberly, Alabama’s Unity Baptist, on to Paradis, Louisiana’s Paradis Baptist, then to Greenville, Mississippi’s Emmanuel Baptist, and from there to FBC Jackson, MS where I was a staff member for three years, to FBC Columbus, MS which I pastored nearly 13 years, to FBC Charlotte NC for over 3 years, and finally to FBC Kenner, LA for nearly 14 years–I’ve thought of all the women who worked in our offices over those years.  And not one time do I recall ever doing anything that was not Christ-honoring.

And yet…

That doesn’t mean I didn’t.

I am not the ultimate judge.  In fact, I’m not even the earthly authority on that subject.

Ask the women who were there.  Ask Frances Williamson and Marrie Porter and Elsie Word, ask Dottee Owen, Martha Phelps, and Beth Smith.  Ask Shirley Bullard and Marjorie Gingles, Denise Ditmer, Peggy Moran, and Janie Moskau.  Ask Evelyn Gehrman and Meredith Johnson. Gail Smith, Faye Wright, Susan Ash, Jamie Whitehorn.

They were there, and they may remember something my mind has blotted out.

The Apostle Paul said, “It is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court.  In fact, I do not even examine myself.  For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”  (I Corinthians 4:3-4).

I’m not the best judge of me.

So, it’s possible I did.

If you ask me if I committed a certain sin, don’t be surprised if I answer with a resounding “No.”  If I did the sin, I would probably be capable of lying about it also.  And if I did not commit the sin, I would also deny it.  So, either way, my word does not carry weight.

That’s the reason I tell people never to ask the question, “Have you ever committed adultery?”  Those who would do it are capable of lying, so whether they did or did not commit adultery, the answer is almost always going to be, “No.”

As for sexual harassment, all men are guilty in one way or the other, says my friend.

She explains, “Even if they did not violate the standards of faithfulness in dealing with women in their workplace, most have stood by silently when others did.  And that makes them guilty, too.”

Guilty of some things, to be sure.  I do not dispute this.  But I’m not ready to say all men have done this.

In churches I served, I would not have condoned misbehavior by any man.  But I recall an instance in the first office I worked in, following college.  This was not a church, thankfully. Carolyn was the only female in the production office of a cast iron pipe plant.  She kept the inventory and always knew what we had in stock.  That was her job.  My boss, the production manager, was also her boss.  Workers from the shipyards and foundry were constantly in and out of the office.  Carolyn was prim and proper and always professional; in no way flaunting herself or engaging in banter.  And yet, I still recall some of the sexual innuendos she had to endure.  Nothing harsh or offensive even by 1960 standards, but still out of line.  And being the junior member of the office staff (I was secretary to the production manager), I said nothing.

Please forgive me

We’re told that when actress Maureen Stapleton received the Academy Award, she gushed, “I’d like to thank everyone I’ve ever known!”

Considering the mistreatment of girls and women over the years, in many cases by those of us supposed to be their protectors and friends, I feel like saying, “I’d like to apologize to every person I’ve ever known.”

But this is not enough.  There is more that I can do…..

–I need to speak up for those who are coming forth now to tell how they were victimized by men in authority.  Even a casual observer is struck by the viciousness of the public when a woman points the finger of blame at a celebrity or politician or pastor whom they love.  They ask, “Who paid her?  Who put her up to this? And why the timing just now?”

People can be cruel.  Few things discourage the victim from coming forward like knowing the scrutiny they’ll have to endure and the wrath about to come their way.  We put the victim through another form of sexual harassment, to our shame.

Exacerbating this is that some women are indeed found to be wicked and accuse the innocent.  So, it’s not enough to say, “Christ would have us stand with the accusers.”  What if the accuser is lying?  And how are we to tell?

No one has any simple answers that I have heard.  It’s a difficult time.

–I need to support lawmakers who are trying to write laws with stronger protections for vulnerable women.  This is a difficult area and will require a great deal of effort before they get this right.

–I need to be guarded in my public statements about those accused and the people accusing them.  “Wise as serpents, harmless as doves” seems to fit.   If any man lack wisdom, said James in 1:5, let him ask of God.  (I read that and think, “If any man lacks wisdom! We all do!!”)

–Let us show love to the victimized and grace to the accused to the point they’re able to receive it.  When a prominent Christian celebrity spoke up this week to say of Matt Lauer, the NBC anchor fired for this sin, that “we forgive you,” people hollered to high heaven.  They pointed out only those he hurt can forgive him, and we should not be so quick to offer restitution to someone who has yet to confess anything specifically.

–Finally, I need to stay informed on this subject.  It’s no fun, not light reading, and will require lots of thought and discussion to make public policy.  Pastors and church leaders in particular should be on the forefront of this.

If the Lord should mark iniquity, my friend, none of us would miss that accounting (a loose version of Psalm 130:3).  So, let us be careful about pointing out sinners.  Rather, let us get our own house in order and be found faithful.

 

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on ““Who, me?” “Not me! I would never do such a thing.”

  1. This a two way street. Both sexes are guilty of it and if you have agreed to a pay off to be quite about it then you should not be saying anything about it now. If you have not said anything about it for 15-30 years why bother now. I think you should just get over it and move on. That is what I think about this.

    • Which is the greater sin–to abuse a woman or for her to accept money to be quiet, then to renege on that pledge? You’ve decided his sin is less than hers.

  2. I’m retired, from a male-dominated work environment, where I began working in 1978. We were given sexual harassment training in 1985. I knew of a case of “true harassment” that occurred a year earlier, where the victim went to personnel for help and the female personnel chief’s response to her complaint was laughter and, “Oh, you can handle Gene!” My friend found another job. So, I’m not a naysayer about harassment nor am I ignorant about male behavior. However, in my experience, far over 90% of the bad behavior I experienced was not threatening. It was flirting that crossed the “too crude” line to be a compliment, or it was what I call “fishing,” to see if your response would indicate that you were interested in receiving a sexual proposition.
    In terms of the legal definition of sexual harassment, as we were trained, these comments do NOT become “harassment” until AFTER the recipient speaks up and says they don’t like being talked to that way and then the comments or behavior continue. So, if a man was never told by a woman that she did not appreciate his comment or behavior, he can affirm that, though he may have offended a woman without his knowledge, he has never harassed a woman.
    So women have a responsibility (I’m not referring to juveniles being approached by an adult) to discourage the behavior. When women do not do this, they give the impression that they welcome and enjoy such behavior from men. Most of the men I knew considered it only “flirtatious banter” and I’ve known MANY women who DID enjoy it and dished it back just as playfully or vulgarly as the men. I was only twenty-one when I started working there, very naïve and not wanting to insult them, I responded with a smile but no comment followed by avoidance of “that man” and would then be left alone. They may have embarrassed me but they didn’t harass me.
    By the way, I spoke up in that sexual harassment training and told of the the pin-up playboy posters hidden inside cabinet doors and the men using binoculars to look at a girl sunbathing in her yard next door. My boss didn’t speak to me for six months but things changed. And the man who had harassed my friend continued his behavior with a new employee but this time the woman was supported. He wasn’t fired but he was suspended without pay, he was prohibited from approaching her at all, and he was then known throughout the business for being the predator-bully that he was.

  3. In another state my husband approached a fellow pastor in the Association regarding crude comments to women and jokes that crossed the line of appropriateness. He told him he was headed for trouble with his comments. The pastor disregarded the advice and was later fired for his actions.

  4. I think women should dress and conduct themselves so they don’t invite remarks and actions. I know it is “never the woman’s fault”, but if she sends an invitation she should not be offended if she gets a response.

    • Your quote marks around “never the woman’s fault” show you don’t actually believe that. It’s not “never the woman’s fault,” it is never the woman’s fault. Period. It is incumbent on men not to consider themselves as receiving an invitation until they receive an explicit verbal invitation. Anything else is far too subjective to adjudicate. Unless you wear a burqa in public, many Muslims would say the way YOU dress and conduct yourself is an “invitation.”

  5. Please could you speak to the issue of repentance and reconciliation on this? It seems to me that we need to get beyond automatically firing people for the slightest innuendo. Successful societies should be able to correct the behaviour without shunning the “sinner.” If every man who is ever charged with having said something inappropriate, or woman for that matter, is deprived of livelihood and excluded from the workforce, society shoots itself in the foot. The firing of Garrison Keillor on what was basically a trumped up charge is a case in point. Similarly Al Franken, whatever you think of his politics, working as an actor in an agreed-upon (albeit bawdy) skit. We need to find some more productive way to address this plague.

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