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.
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.