I have been waiting.
On Monday I was waiting - silence.
On Tuesday I was waiting - silence.
Today the silence has become deafening.
I don’t feel like I should be the one to raise this after all, I am one of the fortunate ones who can say #notme. But perhaps that makes it easier for me to raise it, I am intellectually and compassionately invested in this rather than personally.
Since Sunday when my social media feeds became full of friends saying #metooI have been waiting, for a response from Christian leaders in New Zealand.
I have seen some great posts from Christian influencers from other countries, but the New Zealand space remains quiet.
That silence speaks.
That silence says:
“I don’t believe that happens in New Zealand”
“I don’t believe that happens in Churches”
“I don’t believe that happens in my church”
Your silence speaks:
Your silence says:
“I don’t see the outpouring of grief, pain and trauma before me”
“I don’t believe the church has the capability of offering hope, liberation and comfort in that space of pain”
“You can’t bring your pain here”
Can I go a step further and say that by not acknowledging the disclosures, of sexual assault and harassment, during the #metoo campaign, that you are furthering the silencing that these survivors experience. You are reinforcing the message that this is something unacceptable to talk about. It is only by making this something that is talked about in all places of society that we can take steps to eradicate it.
As you stand in front of your congregation on Sunday look out over the people, NZ statistics show that 1 in 5of the women you are looking at will have experienced serious sexual assault, and 1 in 7 of the men will have been sexually abused as children. That is people in your congregation, and yet when was the last time that you preached about sexual assault and harassment?
Vivid in my memory is one of the times I felt the greatest disconnect between my life and my previous church. I got to bed at 1.30am on a Saturday night after debriefing and caring for a counsellor who had been speaking with a rape victim. I hauled myself out of bed to attend church the next morning where we sang happy songs about how good God was, and listened to an uplifting sermon that was totally irrelevant to the mood, mindspace and experience I was still processing. Don’t let that disconnect happen in your church this week.
Don’t be silent, don’t let the messages implicit in your silence be the ones that the people in your church who have shared #metoo this week hear.
As you plan your Sunday services, as you plan this week's social media feeds for your church, can I encourage you to speak out, to speak up. It is a way of connecting with the real life that the people are living, and offering God’s hope, healing and comfort to all.
Here are some ideas you may want to incorporate into your service this week, they start from easy to the more challenging. Care does need to be taken as these are sensitive issues, peoples pain can be triggered and you need to allow space and good quality care for those people. You will need to ensure that your tone, content and conduct of this aspect of the service convey the gravity and importance of this issue.
- Acknowledge the courage that people have needed to share #metoo this week and the pain and grief that represents.
- Have a special time of intercession for all in your congregation and their friends who have had the courage to #metoo this week.
- Ask a woman in your congregation to read a Psalm of lament or some of Lamentations as a tribute to those who have experienced gender violence, and to acknowledge that God sees their suffering.
- Have your prayer ministry team ready to pray for anyone who has had their trauma triggered, or is feeling the grief and pain of their experiences this week.
- Create a healing liturgy, that acknowledges pain, grief and trauma and allows people to bring that pain to the Holy Spirit as Comforter.
- Acknowledge and preach about how so often the Church has created unhealthy structures of dominance and control that encourage and allow harassment and abuse. In our silence in our failure to challenge those structures, we have been complicit - pray for forgiveness for all who have failed to challenge these structures.
Above all don’t be silent.
My love and prayers to all of you who have had the courage to share #metoo, and all of you who have had cause to share but haven't found it possible. May God strengthen you with hope, courage and loving friends.