I think it was the news of the 2015 sexual assault of an unconscious woman outside a Stanford University fraternity that started me thinking about the need to preach about sexual violence. After the trial (held over a year after the assault) and the publication of the victim’s statement about how the assault and trial impacted her, I read an online article, “Being a Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence,” shared by several women in our congregation. I reached out to these women to ask how they thought it would be best for me to approach the subject. We agreed it would be hard to do, and that there wasn’t any clear way to move forward.
Pastor Brenda and I talked about the need for the church to address the issues of sexual violence and patriarchy, but we weren’t sure exactly how to do it. Then, in October of last year, a video tape of a presidential candidate surfaced in which the candidate made crude comments, bragging that he had sexually assaulted women. We were again reminded of the need to address the issue.
And then, in the past month, the #MeToo hashtag took off on social media. It seemed as if ever one of my Facebook friends who identifies as a woman had a #MeToo story to tell. I decided I had to preach on the subject. As soon as the liturgical calendar permitted. Pastor Brenda concurred, and we started figuring out how we would do it and what we would need to include.
I’m writing about our plan because so many of you have your own #MeToo stories. I know that for some of you, listening to sermons of the subject will be difficult. I want you to know what we have planned so you can make choices about how – or even if – you will participate in worship and the related programs when we address these issues. I don’t want what we do to cause new trauma or to open old wounds.
Pastor Brenda and I will preach a four-part series, starting on January 21. In the first sermon (January 21), I will look at patriarchy and the church’s role in normalizing it in our culture. In the second sermon (January 28), pastor Brenda will focus on how patriarchy has impacted women, especially through sexualized violence. In the third sermon (February 4), I will talk about a Christian response (especially a Christian man’s response) to women’s #MeToo stories. In the final sermon of this brief series (February 11), I will look at the church’s role in transforming our society away from patriarchy.
While there are things already schedule for after worship on several of these Sundays, we will be adding something on each Sunday in Room 1. On January 21, I will listen to your groups responses to the first sermon in the series. On January 28, we will have a counselor present in Room 1 during and after worship; this person will hold a safe space for women who need it during and after the worship service. On February 4, following our Annual Budget Meeting, I will be in Room 1 again to listen to your group responses to the sermons. And again, on February 11, I will be in Room 1 following worship to listen to your responses. I will also ask a question during our February post-worship gatherings, “What do we, as a congregation, do next?”
On each of these Sundays, Pastor Brenda will be available for individual concerns and responses, more or less on a first come, first served basis.
As this edition of The Bell goes to press, more stories of men in positions of power and authority are breaking. More companies are deciding how to respond to these revelations of abuse and men are being held accountable. I anticipate knowing more in a month (when this sermon series starts) than I know now (at the press deadline). Nonetheless, I know that there will be plenty I don’t know, and that is why being in conversation about this issue is and will remain so important to me.
That said, let me reiterate: I know that this topic will be emotionally difficult for some of you. Please take care of yourself, and please continue to treat each other tenderly.
Peace, Pastor Jeff