Voices: #MeToo calls us to repentance

In liturgy, the color purple is associated with repentance.

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This week, the social media hashtag, #MeToo, has been trending … and for all the wrong reasons.

The explanation that follows the hashtag is, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote, ‘Me too,’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

My Facebook feed has been filled with status updates that simply read, “Me too.” Others provide their age at the time of the harassment or assault; others give details. But only the two words “me too” are needed to understand what is meant.

News about the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has been nonstop for the past couple of weeks.

I’ve heard people ask, “Why didn’t these women say something sooner?” Or, I’ve even heard some people dismiss the seriousness of the matter by saying, “That’s just Hollywood.”

But the hashtag that has been trending nationwide would say that it’s not just Hollywood. The type of sexual harassment and assault alleged against Mr. Weinstein is everywhere.

Rainn, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, reports that an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and one in six American women are the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

This means there are people in your church, at your school, and even in your family who have been affected by sexual assault.

‘What concerns me even more’

I recently shared statistics like these with a group of 15 women students whom I teach. I told them that sexual assault was not a problem that only existed in other places or other universities. This issue existed on our campus as well.

Half of them looked at me shocked or like I was crazy. I told them I have only taught at HSU for a little over three years and I have visited with more than one student who has been sexually assaulted while a student at HSU. They began to believe me.

The other half of them didn’t have a look of surprise on their face at all. This is what concerns me even more. For some of them, they already knew exactly what I was talking about. They could have posted “me too” on Facebook this week, or they know someone who posted or could have posted.

So, what should the church do about this?

Don’t just apologize

When we learn that something bad has happened, our response normally includes the words, “I’m sorry.” We want to apologize for the hurt that someone else has endured, even when we were not the cause of that hurt.

My nine-year-old says “I’m sorry” around 724 times a day. I’m trying to teach her that, most of the time, a more appropriate response would be, “Yes, ma’am.” When I tell her to stop pulling on her sister or screaming in the car, she should say “Yes, ma’am” rather than “I’m sorry.” The apology doesn’t change anything. “Yes, ma’am” means we’re moving toward the right behavior.

Similarly, the repentance we are taught by Jesus is more than just an apology; it is transformation. Repentance is turning away or doing something to change the pattern of behavior that caused the sin or indiscretion in the first place.

People who have been assaulted or harassed need more than just “I’m sorry.” They need definitive action taken to change the culture which contributed to these horrific statistics. As a culture, we need to apologize to those affected by sexual violence, but more than that, we also need to repent.

We need to repent so that our culture no longer tolerates the intolerable, questions if it is real, or just explains it away.

Here is a starter list of some suggestions for what you and/or your church can do to begin this repentant transformation:

  • Call out behavior that is unacceptable. For instance, cat-calling is unacceptable. It is not just “guys being guys” or “locker-room talk.” It is harassment.
  • Refuse to participate in inappropriate conversations about sex or people’s appearance.
  • Never blame the victim. Never. Not even if the victim was drinking or wearing clothes that some feel are inappropriate.
  • Model respect and equality in all your relationships.
  • Always perform background checks on anyone working with minors.
  • Participate in a seminar on sexual violence awareness and understanding consent.
  • Host a seminar on sexual violence awareness and understanding consent.

May the God of all humanity empower us and give us the courage to participate in repentance so that when the next generation begins typing #MeToo, there will be far fewer posts.

Meredith Stone is director of ministry guidance and instructor of Christian ministry and Scripture at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology. She is a member of the Baptist Standard Publishing board of directors.

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