A movement has risen to both empower and support those who have been victims of sexual assault. The #MeToo movement gives a voice to those who are often silenced, and a face to a pattern that many are tempted to believe isn’t rampant.
But as with any cause or movement, Christians must evaluate its agenda and goals. We can, and should, affirm a compelling cause when it reflects biblical values and its principles and actions are rightly ordered.
How then does the #MeToo movement stack up?
First, the movement shows care for people by acknowledging their suffering. It affirms “You are not alone. I’ve been there too.” What a powerful assurance to be told you reside in a community of fellow sufferers—that you are not a “leper” or an isolated case. The tendency to believe you are on your own or possibly an abnormality is refuted by a chorus of individuals who say “it happened to me, too.” It acts as a balm to those who have believed they are unaccompanied in their suffering. When someone has been sinned against, acknowledging it is a way to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2) and look out for “the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). After all, “if one member suffers, [we] all suffer together” (1Cor 12:26).
Second, the movement affirms that it is right for these experiences to be spoken of and that those who have been afflicted should not be silenced. We should all agree that the suffering of these victims must be recognized and its evil brought to light. As Christians, we know we are called to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defend those in need of help (Prov 31:8-9).
Third, the movement has been willing to act on behalf of those who have been victimized. A good and just movement rallies around the weak and broken-hearted. It speaks against evil deeds and takes action. As Christians, we know that it is not enough to just acknowledge mistreatment. The gospel compels us to enter in and offer aide. When there are grievous violations of love, we know it is right to intervene and seek justice and accountability (Is 1:17; Ps 82:3-4).
In short, a movement, like #MeToo, that acknowledges suffering, strives to expose wrongdoing, and acts to help those who have been injured, can be validated. I hope that Christians will support this and other such movements. As believers, we must be willing to bring to light what is hidden in darkness and not withhold good when it is within our power to act (Prov 3:27). We can accomplish this through proactive, practical efforts: wise advocacy, pursuing justice for those harmed, holding those who engage in evil behavior accountable, changing policies/legislation to better protect the vulnerable, and by creating opportunities and safe places for victims to find comfort and healing.
Whether we are addressing these issues as part of a church or as individuals, we need discernment. We must base any help or ministry on wisdom gained from Christ. Then, we should be able to enhance the strengths and guard against the weaknesses of secular efforts. We can offer help that is both more personal and more powerful because when Christ is brought into the experience of victimization, he changes the trajectory and outcome. He, too, was a victim. He, too, says “you are not alone. I’ve been there, too.” He, too, gave a voice to the shamed. He, too, calls out evil. He alone can free us from a victim outlook, from our own version of justice, and other extremes. He alone will make all things right.
So, I must also offer some warnings when considering the #MeToo movement. As with any social movement, we must proceed thoughtfully and carefully. Goals and objectives can easily run amuck if they are not driven by a desire to model God’s character and ways. When a movement is not under God, its anger—though understandable—is not hedged in by wisdom. Here are just a few dangers:
- An individual can become stuck in an outlook that persistently identifies them as a victim. Though the offense committed impacts them deeply, it is only one part of their story and does not have to become their identity.
- When a movement begins to pick up steam, it can lead to emotionalism and overreaction to a new disclosure. This may lead to people acting rashly, impulsively and without discernment. Scripture calls us to “not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
- There can be a temptation to insist on justice defined by our own value system/perspective. “Here is what that person deserves…” This quickly leads to vengeance instead of justice and accountability.
- A movement can become weaponized, rather than redemptive and remedial. A just cause can turn into unjust attacks against particular groups, entities, or institutions. It creates division, rather than restoration.
- A bias or hostility can arise that does not discriminate between the accused and the guilty. In fact, the accused is often seen as guilty until proven innocent, rather than innocent until proven guilty. A movement must not be swept away by clouded perceptions and emotion. It must always seek to stand boldly for truth, wherever the truth leads.
If a worthy movement becomes hijacked by some of these problems, it not only can devolve into vigilantism, it can also actually prevent those who have been mistreated from coming forward. Sufferers will fear being connected to a campaign they don’t fully agree with or that doesn’t represent them.
Accordingly, the church should model all that is good and right about any just movement. This is what movements such as #SilenceIsNotSpiritual and #ChurchToo are seeking to do, (but here too, continuing wisdom and discernment are in order). Christians are recognizing the need for transformation in our own communities. From denominations that circle the wagons to individual churches who are naïve or blind to the reality of abuse, God’s people must grapple with the veracity that it both exists and must be proactively combatted.
Any organization (and the church must lead the way), should be willing to shield the vulnerable in their midst from wolves in sheep’s clothing. We must care more about the protection of vulnerable individuals and the restoration of the victimized, than the reputation of guilty individuals or negligent institutions. This requires contending with cultural factors, dogmas, and the naivety that presumes it will not happen in “our” church.
Christ can empower us to be a community that protects the vulnerable and stands against evil in biblical ways. We need to pray for discerning hearts and be willing to engage in the suffering of others.