A Response to #ChurchToo: Giving Rise to Women’s Voices

Given what has become a near-daily horror show of sexual abuse allegations in the Church* and across the theological spectrum, what hope is there?

I hear the critics now. “Our only hope is in Christ! We are wretched sinners, and this crisis is because we don’t place enough trust in God!”

Ok. Yeah. Sure. That’s true. So let’s follow this line of thought to its conclusion. Let’s put our hope in God and listen for the Spirit. What’s she calling us to do? If we are the Body of Christ, what healing work are we to do with his hands?

More than empty apologies, more than mass resignations, more than long-delayed exploratory committees, we need women’s voices.

From America‘s reporting on Jesuit priest Hans Zollner:

“We need the voice of women here,” Father Zollner said, because women often “bring up the voice of those who are the most vulnerable in our society.”

As beautifully stated in the Blessed Mary’s hymn of praise, the Magnificat, women bear faithful witness to how God “brought down the lofty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.”

This is in no small part because women experience a disproportionate amount of abuse. The statistics bear witness to a sad reality. One out of every six women has experienced sexual assault. 90% of sexual assault victims are women.

Scripture testifies to the power of women’s stories. Writing at The Christian Century, Rev. Ruth Everhart says:

The stories of the #MeToo movement are not new. What’s new is the response. For perhaps the first time in history, women’s voices are being heard and powerful men who have harassed and abused are being held to account. The church can use this cultural moment to address abuse and speak difficult truths, drawing on the resources of our scripture.

Detail of St. Junia, “prominent among the apostles”

Women like Tamar, Dina, the Levite’s concubine (her name lost to history), and Hagar have for too long been ignored within the Bible’s narrative. Their stories and lamentations are there, waiting for the Church to listen. Their stories are there, letting survivors of abuse know that a loving God hears their cries and knows their pain. Prophets, apostles, and deacons like Anna, Junia, and Phoebe have been all but erased. Their stories are there, reminding us that God calls all Christians to ministry.

The Church must — MUST — make room for the voices of the oppressed. We must — MUST — make room in our pulpits. We must — MUST — repent of our obstinate refusal to listen all these years. This is what the Spirit is calling us to do.

This is not to say that men cannot or should not speak to this issue. On the contrary, we absolutely should. We should also call out abuse whenever and wherever we see it. Men must be willing to address abuse and to condemn it from the pulpit. How we treat the least of these is, after all, a Gospel issue. Men must learn to listen, and we should amplify the voices of those crying out for help.

But most importantly, we must make room for women to speak. We must make room for women to lead the Church as deacons, presbyters, and bishops. We must let their voices ring out from the pulpit. We must let them tell the story which so disproportionately affects them, to tell the stories of Dinah and Tamar in a way that only women can.

This is not a panacea. Willow Creek has shown us that cover-ups still occur, even when women are placed in leadership positions. But it is the first in a long cultural shift of lifting up voices that have been marginalized, of doing God’s work to lift up the lowly and speak words of comfort to the afflicted.

*The link back to my previous article on this matter includes no fewer than six updates in just the past week. These stories are not going away until we take action to rid the Church of abusers and their enablers. Now is the time for exorcisms.

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