When TIME named The Silence Breakers as the 2017 Person of the Year, blogger John Pavlovitz hailed it as “one of those explosive bursts of hope. . . like the planet finally getting it right; a welcome rain of rightness to a place so parched for it.”
I couldn’t agree more.
TIME’s announcement resoundingly affirms brave female voices everywhere, as women face down fears to end their silence, name their abusers, and stick to their stories. As the article observed, women have “had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along.”
The first women to break their silence not only brought down some of the biggest names in Hollywood, politics, the media, and technology, they paved the way for millions of other women to tell their stories. And they did. A tsunami of #MeToo tweets revealed a cultural crisis of epidemic proportions that can no longer be ignored. Silence Breakers have put abusers on notice that they can no longer count on their crimes against women remaining secret.
A flood of #ChurchToo tweets followed, exposing a pervasive unchecked problem within the church and other Christian organizations.
Silence Breakers in the Church
Tragically, this crisis has been brewing for generations in the American evangelical church. We’ve been hearing #MeToo stories here and there—whispered in the shadows of big steeple churches, revealed in painful phone calls and emails of despair. It has taken much too long for the truth to break out in the open. Women of faith are recognizing the opportunity—indeed their responsibility—to seize the moment. They are doing exactly that.
Over 100 evangelical women leaders launched the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual campaign calling pastors, elders, and parishioners to seize this “kairos moment—a window of opportunity to bring healing in the world and in the church” by working to bring an end to every form of violence against women globally. According to our Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Women and Girls statement (which thousands have already signed), “This moment in history is ours to steward.”
As with any epidemic, the most urgent task is to address these violations against women that have already happened. Raising awareness within the faith community is not an end in itself. It necessarily means offering safe haven where victims can safely find help and healing. It also compels leaders to hold perpetrators accountable and to seek the expertise of counseling and law enforcement professionals in dealing with allegations of abuse and violence.
But without investigating and addressing the sources of the problem, our efforts will fall short and the epidemic will persist. In good conscience, we cannot adequately address this epidemic without exploring causative factors that increase female vulnerability and allow for such violations against women to occur in the first place. Otherwise, we are fighting a losing battle. We must take preventative action too.
Those Ubiquitous S-Words
Rachel Simmons, author of Enough As She Is, put her finger on a major contributing factor when she wrote, “Women have been taught, by every cultural force imaginable, that we must be ‘nice’ and quiet’ and ‘polite,’ that we must protect others’ feelings before our own. That we are there for other’s pleasure.”
The same kind of social messaging for women intensifies in the church, reinforced by the claim that the Bible supports it.
We are not taught to be strong and courageous (even though that is the Apostle Paul’s message for us). We aren’t urged to develop the kind of backbone needed in awkward situations with the opposite sex. We aren’t conditioned to be decisive and proactive. Instead, “silence” and “submission” are all too often the church’s watchwords for women and girls. When it comes to messages targeting women and girls in the church, we hear more about these two words than anything else, and both put us at risk.
These S-words cultivate and spiritualize passivity, dependency, self-doubt, and deference to men as a woman’s godly first response. Yes, both words appear in the Bible and both appear with reference to women. Yet both words take on deeper, more radical meaning when Jesus’ gospel redefines them.
The so-called “silencing of women” becomes a distortion when interpreted as a ban on the female voice. It ignores other biblical texts that validate the female voice as an indispensible source of theological instruction for all believers. How anemic would Christian theology be without the theological voices of Hagar, Deborah, Hannah, or Mary of Nazareth? The strongest affirmation of the female voice came from Jesus who charged his female disciples with proclaiming his resurrection and rebuked his male disciples for refusing to believe them.
Submission in the Bible is a universal call to all believers—both male and female—that ultimately points to Jesus. His brand of submission isn’t an event. It is a lifestyle of sacrifice for the good of others. It isn’t an expression of weakness or concession, but an act of love, strength, conviction, and commitment to do his Father’s will.
Church teaching on female submission has young women in serious dating relationships at Christian colleges wondering “When do I start submitting?” It vexed the academic dean at a leading Christian college who observed male students “looking for submissive women,” instead of valuing women for the strengths and wisdom a man needs from his wife. It caused one Christian father to contemplate training his energetic and gifted daughters “to be more compliant.”
How dangerous is that!?
May it never be said that we let the Silence Breakers down by remaining silent ourselves and moving on without tackling this destructive crisis of violence. Let it never be said that we settled for superficial solutions and failed to get to the bottom of this epidemic.
May we steward this kairos moment to bring healing in the world and in the church and “a welcome rain of rightness to a place so parched for it.”
More on #SilenceIsNotSpiritual:
- TIME: Evangelical Women Just Joined #MeToo – And They’re Urging Churches To Address Abuse
- Christianity Today: Women Speak Up in #SilenceIsNotSpiritual Campaign
- Religion News: Female Evangelical Leaders Call on the Church to Speak Out on Violence Against Women
More on #MeToo:
- “#MeToo and #HeToo–Holding Abusers is Good for them”
- “The Seismic Implications of #MeToo”
- “Why Vindicating the Vixens Matters”
More on Submission:
- “The Three Faces of Submission” in The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules
Resources that lead women and girls to be strong and courageous:
- “God Bless the Girl Child”
- The Called and Courageous Girls book series is a great resource to get started with little girls ages 3-7. The first volume is out: A Brave Big Sister: A Bible Story About Miriam!
- For girls middle school to adults: Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew
This article was first published at Missio Alliance.
It was also published at Huffington Post.