In 2006, civil rights activist Tarana Burke introduced the phrase me too as a way to help women who had experienced sexual harassment realize that they were not alone. A decade later, the #metoo movement erupted across cyberspace in response to a tweet posted by actress Alyssa Milano suggesting that all women who had been the victims of sexual assault post those words in her comments section. Within hours, victims flooded the internet was with #metoo posts on Twitter and Facebook. The passionate responses were due in part to sexual abuse and harassment charges coming out of Hollywood. Both men and women stepped forward to accuse former bosses, producers, and others of sexual exploitation in the workplace.
However, as with many movements in our cultural climate, the #metoo movement was quickly swept into a political morass that insisted it include abortion rights, pay equality, the gay agenda, and a host of other hot-button issues. According to its founder, Tarana Burke, the #metoo movement has lost its potency, weakened as it has been by the addition of other women’s rights issues leaching its popularity. So, while Christians can and should support any attempts to stop the increasing tide of sexual abuses, we should be careful about throwing full support behind any movement that is not Christ-centered. Instead, we should consider what a Christ-centered alternative would be.
First, Christ would never want a victim to suffer without getting help. It is unfortunate that it took a hashtag to inspire victims to identify the sexual harassment and assault they have experienced. It is true that victims have not always been believed. Victims should not be hesitant to contact the police or their company’s HR department as appropriate. Such steps can be intimidating or even frightening; victims should feel free to ask a friend to help them through the process.
The church should help with this. Christianity, by its very nature, opposes any and every kind of abuse and exploitation. Any form of mistreatment, and especially sexual harassment, is in direct contrast to Jesus’ command to treat others as we would have them treat us (Matthew 7:12). Loving one’s neighbor as oneself is a bedrock of the Christian faith, so anyone purporting to follow Christ must submit to those terms (Matthew 19:19; Luke 10:27; Galatians 5:14; Romans 13:8). Clearly, any form of sexual intimidation or harassment falls far outside those parameters, so Christians can confidently defend and champion anyone who is a victim of either. In Psalm 82:3, God gives this command: “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” When someone has been the victim of sexual abuse or assault, Christians should be first on the scene to rescue, comfort, and help him or her pursue justice.
Our churches should be safe havens for victims, and it should be widely known that sexual overtures of any kind will never be tolerated on any level. Unfortunately, the #metoo movement has spread into #churchtoo. Victims have recently revealed sexual harassment and assault by several Christian leaders, some prominent and some unknown. Churches and denominations have found themselves guilty of denial, blaming the victim, and perpetuating the abuse. Considering the large number of godly pastors and ministry leaders, the incidents of abuse are rare. But Christians should make an even greater effort to cleanse sexual abuse from churches and ministries than the world at large. The ministry GRACE and believers like Rachael Denhollander are working hard to help victims find justice and healing.
A hashtag has no power to right wrongs or bring about justice. Instead of joining a movement that may offer thirty seconds of validation, the church needs to walk alongside those victims through the court process and see real justice done. Churches should teach their young people about acceptable levels of touching and why it matters to God—including healthy ways to date or express interest in another person. Not every church has the resources to provide crisis counseling and legal help for those who find themselves victims of sexual harassment, but they can provide information on organizations that do. And churches can hold their members to a godly standard of sexuality and behavior, using church discipline when appropriate and calling authorities when a crime has been committed.
It is unfortunate that it took hashtags to empower victims to seek support and justice. We long for the day when #metoo belongs only to the world because Christians prefer the hashtag thechurchhelpedme.