Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Representative John Conyers. Garrison Keillor (!)
One by one, our cultural icons seem to be falling to a wave of allegations (and carefully sourced stories) of sexual harassment brought by women who, in some cases, seem to have kept their secrets for decades. Whether it’s the force of the #MeToo movement, a reaction to the election of a President who is himself accused of harassing women, or the indignation of a younger generation (have you noticed most of the accused predators are white men middle-aged and older), each day seems to bring new reveals.
Maybe it’s a combination of many factors. Regardless, this seems to be a moment of awakening.
Will it last? The sad fact is that sexual assaults are widespread on many college campuses and other places where young people cluster. We don’t know if younger men see inspiration and perhaps even warning in the consequences being visited on prominent and (formerly) powerful men in high places.
Whether the scandals change behavior in the long run is still to be seen.
But in the meantime, as we wait for the dust to settle, those of us who aren’t politicians and media figures need to find a way forward.
There are several temptations here. The first, and most obvious one, is to start to act as though every man was a potential abuser. Most of them aren’t. But we live in overlapping communities, and we need to be working to restore trust in all of them. That can only happen with candid conversation and by promoting an ethic of personal responsibility in our families, our workplaces, our churches, and other places we gather.
Another temptation is to dismiss the ongoing problem of sexual assault the first time someone makes a false accusation. You know it’s going to happen—the only question is when. Cynicism is easy—reasoning and independent thought more challenging.
Finally, we may be tempted to dismiss the gravity of the dilemma that confronts churches and other nonprofit associations. They might find it easier to be quiet in this cultural moment for fear of giving offense (or that they will stir up long-repressed injustice).
But in doing so they risk perhaps a greater peril—that silence is read (misread?) as ignorance, timidity, assent…or irrelevance.
How do we get the painful, difficult, and healing conversations started?
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on abuse from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.