by Mike Kinman
As my newsfeed fills with stories of #MeToo, these words from Jesus are at the forefront of my mind as a man.
“When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your sibling has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your sibling, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24
Each one of these “#MeToo” stories reminds me that women have something against us. That we have wounded them. That we have work of reconciliation to do and that the responsibility for that work is ours.
Now we men can say, “not me” and “I didn’t abuse anyone.” We can say that we have no sin, but if so we deceive ourselves.
First, we participate in and benefit from a culture that encourages, profits from and ultimately, rewards assaulting and harassing women. And, more to the point, we HAVE done this. Even if it was the comment with the intent of a compliment and the impact of objectification … our silence out of fear of consequence for ourselves when we see a woman objectified, harassed or abused … our failure to use our power to create safe spaces with clear expectations about consent in touch, and physical and verbal respect for every human being … and the list goes on.
And frankly, even if it was among other men/boys or even when we were much younger, or even if we were immediately ashamed, I’d wager every man has participated directly in objectification, harassment and abuse of women and girls at some point in our lives. And, many of us and people we know do this are habitual objectifiers, abusers and harassers of women — and active protectors of those who are – otherwise my newsfeed would not look the way it does.
We have done this. I have done this. All of us together and every single one of us individually. This is sin and we participate in it. I participate in it. And Jesus’ injunction to us is clear – reconciliation must happen and the responsibility for that work is ours.
So what does it mean to be reconciled? It’s not about being nice. It’s about justice.
In our church, reconciliation is a sacramental process where the grace of God restores relationship that has been broken. Reconciliation establishes equity and justice where it had either been damaged or nonexistent. Reconciliation does not change the past but it makes possible a different and better future.
The first step of reconciliation is self-examination. That means for us as men, we must take that good, long look in the mirror. We must listen deeply to the stories that are being offered of objectification, abuse and harassment and resist the temptation to say “not me” or “not all men.” We must resist the temptation to add our own “me too” – because even though we may have been objectified, abused and harassed and that wound is real and we may deserve reconciliation and reparation as well … that’s not what this is about. Also, the power dynamics alone mean that men’s experiences of abuse are not the same as women’s and others on the gender spectrum with less power. So while we might have our own experiences, they aren’t “me too.”
We must listen deeply.
We must listen for those places where we have individually been complicit in this sin and where as a gender we have created this ancient epidemic of trauma.
We must listen recognizing that it is not the responsibility of those who have been abused to educate us and that should they choose to offer their stories, we have no right to any information other than what they choose to give.
We must listen with compassion and not with defensiveness. We must recognize the risk and vulnerability in sharing these stories and honor that.
We must recognize that trauma is the gift that keeps on giving and that these are not just stories of “what happened to me once” but past realities that intrude into the present every day – and that those who share these stories are heroic. And however they choose to identify themselves, as victims, as survivors, as whatever they choose, they are heroic.
We must listen. And believe.
Then we must confess. We must acknowledge where we individually have sinned against women (and others on the gender spectrum) and where we have participated in systems that have institutionalized this sin. We must lament that sin and the ongoing trauma it continues to cause.
Next, we must repent. Jesus calls us to reconciliation. Reconciliation can only occur where there is equity. We must go to those whom we have abused and harassed and they get to exercise their rightful power to determine what reparation looks like — on every level from the most personal and individual to the societal and global.
Certainly, we can take steps on our own based on our deep listening, but the accelerant of this abuse and trauma is the deep inequities in power based on gender. The patriarchy must not only be dismantled, it must be demolished with the pieces scattered so far apart it can never be reassembled. That means those who have been abused – women and others on the gender spectrum who have less power – must have the primary power to determine what they need for healing and restoration.
So when women and others on the gender spectrum who have had less power assert their rightful power, it is for us not to impede that but to celebrate it. Power is not ours to grant – AND it is for us as men to use the power we have to promote the power of those who have been shut out from claiming and exercising the power that is rightfully theirs.
Finally, we must have amendment of life. It’s not enough to demolish the patriarchy, together all of us have to build something new. And if we are not going to repeat the sins of the past, those who historically have been oppressed must take their rightful seats at the table where those decisions are made – not as tokens but as primary players, exercising the power that is appropriately theirs.
We must ask questions like what it means to have a church and society that are truly equitable. What does it mean to be body positive and sex positive as a church and society? What does it mean not only not to emulate and encourage rape culture but to achieve true equity of power in all our relationships including how we all express ourselves in the beautiful multiplicity of gender and sexuality that God creates in us? There are wonderful examples of communities like Thistle Farms and Magdalene Saint Louis — to name just two — that can be our guides.
That is a lot. It will not happen overnight – but we must not drag our feet.
For today, I will continue to listen and listen deeply. I invite challenge to what I have written here because, as with everything I write and say, it represents my best and certainly imperfect attempt to respond to the world around us. That said, something must be done and I believe that our faith and the sacramental traditions of our church give us a process to follow. It can’t just be about listening. The other steps must happen and they must happen without delay. And I am depending on the people of All Saints Church and the wider community both to support and hold me and all the leadership and people of our congregation accountable in walking this road with all dispatch. Otherwise we should not claim that we approach Christ’s table in peace.
Mike Kinman is the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena.