The first breakout session of the Jesus & Politics conference had an option entitled Jesus and the #MeToo Movement. The section was moderated by Melissa Ponce-Rodas (Assistant Professor of Psychology, Andrews University). Joining her on the panel were Jennifer Jill Schwirzer (Life Coach, Abide Counseling), Erica Jones (Assistant Director of Women’s Ministry, North American Division of Seventh-day Adventist), and Martin Hanna (Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Andrews University Seminary). The session started with each panelist giving a short explanation on the topic followed by a question and answer segment.
Panelist’s Explanation of Jesus and the #MeToo Movement
Melissa Ponce-Rodas introduced the topic by asking the question, “why should the church focus on the #MeToo movement?” She answered the question by stating, “Because it is not political.” The reason for the start of the movement was that Tarana Burke wanted to do something about sexual violence. What is disturbing is the fact of how prevalent sexual abuse is. Also, the fact that we don’t talk about it, means it can continue to happen. It is essential to understand that silence is a method of control. Because of this silence, the church doesn’t think it is happening, and that there is no way it could happen. Many times, the victims are not believed and thus become revictimized. The reason why this is important for the church to address is that Jesus is continually instructing Christians to care about the least, which would naturally include survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Jennifer Jill Schwirzer shared her personal experience with being sexually harassed and how the leaders of the ministry she was involved in shutting her down despite the multiple allegations. She was determined not to allow the shutting down of herself again. Because of her background and her role as a counselor, she started to get more and more phone calls about these issues. That is what led her to start ABIDE. She wanted to create a way to handle these issues in which she had seen previous administrators fail to manage. Schwirzer has also been involved in starting Project Safe Church. Project Safe Church is a way that people can process their experiences with abuse when the local church might not have the tools to be effective.
Martin Hanna presented a theological and biblical perspective on the #MeToo movement, by asking, are Christian men more abusive? He stated there is a potential for specific groups within Christianity to be more abusive. Reasons for this are derived from a misinterpretation of the Bible and within Adventism of Ellen White. He gave an example of a verse taken out of context, which is Ephesians 5:22-23.
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. (Ephesians 5:22-23, NASB)
However, when you look at the whole context, you see that Paul is addressing mutual relations between husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves. The problem is that we miss the principles of these texts and then abuse them to protect the status quo. Ellen White also points towards a mutual submission in Testimonies for the Church vol. 7 page 48, Adventist Home pages 95, 106–107, and Acts of Apostles page 460. Both husbands and wives need mutual love and submission, not just one or the other.
Erica Jones stated that it is beyond time for the church to handle abuse at the corporate level because God hates injustice. A recent study shared by her stated that abuse happens inside the Adventist church to a higher degree than the national average. When the injury occurred, 69% of the abused go to the pastor first. However, many times, the pastor did not believe the accuser’s story. The victim then was left with double abuse (when denial of the victim’s story causes the victim to be revictimized due to confidence being placed in the abuser over and against the accuser). The only job of the pastor, when made aware of abuse allegations, is to: (1) serve as a mandated reporter, (2) be a resource to get help, and (3) a conduit of mercy and grace. Many interviewed victims said, “Never needed justice from the criminal system but needed church to believe, listen, and minister to me.” She finished with the thought, “how would Jesus handle the abused victim? Jesus would never blame the victim.”
Questions & Answers
Q. In the aftermath of an abuse situation, the situations are typically not clean and clear. What do we do in the follow-up, especially in regards to the abuser? Do we look for signs of repentance in the abuser? How do we not shame the perpetrator?
Jennifer: There can be too much mercy and too much justice; it’s a fine line. However, for pastors who have committed abuse, my rule is once and done. But there could be an exception. Nevertheless, reinstatement would require lots of oversight, and church administrators are too busy to do it.
Erica- Depends on the situation, the abuser needs minimally five years of intentionality and counseling. Pedophiles should never be in the presence of minors, at all! Unless shepherded. We will protect the vulnerable.
Q. How do we handle abuse situations that occurred in someone’s early age, but kept in latency for years?
Jennifer – I put together ABIDE counseling for people; there is a need for advocacy. They need to put their story in writing and confront the perpetrator.
Melissa – Healing is a process; and a former abuser can’t say you, the victim, you have to do this now. For example, an abusive father, even after the abuse ends, doesn’t get to demand a relationship from his children. The consequences of sin are still there.
A big takeaway that I received from this presentation was that the #MeToo movement should be something that believers should be able to support. However, two things get in the way. First, #MeToo has become marginalized as a partisan political issue. However, partisan politics should have nothing to do with it. Abuse—no matter the form—should not be tolerated regardless of political affiliations. If a vulnerable person gets abused, it shouldn’t be construed as a “political situation.” It should be called out for what it is, a demonic act. Furthermore, there should be no cover-up to allow it to continue to be practiced, not just in the church but anywhere. How could a follower of Jesus tolerate, enable, or overlook violence and injustice? The second impediment to involvement in the #MeToo movement has been the occurrence of false accusations. Such accusations are damaging. One could conjecture that those who falsely accused are just as evil as the abusers who abuse. However, I do not find that situation to be the norm. Empathy still can be given to the victim until the matter, and the facts are sorted out. In addition to this, once a false accuser is proven to be guilty, of a malicious false accusation, they should face legal penalties in order to deter such behavior. Thus, limiting these false accusations that hinder true victims, who are probably in the majority, from receiving the justice they deserve.