Cultures of Fear and Some Notes on a Hashtag: #YesAllWomen in the Church

There are times when you just need to shut up and listen.

A few days ago, following the misogynistic murder spree of Elliot Rodger, the #YesAllWomen hashtag took hold of Twitter, a reaction against how so many reports of sexism and sexual violence get shut down by cries of “Well, not all men are like that.” And, of course, no-one’s really suggesting that all men are like that, but apparently hurt feelings are an effective way of silencing conversations that need to be had.

I’m a man. I’ve reacted with the “Not all men!” thing before now. I was wrong; instead of making the conversation about us, men need to keep quiet and get reading, and while we’re doing that, we need to be asking questions:

Why is the fear of rape so pervasive?

Why is it so difficult for women to report being sexually assaulted?

Why is a girl who gets molested in a bar “asking for it”?

Why do women with an online platform get bombarded with rape and death threats?

Why are online groups declaring Rodger a hero?

We live in a sexist society, but it’s only recently that I realised the sheer sociopathy of what this society has become; maybe what it always was. I’m a man, after all, I don’t normally need to get nervous walking across a car park at night. This is so far outside my experience that I’ve never even considered just how much it’s part of day to day life for people around me.

So why am I posting this on a Bible blog?

Because a great deal of these offensive, dangerous attitudes are rooted in patriarchal structures, and when it comes down to it, the church is pretty patriarchal. And there are way too many cases when church organisations have defended the perpetrators rather than the victims – no, the survivors. Men in the church are powerful, and there are times that power has been privileged over discipleship. Followers of Jesus are called to love one another, to protect and defend and speak out for the powerless. But we often trade God’s Kingdom for our own empire, and in doing so become part of the problem.

That’s when we create our own culture of fear. And we don’t recognise it as such because we’re not the ones who are scared.

If you’re a leader with a book deal and a nice car and a list of speaking engagements longer than your arm, you need to take a day off, meet with the most marginalised members of your congregation, and listen to their stories. Only you don’t get to explain or fix or exegete or silence those stories, you just get to listen and go home and pray on your knees about whether you’re perpetuating systems that make the most heartbroken stories you hear happen in the first place.

Of course, eventually we’re going to have to figure out a response to all this. We need to think about the language we use. We need to be more open when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality. We need to model more positive attitudes for the young people in our churches. We need to stop covering up crimes while pretending we’re doing it to promote ‘unity’. We need to realise that we’re living in the 21st century and that we need a theology for social media. We need to accept that women are called to positions of leadership and authority in the church and to support those already serving in those roles. We need to truly affirm the gifts and talents and experiences of everyone in our congregations: female, male, black, white, disabled… And we need a pastoral revolution that’s based less on a business model of leadership and more on servanthood and compassion and relationship.

But first we need to shut up; to shut up and to listen.

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