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Reclaiming the #MeToo movement

Why hasn’t the church led the way in calling attention to harassment, abuse, and assault?

Reclaiming the #MeToo movement

Patterson (Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/AP)

Last week, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) board fired Paige Patterson from his position as president following revelations of his history of statements and decisions many people say were dismissive and demeaning to women. 

At first, SWBTS had simply demoted Patterson—a highly esteemed figure in the conservative evangelical movement—to “president emeritus.” But then the board moved more forcefully to strip him of all “benefits, rights and privileges” after confirming new information that while Patterson was president of another seminary, a graduate student reported her rape to him and he encouraged her not to go to the police but to forgive her alleged rapist. That news came in the wake of public outrage regarding various statements Patterson had made in the past 18 years, including encouraging an abused wife not to divorce but to pray for her husband, criticizing female seminary students for not dressing up, and making sexually charged remarks about a girl as young as 16.

Many leaders in the denomination applauded the SWBTS trustees’ decision, but asked for continued prayers. Lauren Chandler, writer and wife of megachurch pastor Matt Chandler, said she felt “a sigh of relief,” but added that she was also saddened for the people who felt bullied and silenced and for the loss of the Pattersons, who had made a tremendous positive impact in their community. Author and Bible teacher Beth Moore praised SWBTS trustees for “their tremendous courage in what has surely been a brutal process,” but also warned that it’s not over: “These are sobering days. These are days for each of us to go on our faces before God, searching our own sin-prone hearts, repenting for our own transgressions and asking God to dislodge planks out of our own eyes.” 

Perhaps this hard, painful reckoning over how we treat women within the conservative evangelical body is one repercussion from the #MeToo wave. But if that’s true—if it’s true that the church really needed a secular social movement to jolt us awake to the need to challenge beliefs and behaviors and attitudes that we once deemed acceptable (or to “clean house,” as Moore calls it)—then I’m embarrassed. 

I’m embarrassed because we are the salt and light of this world. We should be the first to set the trend toward treating men and women with greater dignity, compassion, and love. So how is it that we’re only now questioning what Patterson said many years ago? How is it that when another pastor, Andy Savage, stood in front of his mega-congregation and confessed that as a 22-year-old youth pastor he once had a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old girl (who claimed sexual assault), his church stood and applauded him? What message does that send to that woman who had for so long stayed silent? What testimony does it send to the world about the head of the church, Jesus Christ?

This issue is not just about women. It’s about how we Bible-toting Christians, who read and hear and preach the Truth, who pray in the name of a God of justice and mercy and love, can so misunderstand Truth and misuse the name of God—especially with the best and most sincere of intentions.

Ever since I wrote a feature story and two columns on spousal abuse, I’ve been receiving emails from readers—both men and women—who tell me they’ve been abused by a spouse, too. After being told repeatedly by their church leaders and fellow Christians to submit, to forgive, or to pray more, they tell me they’ve learned to keep silent. But inside them brews a thick, sour frustration: How? How do they stay in a marriage that ravages their soul, how do they forgive a person who’s still harming them, what else must they pray to overcome the anguish of abuse and change the heart of their unloving spouse?

I understand Patterson’s reluctance to advise divorce to an abused spouse. Divorce shouldn’t be the first solution. Since the gospel is true, there is always hope for repentance, redemption, and restoration in the most broken, messy marriage. It is right and good for the victim to one day forgive his or her abuser. It is right and good for the victim to pray for his or her abuser, especially if the abuser is not a believer. 

But to get there is a long, complicated, messy journey that requires a lot of intricate, tender care. When hurting spouses approach their spiritual leaders with very real, very urgent questions and trauma, they’re usually not asking for approval to divorce. They’re asking for answers that require sensitivity, nuance, and empathy guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. They’re asking for precise, specialized surgery, not a Band-Aid. They’re asking for brothers and sisters to walk—and sometimes carry them—through this excruciating process together. They’re asking for hope, encouragement, strength, providence, and protection. And it takes more than one pastor to deliver that. It takes the whole church. 

The #MeToo movement in its original purpose sought to rip away the invisible tape over the mouths of women who have faced sexual aggression. Last year, the world watched as hundreds of thousands of women lit their social media platforms with #MeToo hashtags claiming that they, too, have faced sexual harassment or violence. It was meant to empower the vulnerable, spread global awareness, and stir empathy. 

But the scepter of justice can be hard and cold and even lead to further injustice. Even now I see the #MeToo wave growing into a tsunami of bitterness, hurt, vengeance, and destruction. Simply voicing “Me too” is not enough to heal the shame, anger, and pain of wounded individuals. We need more than raw anger and public shaming. We also need more than beating people over the head with Bible verses without shepherding and equipping the saints in their daily struggles.

The Scriptures (Psalm 89:14, Psalm 58:11, Micah 6:8, Proverbs 21:15, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 61:8, to name a few passages) point to God’s extremely high standard of justice. They also point to the only person who fulfilled God’s standard for justice by submitting Himself to the greatest injustice in history: Jesus Christ, who dwelled among us in flesh and lived through all the pain and struggles and betrayals of mankind, who then bore all our shame, self-righteousness, grievances, and guilt on the cross. What a powerful, beautiful paradox! I wonder what the #MeToo movement would look like if it began, continued, and ended with the cross at its center. It’s time to reclaim it.


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  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Mon, 06/04/2018 11:01 pm

    It is not helpful that we are so often living our lives vicariously in social media either as the offended or the offender these days. Rarely does justice result from broad visibility into another's sin, shame, or hurt yet technology today opens up this possibility. Two results of this are 1) many become involved who have no business being involved, and 2) the parties directly involved have less probability of reconciliation. So we all feel "better" about exposing the hurt and sin of others while avoiding the hurt and sin in our own lives; things are actually allowed to fester more on a personal level. I see where Mother Teresa was asked what we can do to promote world peace? Her response, "Go home and love your family" - in effect, act responsibly on a local level. But this acting right locally is a lot more difficult and doesn't get the headlines does it? 

  •  Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Tue, 06/05/2018 12:55 pm

    You're correct that abuse problems need the whole church and not just one pastor. But when the offended is simply looking for safety, peace, justice ... validation for the pain the offender has caused ... how much more pain is inflicted when it's the entire church that sides with the pastor to blame the victim? The church wants immediate reconciliation and for the distastefulness to go away no matter the cost to the victim. How dare the offended upset the facade of order in the church? How dare the offended not deal with her own issues at home? What, after all, is she doing to cause her husband to behave in such a manner? 

    The church doesn't want to experience the messiness of what Godly reconciliation might entail: goal-driven separation, monetary and emotional support, disciplining the offender and/or walking alongside guilt-ridden, sin-sick souls for the long-term.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 06/05/2018 01:40 pm

    Miss Lee has made a powerful point.  Good fathers sometimes use shame as a goad. God is a good Father.

  • E Cole
    Posted: Tue, 06/05/2018 06:29 pm

    Thank you for this article; it makes some very good points. Because this issue involves private sin there will be those who always want to protect the accused because absolute proof is almost never available. That means many will never receive help. But I do think another aspect of this issue needs to be addressed – that being those who care more about politics than people. While the silence of the church and many of its leaders during the “Me Too” movement has been very disappointing, we also need to consider the damage done to the church by Christians who refuse care and comfort to hurting people primarily because they are afraid the movement will eventually knock on the door of our president in a way that can't be hushed by lies and money.

  • Lizzy's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/06/2018 02:45 pm

    While I agree with almost all of this beautifully written article, I disagree with the premise, that the “me too”” movement would look different if it had started within the church.  In our current society, “me too” is as much about punishing the named perpetrator and exacting vengeance as it is about recognizing a victim.  And because the accusations are made publicly to a gullible online audience with no Biblical standards of cororobation needed, justice is not necessarily served.  Both the innocent and the guilty are tried in the same court of uninformed public opinion long before the full story is released  It is a complicated stew where some women in the church see an opportunity to do away with the problematic parts of the Bible regarding whether or not women should be pastors.  That will be the next front in this battle among Christians.  Already many among the destroy Peterson group are now setting their sights on other members of the SBC that led the move back to reformist views including the inerrancy of Scripture.

    I also object to the idea that just because this has become a scandal at one seminary in one denomination, that somehow all Christians and their churches are guilty of handling abuse cases in an ungodly manner.  The church my husband and I attend is reformed, with expository preaching on most Sundays and yet the issue has been addressed from the pulpit. 

    As an aside, a post I found very helpful I giving some perspective is at the blog - “blog and mablog”.  I would post the link but I don’t know how to do it on my iPad.  But there are several thought provoking posts on that site.

  • HJM
    Posted: Wed, 06/06/2018 06:53 pm

    Being reformed does not make you immune, one only need take a look at what happened with CJ Mahaney's church, or Mars Hill, to see this.  I think there will always be people who are seeking revenge, but having been involved in a variety of churches in my life, I have seen the devastation across the board of women and children who have been abused and told to keep it quiet and pray for their spouse/parent.  This has not served the body of Christ well, and it would have made the church a safe place of refuge had the church dealt with the sin as well as trying to keep the family intact in the long run.  However, to leave a woman or child in the abuse and tell them to keep silent is not the answer and has actually made the church more prone to predators who feel safe there.  I believe we are improving in this area, but it is okay to acknowledge the damage that has been done across the denominational board by the church as a whole...not because everyone has participated or condoned abuse, but because we haven't sought the Lord in how to bring healing and health to those broken by abuse much sooner than now.  Yes there are some shining lights out there who have done a wonderful job, and I hope those churches are highlighted when they are found, we can learn much from them.  By the way, the author of blog and mablog was strangely silent on the abuse that was covered up at his protege Mark Driscoll's church in Seattle.  The silence of leaders in the face of abuse encourages injustice as boldly as those who commit the abuse.  

  • AlanE
    Posted: Wed, 06/06/2018 12:39 pm

    The abused spouse issue is an especially difficult issue, made more difficult by the biblical silence on the issue. Marital infidelity was evidently an issue is Jesus' day, and he addresses that issue with respect to divorce. It's difficult to believe spousal abuse wasn't an issue in Jesus' day, yet Jesus is silent on that issue. Or, more precisely, Jesus allows only infidelity as grounds for divorce. It seems we must find a way of dealing with the spousal abuse issue without looking to divorce as a solution (yet also without regarding divorce as the unpardonable sin). It's not biblical, but the old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure is certainly worth keeping in mind. How do we keep this from starting in the first place? What are the responsibilities of both male and female members of the body with respect to diminishing the frequency with which this occurs? Any "solution" that lays the responsibility solely at the feet of one sex or the other is bound to end in failure.

    That's not the solution to the whole #MeToo problem in a nutshell, but it does address a very large part of the issue where the church is concerned.

  • Narissara
    Posted: Thu, 06/07/2018 04:01 pm

    I'm not entirely sure the Bible's silent on the topic of domestic violence.  In Malachi 2:16, God says, “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty."  (See Malachi 2:13-17 for the context)

    I might be misinterpreting it, but when you think about the way Ruth "proposed" to Boaz (Ruth 3), I can't help but think the reference to covering himself with his garment has something to do with the marriage covenant, especially when it's spoken of in the same breath as divorce here.  

    Maybe part of the solution is for male and female members of the body alike to take the doctrine of sanctification seriously, preferably starting when they're still single.  

  • AlanE
    Posted: Fri, 06/08/2018 07:09 pm


    Your thought on Malachi 2:16 is a fair point worth thinking about. In response to your comment, I've done some studying on that verse. It looks as if the consensus of thought is that "violence" is a metaphor here for divorce (an interesting idea all in itself) and probably not a statement about domestic violence, per se. If we have here a typical example of Hebrew poetic parallelism,then we would expect the second part of the verse to repeat or amplify the first rather than introduce a new idea. That said, I don't think that what you suggest here is an entirely untenable understanding. 

    Thanks for the nudge on this!


  • Narissara
    Posted: Mon, 06/11/2018 10:28 am


    Thank you as well.  You’ve given me something to think about too.  I missed the parallelism and hadn’t thought of violence as a metaphor for divorce.  I do think it’s apt, though.  Very few couples find themselves happily married one day and in divorce court the next, regardless of any history of abuse.  Marriages usually fall apart because one or both parties fail to exercise biblical principles (again, taking sanctification seriously).  I would say the most important is agape love, which is the exact opposite of violence.  It could be sheer laziness at first, but hearts can be hardened.  “One good turn deserves another” and the failures turn into spiteful jabs until somebody finally decides they’ve had enough.  

  • HJM
    Posted: Wed, 06/06/2018 07:03 pm

    Thank you, Sophia.  This is one of the first encouraging articles I've read on this subject.  Your last two sentences give me the words to pray for and hope that the Lord can use the days we are living in to bring the church to repentance and back to its calling to be a city on a hill that can bring hope through the cross to those who are hurting.

  • Lizzy's picture
    Posted: Thu, 06/07/2018 02:32 am


    There doesn’t seem to be a reply button so I will just post it here.  I didn’t realize the author of blog and mablog had any connection whatsoever to Mark Driscoll.  (And in the interests of full disclosure we had attended Mars Hill as the church fell apart and like many were deeply saddened by how that situation played out and the lack of willingness on the part of the main participants to repent and reconcile).  I still stand by my recommendation for the posts regarding Patterson, although having researched his background tonight I would probably be hesitant to wholeheartedly endorse his entire blog.  Perhaps it was my Mars Hill experience that taught me that much of what was reported bore little resemblance to the truth of what we were living.  In reality, the good guys and the bad guys were not so easy to tell apart and it took awhile to figure out what and whom to believe.  There was an agenda on both sides of that conflict and very little Christlike behavior.  That is probably why I    question those calling for Patterson to be basically excommunicated (if baptists had such a process) until the inconsistencies in the various stories being told are reconciled.  One person’s set of “facts” may not be another’s, and there may be agendas behind people’s actions that influence what they say publically.

    I think the whole idea of what constitutes abuse needs to be more tightly defined as well.  We are becoming a perpetually aggrieved culture - ready to virtue signal anonymously but never fleshing out what it would look like to actually live those fine sounding words and what a messy process it is to get it right.  Right now there is a presumption out there that only women and children can be abused which is not true - men can also be abused.  I have also read that it is the fault of complementarians that women are abused.  As my husband would say, those who believe that need to read the rest of the chapter as the Bible clearly proclaims that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  The church as a whole would be far better off if we stopped paying attention to the current fashionable cause and spent our time instead searching the Scriptures and praying to God to change us from the inside out into the men and women he created us to be.  If we made that our goal, sins of whatever stripe would be recognized as such and the people involved could get the help and support they need.