#TogetherWeCan: 5 Things Clergy Can Do About #metoo

After the #metoo viral social media campaign of the last few weeks, we asked several female leaders to reflect on the problem within the Church—and how Anglican clergy and leaders can respond. The first is Ally Kern, who offers insights gleaned from the college students she teaches, as well as 5 tangible things clergy can do. 

by Ally Kern

Last week millions of women around the world posted #MeToo on their social media to acknowledge they had been victims of sexual harassment or assault by men. This viral hash tag was incited by the numerous testimonies of women who recently went public with the sexual abuse they suffered from Hollywood film director Harvey Weinstein. This not only brought to the forefront just how prolific the reality of male violence against women is in America, but also raised the question of how can church leaders respond to this daily reality that women and girls live with? In wrestling with this question, I decided to ask my students at the Christian university where I teach what they wanted people to know about #MeToo. Here is a brief summary of what the students revealed:

  • Every female in the class had multiple experiences of sexual harassment and/or assault from men. This often started when they were young girls, and ranged from being ogled by older men, to having guys make catcalls or yell derogatory sexual words or even threats of rape while they were walking or driving. These young women also told stories of guys making comments about their body and level of attractiveness, to touching them without permission, making sexual jokes, refusing to accept their ‘NO’ in dating or married relationships, as well as experiences of incest and rape. Overall, these women had experienced within the Christian church that their value was less than men, that their bodies were regularly objectified as sexual objects, and that they—despite being victims—were held responsible for the harassment and assault they experienced from men.
    Overall, these women had experienced within the Christian church that their value was less than men.
  • The men were deeply concerned about the sexual harassment and assault that so many women suffer. They felt strongly that Christian guys need to take a firm stance to support and empower women as equals and worthy of their respectful behavior. However, they were unsure exactly what actions they could take to encourage Christian men to stand up for women’s rights not to be harassed or abused.
  • Together, my students realized that sexual harassment and assault is a part of the everyday life of women and girls in the U.S. It is a part of the larger sociocultural and political spheres, as well as the local church in both subtle and explicit ways that are complex and challenging to address. Yet, as followers of Christ we agreed that it is imperative we work together on this vital issue.

Whether you are an Anglican clergy, small group leader, parent, sibling, or friend, as Christians we are called to declare the Good News of Jesus that men and women are equally made in the image of God with the shared mandate to nurture the flourishing of all creation (Genesis 1:27). In living out the life of Christ in our own family, church, and community, then, we must join together to cultivate peace and safety for women and girls. Sharing in the Kingdom vision of all people being free from harassment, assault, and abuse, together we can take active steps to make this God-given dream a reality. I have listed a few suggestions for how together we can be productive towards this aim:

  1. Listen compassionately. Take the stance of believing a person when they disclose they have been sexually assaulted and/or harassed. Rather than asking a bunch of questions, first hold their stories with compassion and active listening. Then ask the simple question, “How can I best support you?”
  2. Safety Matters. Ask the women you know in your family, workplace, and church how safe they feel in their home, work, church, and community. You can ask them, “How safe do you feel, and is there anything I can do to help or support you?”
  3. Pay Attention. Be intentionally aware of people who are more vulnerable in our society, including females, people of color, children and young adults, foster kids, and those with low-incomes. Be curious about how you may be contributing to their experiences of oppression and suffering.
  4. Speak Out. When you notice a person being sexually harassed or assaulted, don’t stay silent or wait for someone else to respond. If it’s safe for you to do so, let the perpetrator know their behavior is unacceptable. Call the police, gather others around to help stop an assault, and get the victim to safety.
  5. Teach Consent. Teach guys and girls how critical it is to get clear and conscious consent, and what constitutes sexual harassment, assault, and abuse.

    Be curious about how you may be contributing to experiences of oppression and suffering.

Together we can take these—and additional—steps to gain awareness of sexual assault, nurture safety and healing for those who are victims, and cultivate God’s Kingdom of peace on earth in our homes, churches, and communities.

  • When is the last time you spoke out on behalf of someone vulnerable?
  • Do you know if the women in your church feel safe?
  • How could you start conversations in your community around #metoo?

Ally Kern is an advocate for empowering women worldwide with over 15 years of experience working in leadership roles for churches and international development organizations in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Recognizing the critical role religion plays in violence against women, she works as a professor of practical theology while pursuing a Doctorate where she is doing groundbreaking interdisciplinary research in the fields of neuroscience, trauma, and spirituality. Ally will utilize this research to create the first domestic violence recovery course that is spiritually, psychologically, and theologically-integrated.

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