University Congregational Church
Feb. 3, 2019
“#ChurchToo, #YouToo, #MeToo”
Or “When God’s Gift of Sexuality Gets Misused”
Song of Solomon 2:8-9; excerpts from chapter 4
Last week we talked about the importance of giving yourself some grace. I mentioned a mantra: “You are loved. You are forgiven. Your future is open.” What happens, though, when trust is broken at a root level within us and it becomes very difficult to even hear those words more or less believe them?
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center…
• One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
• In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime
• Almost half (49.5%) of multiracial women and over 45% of American Indian/Alaska Native women were subjected to some form of sexual violence in their lifetime
• One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old
• Only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the authorities
• Nearly two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment
Along with the #MeToo movement, that gained momentum last year, there is a #ChurchToo movement. That’s because the church, tragically, is not immune to sexual violence and abuse.
Friends, let me say upfront that I believe the Creator blessed us with the amazing and beautiful gift of sexuality. I say that as a woman and as a theologian. There are many Biblical texts that remind us that our bodies were made to be enjoyed; that our sexuality is a gift; that we are to enjoy and treasure our partners and their physical bodies. The Song of Solomon is one of the most sensual books ever written (and most people wouldn’t guess that it is in the Bible!) Here are a few excerpts:
The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
Leaping upon the mountains,
Bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
Or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
Behind our wall,
Gazing in the windows,
Looking through the lattice. Song of Solomon 2:8-9
How beautiful you are, my love,
How very beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
Behind your veil.
Your lips are like a crimson thread,
And your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halfs of a pomegranate
Behind your veil.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
That feed among the lilies.
You are altogether beautiful, my love;
There is no flaw in you. Song of Solomon 4 excerpts
The texts are clear that our bodies are to be valued and delighted in. Our bodies are not objects to misuse or abuse. When we see a person do we really see him or her? Do we understand that that person is a soul with a body and not the other way around? We are souls first. And when our bodies are misused, our souls are deeply wounded.
To objectify someone’s body is to treat someone as an object instead of a subject. Objects are acted upon, whereas subjects act for themselves. Objectification reduces a person to a job. That person has value only if the person can perform the job. This completely flies in the face of our belief as Christians and as children of God. The 3 faiths stemming from Abraham – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – are based in the idea that we are created with intention and purpose… that we are children of God and that we are beloved.
Our average worship attendance at UCC is between 150 – 170 each Sunday. More than ½ of our attendees are women. Let’s say we have roughly 100 women here each week. Statistically speaking, 1/5 of them (20) has experienced or will experience rape in their lifetime. And if the other 70 in attendance are men, one of them will experience rape in their lifetime.
Again, in our congregation statistically speaking, 33 women and 12 men here today will experience sexual assault. And at least 2 of the children who were here for our children’s message this morning will experience sexual abuse before they are 18 years old, statistically speaking.
I want to reassure you that we have taken precautions here at UCC to ensure that our children and adults are protected by doing background checks and various protocols to ensure their safety. But this is a reality in our world today. Paul and I are committed to making UCC a safe place for all people to worship and to come for counseling and support. We believe each person has inherent value and that your bodies are sacred. And we are aware that sexual violence is real. If you are a survivor of sexual assault and need someone to talk to, Paul and I are available.
As you may be aware, the #MeToo movement was actually started more than 10 years ago by an African American advocate, Tarana Burke, who was trying to connect with other women of color who were survivors of sexual assault. It was then picked up last year by a number of actresses who came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of harassment, abuse, and rape. Subsequently it went viral and women from all walks of life have responded with #MeToo. The major impact of the #MeToo movement has been to give voice to victims and survivors and to encourage people to hear and believe survivors and stop blaming them. The sheer number of women and also men who have come forward is astonishing and from every segment of society.
Along with the beautiful texts in our Bible about sexuality and our physical bodies, there are texts about rape, incest, and sexual abuse. I have been asked why those terrible stories were included in the canon. Why are the stories about the horrific subjugation of women left in holy scripture? What purpose could be served in continuing to tell those ancient stories? I believe that the stories actually serve an important purpose: to remind us that humanity is capable of atrocious and evil things and to remind us that we are not alone in our pain.
What is the good news from #MeToo and #Church Too? There is much good news to share!
• According to the Society of Human Resources, 33% of Executives acknowledge that they have adjusted their behavior in the workplace
• Training about sexual boundaries has increased by 30-45%
• More people feel empowered to report incidents instead of keeping silent – in some places reports are up 12%
• More conversations are taking place in families, workplaces, churches, and other groups. In fact, I found hundreds of sermon resources and actual sermons about sexual abuse.
• Power dynamics have shifted. More people are being held accountable than before. Not everyone who has committed a crime will be arrested, but there is progress.
• Support groups for men and women are increasing in number and participation. More victims are reaching out for help.
Listed in your bulletin are ways you can help prevent sexual abuse and ways you can help those who have been sexually abused. This is only the beginning. Google other ways you can be involved – or call one of our local agencies to volunteer. And remember to always, always see people as subjects, not objects; as souls, not bodies. That is our call as Christians.
I quote Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune for the end of this sermon, “The church should be the first place that anyone who has been abused would come for help…because that person knows they will find a just judge and a compassionate community here. Because she or he will find a sweet cool drink of justice here. Let us strive to be that place.”
Fortune, Rev. Dr. Marie. “Kings, Queens, and #Me Too”. www.faithtrustinstitute.org April 10, 2018.