Trigger warning: this post contains a discussion of harassment, abuse, and power dynamics. Please proceed according to personal level of comfort with these topics.
During October (as part of the #Write31Days online challenge), we’re unpacking what the Reformation means for our faith community here on our blog. Click here to catch up on the rest of the series.
Yesterday, the media world was flooded by the hashtag #MeToo. Women around the world shared their stories of harassment and abuse with their friends and platform audiences, in an effort to share the pervasiveness of these problems women face.
Although credited to Alyssa Milano this week, the hashtag-movement started 10 years ago when activist Tarana Burke coined the phrase. As I (Christa) study the Reformation this month and observe the viral event this week, I can’t help but wonder if the Mothers of the Reformation would stand in solidarity with all of us today? After mulling it over for a bit (24 hours… seriously just “a bit”), I feel that they would.
Harassment in all forms is about more than sexuality, at the heart of the desire to harass is a desire to control. To assert one’s power over another. Throughout much of church history, women have been subjected to (and subjugated by) men in power. The time period of the Reformation is no historical exception.
Margaretha Pruss was a woman of the Reformation who desired to see the ideals of the time spread in print. As the daughter of a printer, however, she was ineligible to join the local printer’s guild. As such, she entered into marriages with other printers (three to be exact, although not simultaneously!) so she could continue her work. Elisabeth Cruciger arose as the first Protestant hymn writer. Although she was a close friend of Martin Luther and his family, her works were considered subversive and were subsequently banned. Even Katherina Luther, who seems to me to be the focus of new academic focus, was overshadowed by her husband Martin’s long historical shadow. The powers that have been prominent in the last 500 years have continued to assert their power over the narrative of history, excluding women from their rightful places in our books.
For more on this topic, I recommend the excellent book Mrs. Luther and Her Sisters: Women in the Reformation by Derek Wilson.
So what’s a follower of Christ in 2017 to do with all this information?
First, speak up. When you experience harassment, either directly or as an observer, say something. Esquire offers great workplace tips and Southern Poverty Law Center offers a comprehensive guide to speaking up against any kind of hatred on its website.
Second, speak out. Tell your elected officials, local journalists, community leaders and others in positions of authority that harassment in any form is not acceptable. Write letters or emails, tweet or post Facebook comments. It doesn’t matter much what you do, as long as you’re taking action. Pinot Mom offers advice on how to take action in 5 minutes a day, and yes, that really is all the time it takes to make a difference in the world.
Third, speak in. Be kind to folks who’ve experienced harassment. The #MeToo movement teaches us that most women have experienced deep hurt in their lives. If you’re a woman reading this, that means you likely have too. I have and there can be great comfort in a community as those of us with common experiences lean on one another for encouragement. In doing so, we “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). Taking this a step further, try speaking life into your own experience as well. Experiences of power dominance, like harassment and abuse, can lead to feelings of helplessness and shame that threaten senses of self and identity. It’s often difficult to unwind these feelings without help and gifted counselors are true blessings on this journey. If you need one, here’s a resource to get you started.
If you’re a man reading this, you’ve got women in your life who’ve experienced harassment or abuse of some kind. They need you to speak into their lives – words of encouragement, safety, and comfort. Sadly, resources for you all are few. While researching this post, I dug through four pages of Google search results to get to just one article that I can reasonably recommend. Here it is, from Men’s Health. If you’d like to join the conversation and post additional resources in the comments section below, I’ll add them back to this post.
Editing to add additional helpful resources from readers:
21 Things Not To Say To Sexual Abuse Victims
I leave you with a hymn from the Reformation that sings to us of God our protector. My prayer is that this song reminds you (and me too) where our help comes from in any time of trouble. When those in power harass or abuse, may we continue to stubbornly cling to the truth that God is a mighty fortress:
And finally, here’s a second piece that I tend to post when writing on matters related to any kind of hurt that needs healing. It reminds me that those of who are broken and seek wholeness (and the folks that love and support us) can’t rush our healing:
Save the date: October 29! We’ll celebrate the Reformation and the confirmation of 7 young people in our community with one service at 10:00 a.m. Our synod bishop will preach, and we’ll follow the service with an Oktoberfest celebration. Come for the service, stay for the German food, beer and wine (for a donation), a hymn sing and lots of fun!
Christa Cordova serves the Beautiful Savior community as ministry apprentice and occasional blogger (June 2017-March 2018). She anticipates completing her master of divinity degree at Fuller Seminary in 2018.