From Reckoning to Renewal
We cannot understate the importance of the #MeToo movement
The #MeToo movement is having an unsettling effect across Canada – we might go as far as to say that it has been a source of some turmoil. To refer to this turmoil, however, is not to criticize the movement or to undermine its importance. Indeed, we can only be grateful to those women who have wrestled with the question whether to publicly disclose the sexual abuse they have experienced – grateful to those who have faced personal turmoil in the wake of such disclosures. Their willingness to take this step has been in the service of constructive, cultural change.
The goal of #MeToo is to overturn those features of society that have allowed men to objectify, sexually harass and abuse women. Its purpose is to help us realize that men have sometimes used their relative power to exploit women and to help us in establishing appropriate levels of transparency, openness and respect for women.
While the movement has been unfolding for some months or years, it is still characterized by a high degree of uncertainty. We don’t have well-defined processes for the public disclosure of abuse or for the conversations those disclosures require. And there are extreme voices within the conversation which only make things more difficult. On one extreme are those who insist that claims of sexual misconduct must always be assessed using rules of evidence from a courtroom. On the other are those who insist that every claim of abuse must be believed without question – that asking any question at all reinforces dismissiveness toward women, and thereby perpetuates sexual abuse.
From the perspective of Christian faith, we can discern an additional challenge within this public discourse. Namely, that it generally lacks an orientation toward reconciliation – toward the renewal of relationships and the restoration of those who have done harm. Of course, to even raise the question of reconciliation will likely elicit one of two responses. Either confusion (“Huh?!”) or anger (“How dare you!?”). But from the perspective of Christian faith it is always appropriate to ask concerning reconciliation. Our belonging to Christ means that we are defined by reconciliation!
Taking the long view
This doesn’t mean that we simplistically demand forgiveness. The way of reconciliation in Christ requires a series of significant responses. It involves truth-telling, which means a disclosure of harm done, of marginalization inflicted, and of pain caused – along with meaningful listening to such stories of harm. Reconciliation also require repentance, which entails a perpetrator’s regret over past behavior and a turning toward constructive and healthy modes of relating.
Equally important, reconciliation also involves judgment. Sometimes this judgment takes place precisely through the truth-telling and repentance described above. That is, the one who has done harm will experience the disclosure of their wrongdoing, as well as their turning toward a new way, as a painful reckoning; as judgment. Sometimes, however, judgment must go further – when the level of harm inflicted requires a further reckoning. Such judgment might entail the loss of a position of trust, or the loss of a job. In some instances, it might mean a fine or imprisonment, which expresses the community’s repudiation of the violence perpetrated.
In the context of Christian faith, however, this judgment is never for judgment’s sake. Rather, the judgement of God in Christ is always a judgment that aims at our renewal and restoration – it is judgment in the service of grace. Even imprisonment, if it comes to that, should be implemented with a view to the reform and renewal of the person to society and relationships. In the context of #MeToo, however, it seems that there are many who seem to demand judgment against abusers for the sake of judgment alone.
We cannot understate the importance of the #MeToo movement. This cultural upheaval, we hope, is leading to a shift in attitudes toward women and a repudiation of abusive behavior. My only caution, here, is that in all of this we not neglect the way of reconciliation. To do so would be to refuse the truth of our lives and of our world, in Christ. I am not advocating for cheap grace. Rather, I suggesting that our call for judgment always also be a call for grace and restoration.