Happy Spring? I think? We had snow yesterday and I keep slipping just enough to twinge a groin muscle that I sprained badly in JANUARY, which is entirely charming and doesn’t at all make me feel like I’m 106 years old.
I have a serious subject to raise with you, clergy colleagues. I spent much of Friday night on the phone with a female colleague hearing about yet another case of sexual misconduct within our ranks — and trying to stategize an appropriate response with her within our current structures.
Lately, I have been adding up all the hours I have spent over the years discussing male ministers’ casual, jokey sexism — and in some cases actual groping and assault — against female colleagues and church staff, and I am angry at the theft of all our time and energy. I serve in the most lefty Protestant denomination in the country (we’re so Left, many of our members and clergy would deny we’re even Protestant at all, but we most definitely are in the sociological sense, if not theologically). We should know better. We have been doing work on human sexuality for decades and were the first (or second) to ordain women in the 19th century.
We do not know any better. Those of us who blow the whistle are still accused of being uptight and complaints or corrections in the moment are mostly either laughed off or diminished. Because we’re so bad at intersectionalism, we have been told that we’re “whiny white women” (this by other white leaders).
Particularly since #MeToo, women ministers have been talking amongst ourselves about how sick and tired we are of tolerating objectification, icky jokes, outright discrimination and uncomfortable situations with colleagues.
I am thinking of a wonderful woman colleague who went to peck the cheek of an esteemed old male colleague in greeting at an event she was hosting at her church. He quickly maneuvered his face and stuck his tongue in her mouth. She was shocked, horrified and traumatized, and still is. While she was still mulling over what to do, he sent her an e-mail thanking her for hosting the event and quoth, “Your tongue tastes like heaven.’
She did not file a complaint for reasons of her own, but continues to struggle emotionally with the fallout from this disgusting assault. Again, a terrible theft of her time, energy, wellness and sense of safety in the environment of collegial gatherings.
One of the reasons ministers in my denomination hesitate to report our colleagues for skeevy behavior is that our collegial covenant is outdated and paternalistic, and presumes some sort of baseline decency among our ranks that does not exist. Our covenant pressures all of us in ministry to assume best intentions of one another, to speak directly with one another when grievances arise (can you imagine being expected to speak to someone who has assaulted you? Try that in real life!), and to work things out with a Good Officer — a third party whose role it is to help the colleagues have the necessary conversation, to listen well, and to facilitate a fair process.
We call bullshit. We are not family, and we are not friends. We are a group of professional colleagues who have all been through the same rigorous educational, training, screening, vetting and discernment process that tries, but cannot possibly assure, that we are mature, healthy people with appropriate boundaries and egalitarian attitudes and practices. If we don’t know by now that such rigorous training is no assurance against the ancient assumptions and attitudes of patriarchy, we are practicing willful ignorance.
I have zero patience for the “oh, this is turning into a witch hunt” complaint. As Lindy West wrote, “Yes, this is a witch hunt. I’m a Witch, and I’m hunting you.”
I would like to know what your denominations have in place that specifically address sexual misconduct among religious professionals.