Before I begin, I want to clearly establish something very important: This is not a political post. It is not an argument for Hillary Clinton, it’s not about the issues facing voters, and it’s not really even about the political positions of Donald Trump. I understand the delicate decision that hangs in the balance for the occupation of the Oval Office, the future of the Supreme Court, and the “lesser of two evils.” I understand all those things completely. And this post is about none of those things. This post is not about the Democratic Party, and it is not about the Republican Party. This post is about the Church. This post is about men of God, and how, right now, we are failing our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends. Responding to this post with any arguments of politics, or how “Hillary is worse” will entirely and completely miss the point. I am calling men to action, but I’m not really talking about political action. I’m talking about what the women in our lives are desperately waiting for.
Last night, I awoke at 4am to find my wife in tears. I quickly gathered that she had still not gone to sleep. I knew this wasn’t about a bad dream. Sadly (or maybe it was funny?), my first thought was “did I do something?” I reached over and asked her what was wrong. She looked at me and sobbed, “Where are the mighty men of God??”
Last week when the recording of Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” was released, pundits on both sides quickly went into spin mode. The Democrats and the “Never Trumpers” gleefully cried out “See?? We told you so!” Many Republicans responded with “Hillary is worse,” or “I’m less concerned with what Trump said than with what Hillary has actually done.” Donald Trump himself “apologized” in the same manner, adamantly asserting that it was “only words,” and that this was all a ploy to distract us from far worse scandals perpetrated by the other side.
This is truthfully nothing new. As far back as the Republican primaries, “evangelicals” had a number of candidates to choose from, none of whom, besides Trump, were making a habit of public vulgarity. It’s not like “Tapegate” revealed anything surprising about Trump; if anything, it confirmed what everyone ignored during the primaries. But evangelicals were so concerned with “rocking the establishment” that they sold out on principles, and said “we’re willing to overlook his flaws.” Even famous, influential Christian leaders turned a blind eye to glaring character deficiencies and hailed Trump as a “man of morals and Christian values.” Fast forward to October 2016, and many Christian leaders have been left with egg on their face. This is what the world sees from the church. Let’s be clear about that.
In the wake of “Tapegate,” Facebook blew up with opinions, responses and viewpoints. Voters on both sides defended their candidates, and threw the opponent under the bus. There was enough mudslinging for a person to walk away from the screen feeling covered. Alison has basically spent all day on Facebook for the last three days, and like many women, she heard something very loud and very clear:
She scoured her newsfeed, at first expectantly, and later with bewilderment, searching for responses from men of God standing up for their sisters. “Surely they must just be crafting thoughtful responses,” she thought. So she and many other women posted statuses, calling out the cultural acceptance of Trump’s words. “Surely,” she thought, “the trusted men in my life will respond to my status and agree wholeheartedly that Trump’s words were deplorable.” Instead, the responses she and others received were a mixture of “all sin is sin,” “who am I to judge,” and “it’s just words. Hillary is worse. She’s actually done bad things.” But what cut her heart deeply was not the responses she was receiving; it was the radio silence of so many men. Here was a man seeking to be the most powerful figure on earth making light of sexual assault, and our sisters thought to themselves “our loved ones will stand up for us.” Instead…
Before I go any further, something else needs to be established. What Trump said in that bus was not an example of “locker room talk.” I hear locker room talk every day. I go to work in a secular environment where nearly all my coworkers are men. (In addition to being a pastor, I also work a “normal” blue collar job). I hear every day the comments they make about a girl who walks by, or a girl they’re looking at on their phones. They talk about her figure, her attributes, and the sexual acts they would perform if she gave them the chance. And let me be perfectly forthright: in years past, I engaged in the same type of conversation. I’m ashamed to admit that I, too, was guilty of conduct and speech unbecoming of a Christian man. As I matured, I came to a place of repentance of that sin. But in the many times I have been privy to or engaged in “locker room talk,” do you know what I have never, ever heard? Bragging about sexual assault. I’ve heard crude speech men engage in about their wives and girlfriends. I’ve heard about the one-night stands and hookups. And I’ve heard many times what they wish they could do to a particular woman. But I’ve never once heard “when I see a hot girl, I just take what I want without consent. I’m so big and bad that I can just walk up and grab it without asking.” Listen up. I want you to hear something loud and clear: That’s not locker room talk; that’s assault. Look, as Christian men who believe that women are equal image-bearers of the Father, we should be convicted by any kind of locker room talk. There is no excuse for it. It is not and never has been OK. Our Christ would never view women in that way, and neither should we, even in jest. So any Christian who shrugs at any type of “locker room talk” has some serious things to deal with before the Lord. Has our standard of what is acceptable stooped so low? I was under the impression that our standard was “Be holy, for I am holy, and I have separated you from the peoples that you should be mine.” (Leviticus 20:26). Have we reached a point in the church where now our standard has become “everyone does it?” Let’s be clear: our moral barometer shouldn’t ever be what adolescent boys are saying to one-up each other. When we reach a point where a man can brag about assaulting women and we don’t even bat an eye, we need to take a long hard look in the mirror.
I want you to imagine that you are out in public with your wife, girlfriend, mother or daughter. You see two men checking her out, giving her the up and down. Then you happen to overhear one of them say, “I’m going to walk up to her and grab her by the p**** without asking. I bet she’ll let me.” What would you do? If you’re anything like me, you would prevent him from assaulting her with some assault of your own. You would stand up and defend her. You would scream at him that no one, and I mean no one, talks about my loved one in that way. Listen, my wife is a strong, independent woman, and she might not “need” my protection. Knowing her, she would make that man regret his actions without any help from me, and if anything, I’d probably have to hold her back. My money would be on her in most fights. She may be little, but she’s full of fire. My beautiful bride is Italian, and the tomato sauce can boil, if you know what I mean. But even if she didn’t “need” me in that situation, can you imagine what her response would be if I just stood there silently? She would be appalled. She would look at me and scream, “really?? Nothing?? You’re just going to stand there and let him talk about me like that??” (And then she would proceed to kick the guy in the face.)
Listen up men: that is exactly what is happening right now. It’s not that our sisters, wives, girlfriends, daughters and friends are helpless damsels and they need knights to rescue them. As Alison has seen for the last three days on Facebook, there are plenty of strong women who are standing up for themselves. But I can assure you of one thing: they are looking at us and asking, “really? You’re not going to say anything?”
I want to remind you of what I said at the beginning. This is not a political post. This post is directed at the men of the church. If we just sit here in silence, the clear message we are sending our sisters in Christ is this: “we don’t care.” Or worse, “the image of God in you is not worth defending.”
Please understand something: this is not merely an issue of words. No, this is an issue of safety. This is an issue of incredible risk. According to statistics, someone in America is sexually assaulted every two minutes. 1 out of every 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Sexual assaults happen all around us every day. But did you know that only 26% of those assaults are ever reported? For various reasons, 74% of the women who are victimized never come forward. And one of the chief reasons is because they do not feel safe doing so. We need to be incredibly aware of the risk we are creating when we do not stand up to fight against rape culture. If we’re going to allow the hopeful President of the United States to trivialize assault, how many more assaults are going to happen, and how many more will go unreported? If girls grow up believing that men can just take what they want without asking, and if boys grow up in a culture where that’s no big deal, are we foolish enough to believe that our daughters, sisters and wives are not being put at greater risk?
And that’s just culture. Remember that I’m talking about the Church. Out of anywhere, church should the the one place a woman can enter and feel safe. It should be the one place that a woman feels valued as an image bearer of God, not the sexual object that culture tells her she is. It should be the one place where she can look around and see men who value family and equality, and that there isn’t any “locker room talk” among men when she walks by them in the sanctuary. But what are women hearing right now from the men of God who surround them?
Or they’re hearing that the state of the church was so much worse than they feared. They’re hearing that they aren’t valued. They’re hearing that Christian men are ok with locker room talk. They’re hearing that all sin is sin, and we just all need to calm down. It’s only words, after all! They are hearing deplorable trivialization of assault, and being told that it’s normal. They are standing there, staring at us with their mouths agape asking “really?? Nothing?? You’re just going to stand there and let him talk about us like that??”
NOT IN MY CHURCH. I refuse to just stand by and let that happen under my watch. I refuse to send women that message. I know that the Church belongs to God, and isn’t mine. But he has called me to be a steward over the congregation he has given me to lead, and I’ll be damned if the women in my church don’t feel safe. I’ll be damned if families don’t feel safe and secure leaving their children in our care. My church will not be a place where women feel anything less than what they are: equal image-bearers of the Father, worthy of respect, worthy of honor and worthy of defense. I know that as a pastor, as a trusted spiritual leader, the women of my church are going to be looking at me wondering, “is he going to say something?”
Ladies, I hear you. And I promise you that I will do everything in my power to honor you, and stand up when you are wronged. I promise that I will do everything in my power to create a culture in our congregation where you can feel safe getting help. If you are the 1 in 6 women who has been victimized, I will do everything in my power to ensure that you are not shamed when you walk through our doors. And if anyone dares to fight against a culture where women are valued, they will be shown the exit.
Christian brothers, I implore you: let us be the mighty men that the church needs. Let us not bow down to culture, and trivialize sin. Let us take back the reins from “evangelicals” who have traded holiness for political position. Let us look squarely in the eyes of the women around us and tell them that they don’t have to fight this battle alone.
I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. It’s not my job to tell you what political decisions to make. But what I am going to tell you is this:
Be “mighty men.” Your sisters are desperately waiting.