by Anne Linstatter and Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Sometimes it’s a good idea to look at the whole story to see how everything fits together.
In the fall of 2017, seeds of a new movement quickly took root and began spreading rapidly as prominent men in the film industry, news media, politics, sports, education, and other fields were ousted from positions of power and influence. The reason for their downfall? Charges of sexual harassment and abuse.
The public responded again and again with shocked disbelief. A common reaction: “Surely not him! How can that be?”
As the accusations multiplied, the burgeoning movement formed almost immediately by those who were targets of sexual harassment grew, reflecting an end to women’s silence in the face of insensitive and abusive treatment by men. Years of sexual harassment and sexual assaults were now out in the open, and the problem was far more extensive than many people imagined. Women were now using social media and other means of communication and collective action to declare they would no longer tolerate such mistreatment. They would not be intimidated. They would not keep quiet about sexual assaults and insults because of fear they wouldn’t be believed. Nor would they hide their stories to avoid blame and shame and threats of job loss. And they were rejecting societal expectations that it is better for women to suffer in silence than to risk harming a man’s reputation (or their own) by being told it was all their fault. A new day was dawning.
The “Me Too” movement was up and running. The name consisted of two single-syllable words that, multiplied by the numbers of those who claimed them, showed the extent of a long-buried problem. The simple phrase summed up both the problem and the possibility of a solution. The pronoun made it personal (“it happened to me”), and the “too” made it collective (“it happened to lots of others as well”). Women acting together could change things. This was a new way to look at the pain many were feeling.
Thus, actress Alyssa Milano suggested on her Twitter account in October, 2017, that by tweeting “me too” in response to the growing media accounts of sexual harassment and assault, anyone who had experienced such abusive treatment could help call attention to the pervasiveness of such experiences. Alyssa was amazed that 1.7 people from all over the world rapidly responded by using the #MeToo hashtag.
One Twitter user quickly pointed to the work of another woman, Tarana Burke, who had voiced the same idea and same phrase in a different campaign more than ten years earlier, long before the 2017 hashtag existed. Alyssa immediately acknowledged Tarana’s work and the two have worked together since then.
Tanara Burke had used the “Me too” phrase as she worked with an organization she founded in 2006. Called Just Be Inc. it was designed as “a youth organization focused on the health, well being and wholeness of young women of color.” The organization’s website highlights the concern she felt that music and pop culture —and the media in general— “increasingly diminish the importance, worth, and esteem of girls and women, particularly women of color.” She saw sexual abuse as a problem faced by numerous girls and young women she was working with. Watch this short video as she talks about her varied efforts, among marginalized people especially, by emphasizing “empowerment through empathy” as a way of helping survivors find healing.
By January, 2018, a related movement for empowerment was gaining ground, led in part by celebrities in the entertainment industries who wanted to call attention to lesser known grassroots activists who were doing amazing work for social justice among people such as farm workers, domestic workers, native American tribes, and other often underrepresented and overlooked groups but whose efforts had received little publicity.
At the Golden Globes ceremony, various film stars brought with them a diverse group of such social activists. They were joining together to show they would not sit around waiting for workplace violence and harassment to end without actively working for such change. Nor would they passively wait for gender inequities of any kind to simply disappear out of the kindness or conscience of those in power. No, “Times Up!” they were declaring. The phrase became another rallying cry and another hashtag, #TimesUpNow. You can meet some of these justice activists and the celebrities who brought them on Democracy Now.
As the #MeToo movement was advancing, a report by Casey Quackenbush in the November 22 issue of Time magazine was titled “The Religious Community Is Speaking Out Against Sexual Violence With #Church Too.” The #ChurchToo hashtag originated with efforts by Hannah Paasch and Emily Joy.
How and why these two women came up with the movement is told in detail in an article by Laurie Bullard titled, “The #ChurchToo Movement Isn’t Just about Gender,” posted on the online magazine Jezebel. Bullard emphasizes important points made by Duke Divinity School professor Christena Cleveland:
According to Cleveland, “There are theological elements of the evangelical church that make it impossible to affirm the image of God in some people. There is no way of getting around that.” And if the evangelical church is unable or unwilling to see that the image of God is black, brown, queer, poor, and assaulted, the evangelical church will continue to sanction, even to mandate violence.
#Silence Is Not Spiritual
Sometimes silence is not golden, nor is it spiritual. During the 2017 Christmas season, 140 evangelical women started another hashtag, #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. It was designed as part of a campaign to run until Easter, 2018. According to #Silence Is Not Spiritual, ”We are experiencing a kairos moment—a window of opportunity to bring healing in the world and in the church. The rise of the recent #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have compelled us to examine our own beliefs and actions concerning the state of women.”
That point was also made by Beth Backes in an article on the #Silence Is Not Spiritual website, re-posted from Influence magazine. Titled “#ChurchToo: Three Changes We Must Make Now,” she wrote, “The sad truth is this: what made headlines in Hollywood and beyond happens in church too.”
Unintentionally underscoring her point was a report that went viral in January after a megachurch in Memphis released a video showing Pastor Andy Savage confessing his abuse of a high school girl which had occurred twenty years earlier. It took place during a time he was serving as a youth pastor in Texas. At the end of his confession, his then-current Memphis congregation applauded. Social media exploded in outrage.
The New York Times then produced a video featuring the now-adult woman who had been sexually assaulted by him. Her longstanding hurt and grief, still stinging from two decades earlier, was visibly palpable. The video was titled, “I Was Assaulted, He Was Applauded.”
Becky Castle Miller, in a post on Patheos, wrote, “Andy Savage Teaches Us That Churches Don’t Understand Sex Crimes.” Finally in March, Savage was forced to resign.
A Major “Paige” Turner
Recently, perhaps nothing has awakened many conservatives to the harmful effects of patriarchal teachings on women’s roles—even when disguised in “complementarian” terminology—as much as events behind the stunning downfall of Paige Patterson, the once highly esteemed president of Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. It was he who years before had steered the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, in an ultra-conservative (reactionary?) direction and caused an upheaval in its pulpits and institutes of higher learning.
Now, with recent events spinning rapidly out of control, it is as though a page has been turned and a new chapter is opening on the topic of women. True, discussions of the SBC’s attitudes toward women are nothing new. Former President Jimmy Carter had raised awareness of this issue when he left the denomination eighteen years ago because of its failure to acknowledge women as equal.
What is different this time has been the banding together of thousands of SBC women themselves demanding change—women who had gone so far as to sign a petition demanding Patterson’s removal from the seminary’s presidency.
In early May, a video had surfaced of Paige Patterson preaching to the Awaken Conference in 2014 and saying that a young man commenting on a 16-year-old girl’s body was “just being biblical” since a Hebrew word describing the creation of woman in Genesis 2 meant ‘biblically and artistically constructed.” With a big grin Patterson said he didn’t “have to learn Hebrew to figure that out either.”
Soon someone posted online an audiotape of his counsel in 2000 to women being physically abused by their husbands: “pray and ask God to intervene… be submissive in every way you can.”
These social media posts came as the #MeToo movement was bringing down so many once powerful men.
By mid-May over 3,000 women had signed a petition asking trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, to take action. It concluded: “The Southern Baptist Convention cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way that a leader with an unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership.”
Reports of his advice to rape victims emerged next, and on May 23, Patterson was removed as president of the seminary but given the titles “president emeritus” and “theologian-in-residence” and allowed to keep his salary and housing on campus.
But on May 26, a woman posted anonymously “Why the ‘Removal’ of Paige Patterson Isn’t Enough” on #SBCToo: Breaking the Southern Baptist Seminary Silence on WordPress.
By May 31, The Dallas News was reporting “Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson fired from Fort Worth seminary after ‘new information’ presented” –a trustee decision made late on May 30. He was stripped of the benefits that had previously been extended to him when he was first asked to step down.
As the dates of the June12-13 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas drew closer, a remaining question was whether or not Patterson would still be allowed to preach there, but all the concern and speculation was laid to rest on June 8 when he withdrew from giving the honorary sermon. (See another report here.)
Rev. Dr. Christy Gunter Sim Hailey, an active member of Christian Feminism Today (CFT) and currently serving on our executive council, will be one of the speakers at a Tuesday, June 12 rally to take place outside the convention hall during the SBC annual meeting in Dallas. The hashtag is #SBCForSuchaTimeAsThis. Among other issues to be addressed, speakers will ask the SBC to revoke its 1987 and 2000 decisions to bar women from being pastors, rulings supposedly made “because the man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.”
Read what Pastor Nancy Hastings Sehested has to say on that subject: “An Open Letter to Paige Patterson.” She preached at CFT’s 2006 conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.
See also these five links to Southern Baptists speaking out for women’s rights:
- Beth Allison Barr, “Paige Patterson Is My Fault, Too” posted May 30, 2018, on The Anxious Bench, a blog under “Evangelical” on Patheos.
- Molly T. Marshall, “The peril of selective inerrancy” posted May 29, 2018, on Baptist News Global.
- Jennifer Butler, “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Paige Patterson’s Misogyny Dressed Up as Theology” posted on June 4, 2018 on Faith Forward, a group blog under “Progressive Christian” on Patheos.
- Wade Burleson‘s humorous historical overview, “Elijah Craig, SBC Preachers, Scripture, and Women,” posted on June 5, 2018 on Istoria Ministries Blog.
- Former ABC religion news correspondent Peggy Wehmeyer’s telling of her own story in “Decades of marginalizing and silencing women have left evangelicals morally compromised.” From the Dallas Morning News.
Looking Back and Moving Forward
Efforts to stop women’s abuse in church settings began in the 1970s as a number of us began speaking and writing about it. One such activist is Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, founder of FaithTrust Institute, who has been a friend of of EEWC-CFT almost from our organization’s beginning and has long been prominent in the movement to end sexual abuse and domestic violence. She led workshops on these issues at our early conferences.
See her eleven books on sexual abuse, starting with Sexual Violence: The Unmentionable Sin in 1983. See also her post this spring: Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, “Kings, Queens, and #MeToo: A Sermon for Sexual Assault Awareness Month” posted on April 8, 2018, on the #ChurchToo page of the Faith Trust Institute. She has also posted her own thoughts on the Southern Baptist situation. Marie’s little 1987 booklet, Keeping the Faith, has been widely used in women’s shelters for many years as counselors have worked with Christian women who have struggled with domestic violence in their homes and have been told by pastors that their duty is to be submissive wives. The booklet is gentle and pastoral as it sheds new light on the situation of these abused women and what the Bible teaches about God’s care for them as they take steps to protect themselves and their children.
Barbra Graber is another early EEWC-CFT participant. She performed a one-woman drama at our 1986 conference in Fresno, California. Her mission is stopping abuse in Mennonite churches. Read her blog Survivors Standing Tall.
Working with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Graber maintains a list of perpetrators called the Mennonite Abuse Prevention List. SNAP was founded in 1989 and initially focused on abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church. It now has branches for Baptists, Presbyterians, Orthodox Christians, and non-religious groups such as the Scouts.
Women working for women’s rights and women’s protection against sexual abuse in churches are invited to contact CFT so we can support and publicize your work. And if you become a member of CFT, you can participate in our online community dialogue as new events occur regarding women’s equality in various denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, and in church-related organizations and parachurch ministries. We also invite you to attend the CFT 2018 gathering in St. Louis in July 2018 where, among a variety of topics to be addressed by many presenters Dr. Christy Sim, Dr. Michelle Panchuk, and Dr. Katie Deaver will speak on domestic violence.
© 2018 by Christian Feminism Today
Anne Linstatter is a founding member of EEWC-CFT and serves on the executive council. Her 1994 book, Abortion—My Choice, God’s Grace: Christian Women Tell Their Stories includes cases of sexual abuse and one case of a woman pushed by her pro-life pastor to obey her husband and get an abortion.
Letha Dawson Scanzoni, also a founding member of EEWC-CFT, is coauthor (with Nancy Hardesty) of All We’re Meant to Be, a book that already in 1974 challenged patriarchal interpretations of the Bible that have been widely used to restrict women. Her 1978 book with Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, similarly challenged Christians on their weaponized use of the Bible against another group of people whom God loves. A book about Letha’s life and work for social justice titled Building Bridges by Kendra Weddle and Jann Aldredge-Clanton has just been published by Cascade. It includes Anne Linstatter’s Christian feminist journey.)
Good work, you too. It is a long time coming, but the history is important. I am grateful for you both!
Thank you, Letha and Anne, for writing this important history of these movements! I hope your excellent article reaches a wide audience. I plan to share it.