#MeToo In the Church

By Lindsay Steele | Mission Network News

When the #MeToo movement began, it quickly swept across the globe and continues today. Women are speaking out about sexual assault, harassment, and inequality they have faced, specifically in the workplace.

Wyndy Corbin Reuschling, dean of TeachBeyond’s Centre for Transformational Teaching and Learning in Horsham, England, says the Harvey Weinstein victims who have spoken out have prompted women from other professions to begin speaking out as well.

Listen to her interview about equality in the church (Mission Network News).

“In an institutional context, it’s the behavior of bosses or any other kind of male superior and the ways in which that not just impedes what [women] think of the terms of professional growth, but also assaults, so to speak, [women’s] very sense of well-being, identity, purpose,” Reuschling says.

“That issue has come out of the shadows and into the light as a significant moral issue related to the abuse of power. It’s related, certainly, to how gender ideologies play themselves out in terms of how men treat women, and women respond. So, I think it was a cluster of ideas and a cluster of issues that are now bundled together in many ways as a protest that we will not, and cannot, continue like this.”

“What prompted my speaking about this issue is when a few weeks ago you interviewed George Durance, president of TeachBeyond. (Listen to that interview with George here.) I listened to that interview and had tears in my eyes because I had to reflect back on my own 25 years in Christian ministry and leadership, and I believe this was the first time I heard a male leader of any organization or ministry of which I have been a part speak out on this issue. What does that say? I expressed my deep appreciation to George because, as a woman involved in TeachBeyond, that statement was significant for me, personally.

Inequality in the Church

“I think the church has had a long history [of] ambivalence about the presence of women, primarily in leadership positions where women are given voice,” Reuschling says.

In America, the rise of female pastors has been slow and continues to be. Christianity Today reports one out of every 11 Protestant pastors is a woman. This doesn’t seem like much, but that’s triple the number of female pastors from 25 years ago.

However, most female pastors today say they still receive more critical and judgmental comments about their leadership than men do.

Reuschling recalls working at a church years ago when a male colleague, perhaps as a joke, said, “Well, I know how we’ll solve the problem. We’ll just make the women here honorary men.”

Reuschling says she remembered thinking about what he said and how she facetiously wished she could become an honorary man of the church.

“But on the other hand, I found myself thinking about the ways in which, perhaps, the difficulty in the church or any kind of Christian context is that people are grappling with how to interpret Scripture. Some [people] kind of narrow their focus to quote problem passages. But I also think that there are assumptions about men and women that carry a theological layer that makes it more difficult to talk about this topic,” Reuschling says.

“My sense is we have deep theological commitments, we have deep commitments to Scripture that orient us in certain ways. However, I also think the inherited traditions of many of our Christian organizations, especially related to males as being most important, do tend to add to complexity that is harder to poke at. For us, we’re poking at deep theological convictions that create a layer that other types of organizations may not have.”

Reuschling says she believes male figures in the church are well-intentioned and don’t intend to cause harm. But, she also senses they would be baffled if women in the church and Christian organizations spoke out about the inequality they have faced. She believes that if a #MeToo movement was started specifically for females who have worked in or are working in the church, their professional experiences of inequality would be similar to those working in secular organizations.

Unity Is Imperative In God’s Kingdom

But unity – no matter the gender – is imperative in God’s Kingdom. He wants to use males and females as leaders working together to build the Body of Christ. In order to do this, Reuschling says the church needs to build male and female relationships through prayer, breaking down segregation, and refusing to believe stereotypes.

Ultimately, Reuschling says, we need to recognize inequality as a problem. We need to stop focusing on stereotypes, believing men will act a certain way and women will act a certain way. And instead, we need to focus on who a person truly is.

“I think once we start to caricature each other and reduce an identity to something, we then treat that person according to that identity,” she says. “I don’t want to do that to my male brothers in Christ who are also complex persons, who also have wonderfully rich aspects of their personality.”

The starting point for Christian communities, Reuschling says, is examining our practices, how we’re treating one another, and what assumptions we’re making about women in churches and seminaries.

One of the best ways to unify the church is through prayer. Pray together for God’s wisdom of leadership, equality, and healing of those who have been hurt in the Church and who have been hurt in secular society.

“I think that harm is in a variety of ways from not just discrimination, but the sexual assault that has come with this. My sense is that victims carry a lot of the burden of having to work through issues of reconciliation and forgiveness. It seems to me that Scripture calls us to be on the side of those who’ve been harmed and who’ve been victimized, and so even beginning to give voice to those things in prayer would be, I think, important.”