I believe the women.
I feel compelled to say that.
We are in the midst of an extraordinary development in our society. Women are coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against powerful men. It all started snowballing with the exposure of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and the list of men named seems to grow by the day.
The list includes men in the public eye: comedians and entertainers and actors; politicians and judges, businessmen. The list has included a past President of the United States, and it includes the current President of the United States. The list includes people you thought you liked, who you may have chosen to vote for if you could, or whose movies or shows you've liked. The list includes people you don't like.
As I write I can't think of a major religious leader who is named in recent weeks, but I have no trouble thinking of the names of major religious leaders who have been named during my lifetime.
What all these powerful men have in common - despite their differences in religion and lifestyle and politics or what-have-you is power.
And power, as Jesus warned us, can be a dangerous thing. One day he had to deal with a power play among his disciples, and he said this:
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant...." (Matthew 20:26a)
In the structures of our society, men have until relatively recently held all reins of political and organizational and economic power, and that's only been changing significantly in my lifetime. That power easily goes to the head of the one who wields it. A powerful man can and will often get by with abuse of those around him, leading to a feeling of immunity from accountability. Powerful men attract those around them who like the association with power, making them unwilling to acknowledge and challenge the behavior of the powerful.
This dynamic, it seems, is being challenged before our very eyes.
There are men who - because of their power - thought they could get by with objectifying and exploiting women around them. Now, women are encouraging one another to come forward to challenge this dynamic.
And this is a good thing.
In my ministry, I've spoken with and heard from women who were abused by powerful men in the church. In my ministry, I've listened to one who was abused as a child by a powerful man in the church and assisted that person toward being acknowledged by the church and having their grievance addressed. I once took part in a disciplinary process in another diocese when a male priest was found guilty of sexual abuse of parishioners. I took part in conversations in the Episcopal Church that led to our current Safeguarding God's Children and Safeguarding God's People training. I learned a lot in those conversations, and I think we've made progress, but vigilance is always necessary.
And knowing what I do about the acute suffering of survivors of abuse, I believe them. That's because I know the pattern so often demonstrated. Someone makes an allegation, and then they are attacked, their story discounted, their motives questioned. The more powerful the man, the more resources are at the disposal of that man to shame and blame the victim. It happens all the time. There are reasons people suffer in silence for a long time before finally having the courage to speak up.
Yes, there are women who abuse as well. But in my experience, it's the men who have had the opportunity to do so, and it's men who are being named time after time after time these days. And their response to being named says a lot to us about who they are.
So I believe the women, and those who come forward to acknowledge being abused as children. They need to be heard, not shamed and silenced.
Can abusers change? Is redemption possible? Yes. God is merciful, and God forgives the penitent, and provides power for amendment of life. But accountability is overdue in our society, and it seems to be coming. Accountability is the only way many abusers are ever going to have to face their need to change.
God help us all. Pray for the abused and harassed. Pray for those who abuse and harass. And pray for a better day.