The tide of accusations linked to the #MeToo movement seems as all-encompassing as an Exodus plague, and the destruction wreaked on the lives of victims is no less appalling.
My church is studying in Exodus for a few weeks right now, and I can’t escape the political parallels between the story of Pharoah’s hardened heart and the refusal of so many in our nation’s leadership to take seriously the wave of sexual assault allegations that make up the #MeToo movement. Believe me, I wanted to escape it as I prayed over the scripture and my sermon. I knew such an example in the pulpit would raise the hackles of those in my pews who are vehemently opposed to preaching politics.
In my sermon Sunday I said:
“I keep thinking that the next accusation will be enough to wake us up to the severity of this problem and change the way we respond, but this latest uproar over Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford’s accusation against Brett Kavanaugh has shown how hard the hearts of our politicians and religious leaders still are. I’m not going to repeat the things that our President and Franklin Graham have said this week because they are despicable.
But holding this Exodus story alongside those statements made me wonder if God is not using the hardened hearts of people like them to bring down the system of patriarchy and rape culture. Perhaps God is even hardening their self-righteous resolve, so that the protests against patriarchy will rise high enough to wash it completely away.”
I could tell right away that I had offended people. As the congregation came up for communion, one woman looked as if she was going to refuse to take it from me. As she shook my hand after worship, she said “Tell me when you’re going to stop preaching your political opinions. I come to church to hear about God.”
“I did talk about God” I tried to protest, but she was already on her way out the door. And though many others told me they’d found my sermon thought-provoking and thanked me for my courage, it was this woman’s angry comment that stuck with me. It rattled me enough that I briefly thought about changing my sermon for the second worship service.
Instead, I preached a slightly gender-voiced version of the same one a second time. This time, no one said anything negative, even if a few people looked upset. Several people thanked me for preaching on such a difficult topic.
When I got home from church, I received two emails, one of which simply said they were disappointed in the political nature of my sermon, and one of which went much farther, making all kinds of assumptions about my motives and personal beliefs.
I posted on Facebook to say that preaching had been hard work that morning and that not everyone was happy. In response, I got a lot of comments from parishioners saying they are glad that I talk about what’s going on in the world from the pulpit, and that what I said was hard to hear but needed to be said.
I understand that our current political climate makes it difficult to say anything about what’s going on in our country without being accused of playing politics. I am careful with what I say from the pulpit because I believe strongly in the separation of church and state.
However, I am also regularly convinced by my study of scripture that a faith that lives the teachings of the God who sent Jesus will end up being political. This is, after all, the God who rescued the Israelites from slavery, an inherently political act.
This God sent Jesus, a perfect embodiment of the divine, whose teaching and actions regularly landed him in hot water with the governing authorities. He was crucified as a political insurrectionist, for goodness sake. To say that we can follow Jesus without political ramifications is naive at best. At worst, our fear of speaking out in faith against the wrongs of our society makes the church complicit in its sinfulness.
I’m not saying we immediately believe every accusation and condemn those accused, and I didn’t say that in my sermon, contrary to what some heard.
I’m saying that, as followers of Jesus, our call is to side with the vulnerable, just as Jesus did, even when it causes conflict in our friend groups, families and congregations.
Above all, our work is to boldly proclaim that God opposes abuses of power and privilege, no matter what form they take.