#MeToo #ChurchToo Workshop Reflections- Indianapolis

Two attendees share their insights

The last Wednesday in May in Indianapolis felt like the first day of summer; the sun had finally staked its claim to 2018. It felt like a new season had begun indoors as well, as twenty-six women and men met to learn about the #MeToo #ChurchToo movement and grapple with its implications for themselves and the church.

How did this movement begin? In 2006 social activist Tarana Burke used the phrase “Me Too” on the MySpace social network, as part of a grassroots campaign to connect and promote empowerment through empathy by women of color surviving sexual abuse. This movement grew quietly until 15 October 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano ignited the spread of the phrase through Twitter. Milano hoped to expose the pervasiveness of sexual abuse, assault and harassment in our society.

As attention has focused on this topic across all media platforms, the #ChurchToo tag has been added, highlighting the challenge of gender inequality and its consequences in the church. While awareness has been raised regarding the pervasiveness of gender inequality in the entertainment, publishing and technology worlds, faithful Christians sense the Church has inequities as well.

Led by Synod Executive Rev. Sara Dingman, the Synod of Lincoln Trails is investing resources toward understanding this issue of worldwide resonance. Rev. Dingman has collaborated with LeaderWise to develop retreats and workshops to educate clergy and church staff members. Executive Presbyters Sue Krummel (Chicago) and Alan Thames (Whitewater Valley) have been the first to offer a retreat or a workshop to their members.

In these learning environments, each participant finds a safe space to explore the topic and the movement. The March retreat and May workshop were led by LeaderWise’s Caroline Burke, PhD, LP and Krista Redlinger-Grosse, PhD, ScM.

Attendees examine how the movement and the issue of gender inequality relate to them personally and professionally, and strategize how each would like to move forward in a God-honoring way as leaders within their churches and communities. Two May workshop participants share their insights here.

What drew you to attend this workshop and what were your expectations going in?

Barb: I had attended the March Synod of Lincoln Trails #MeToo Retreat in Illinois, which had been open only to women. Because the May workshop would include men, I wanted to learn how men could be brought into this conversation in a way that was generative for all. Prior to the workshop, I had more apprehension about the men’s presence than I wanted to admit. But because Krista and Caroline from LeaderWise had done such an outstanding job guiding the conversations in March, I knew they would make it a safe space for all while allowing us to be honest with one another. My intention was to watch, listen and learn, so I could include men in conversations on this topic in my own setting.

Pat: As a sixty-three year old male and a pastor for thirty-seven years, this workshop was of vital interest to me. Since the #MeToo movement became a dramatic marker in the public arena, my heart has been broken by the culpability of my own gender. While any person can objectify and mistreat another, every man is pointedly responsible for his own words, actions, thoughts and attitudes toward women. If men lived as we should, there would be no #MeToo movement. I thought this workshop would challenge men to fulfill our God-given responsibilities to relate to women as God desires.

I grew up in a time and culture where treating all people with respect was expected. The #MeToo, #ChurchToo movement is a direct indictment of men’s failures to truly be God’s people who reflect the presence and love of God at all times. I came to this workshop to listen, learn, share and seek to be attentive to all I needed to learn for myself and for all with whom I come into contact in my congregation and the community at large.

Barb: Pat, when we were children, respecting people might have meant younger people respecting their elders. As a child I did observe treatment from white people to those of other races that reinforced the unequal status quo. It might have been considered respectful at the time, but we would not view it that way now. The current shift in norms of respect between men and women I find similar.

What surprised you?

Pat: I was mildly surprised that there were only about two-dozen people present. This turned out to be a great gift, giving us a greater opportunity to begin to trust one another. Through the course of the day, as women and men found their voices and shared with greater openness, people shared edgier feelings and deeper thoughts. We began to risk more. I was a little surprised we would disclose our vulnerability and deeply grateful for those who did. The grace of God was clearly evident as we tiptoed into conversations both in mixed-gender groups and in our groups of just women and men in various exercises through the day. In the all-men’s group in which I was placed, I sensed and heard a humble desire to step forward as difference-makers in every way we can with God’s help. We expressed a conviction that we must own up to where we fail our sisters in Christ and all women and step up to do our part to help Church and society to reflect the full love of God. 

Barb: What surprised me? The men! When I arrived and saw the roster, I was surprised male attendees outnumbered the females. On the heels of that, I was surprised from the first how open the men were to learning from the presenters and the women in attendance. Their humility made sharing easier and conversations more natural. Of course, these men were mostly pastors, and used to listening to others, but humility in our culture is never a given. I found my own apprehensions quite disarmed by it. I found I had nothing to fear and I greatly benefited by hearing from my colleagues.

Pat: I was not sure what to expect, but I do remember wondering if I would be the only guy to attend, so I agree with you, Barb. Along with the level of humility you note, I felt that there was apprehension from men regarding what the day would entail. I believe many of us — men and women — gained insights and understanding, which is a very good thing. It was a privilege to listen to what my sisters in Christ had on their hearts and minds that could be shared in the context of our day together. 

If #MeToo is “a movement not a moment,” what would you like to see happen next for yourself, the presbytery, and beyond?

Barb: I believe God is in this movement. If we desire more of God’s presence in it, then our spiritual leadership will naturally flow from that. From pausing and reflecting, to listening to one another acknowledge past patterns that didn’t serve us well, to raising our voices prophetically, to working toward laws that reflect God’s reign, all are necessary steps toward a more inclusive society, where each person can claim their sacred worth. I believe this movement is a God-given opportunity to become more compassionate, just and holy. And that’s why I welcome all who would join me in it.

Pat: While I want the world to be a safe place for every woman (and man and child), I know there will always be people who denigrate and mistreat others in thought, word and deed. This is tragic. I know I cannot bring every man to do what is right in every way in relationship to women. I can make sure that I do so. I can make sure people in the scope of my ministry life know they must do so. I can bring these needs into the life of the congregation I serve and the presbytery in which I reside. I would hope that the Synod of Lincoln Trails will stay on point related to where mistreatment has occurred and also to the immense amount of proactive work we should do to make sure we Presbyterians are known as those who remember to live out our calling to love God and others — all others — at all times.


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