This autumn I was privileged to get a ticket to the Festival of Preaching where I heard several amazing talks, but was blown away by Nadia Bolz-Weber who established the House for All Sinners and Saints, and was the only person I’ve ever heard preach who mentioned she was divorced, had tattoos and piercings. It was really refreshing to hear a modern feminist perspective rooted in the reality of Lutheran ordained ministry. Her book has been a New York Times best seller and it’s on my Christmas list! The community may well not be for everyone, but sounds pretty cool to me. They describe themselves as …
.a group of folks figuring out how to be a liturgical, Christo-centric, social justice-oriented, queer-inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent, ancient / future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination. http://houseforall.org
… however Nadia seemed pretty conversant with several issues that face modern society including domestic violence, rape and sexual assault. It was really comforting to know that someone representing the church is up to speed on this, and the realities of life for people affected. She was due to meet with a group of Anglican bishops after the conference, one hoped on something relevant to her expertise.
I asked a question in the plenary, ‘I write a blog.. how do I move from a testimonial approach to a ‘proper’ sermon’?’. Her response was really helpful. She said never preach from a wound, but it’s fine to talk about your scars.
So here goes.
In 2002 as a newly qualified social worker I was really delighted to be offered a job working in a specialist mental health team for the elderly. Whilst completing my training to learn how to detain elders under the mental health act, my married, dad-of-two manager suddenly started asking me out on dates. Up until this point I’d only really seen him as a boss, I was really keen and enthusiastic about social work at that stage, and looked up to him as he was another social worker in a predominantly health-care setting. This seemed really important at the time. I told someone in the team about him (one advantage of working with mental health professionals is that they notice when you are not ok!) and fortunately they took it really seriously and told me I had to report it. Nothing physical happened, but I felt uncomfortable alone with him and how he’d persistently asked me personal questions when I’d made it clear I wasn’t interested.
I was brave enough to report him, but found work really stressful afterwards. I was really disappointed that he wasn’t interested in me as a social worker, he wasn’t going to be the career coach I’d hoped for. I was angry he was behaving this way, as I had put him on a pedestal. I’d experienced men seeing me in a sexualised way in many other settings, and was by no stretch a saint, but wasn’t expecting to be shamed in this way by a social worker. If it wasn’t for my wonderful colleagues I think I would have felt responsible, that I led him on in some way.
Later that year, we heard my boss had been offered a promotion elsewhere, accepted the post and was moving on. I think we were all relieved, however it was the same day his resignation had been accepted another colleague in the department reported that he’d sexually assaulted her in the office. She said he went into her office at 8.00am before anyone else was around. Closed the door and blocked her exit and allegedly tried to rape her before she fought her way out. He then went upstairs and carried on like nothing had happened. He was signed off on garden leave, and I wasn’t told what happened. However I later found out he is still working in mental health in another trust. I guess it’s hard to prove what happened if it’s one person’s account against another, and I took comfort that my previous whistle-blowing had helped HR build a case.
All the #Metoo publicity and the stories about Harvey Weinstein, have brought back memories. It was a really difficult time back then, not just for me but the whole team, and those of us who were close to the lady who reported the sexual assault. We were caring for some of the most vulnerable people in society, under pressure to keep waiting times down, so our priorities were to try and keep the show on the road.
Things moved on… I failed my Approved Social Work exams twice and moved instead into a project management post, developing ICT solutions for staff, and promoting person-centred care. I really loved the new job, but I now regret leaving front-line social work so soon after I qualified. I can’t help thinking that if I hadn’t had this guy as a boss, things might have been different, but I guess I’ll never know.
The reason for sharing this, is not because I’m bitter or angry, but because I really think that we take this issue seriously, however upsetting it is to hear about. I hope as I start a new career in the church to be able to do that for anyone I come across in the same boat. It could be a man who’s female boss is bullying them, it doesn’t really have to be about sex, but it’s nearly always about power, and the misuse of it. Christians or not, noone is immune from the risk of this.
I am praying that the campaign that’s happening on Twitter is fruitful and helps others come to terms with difficult situations they are facing. I also totally agree that not everyone and everything needs to be shared on social media. I feel able to write this, comfortably, because it happened over 15 years ago.
I know as a christian, the debates about human sexuality are often fraught, and bring out the swivel-eyed monsters in the best of us. However it would seem ridiculous if that stopped us thinking about this properly. The bible is full of examples of people being condemned for rape, or sexual assault or harassment. the expression ‘cast the first stone’ comes from the apostle John’s gospel, when Jesus was asked his advice on how to treat the woman ‘caught in adultery’. Not because they cared particularly about the woman’s behaviour, but because they wanted to trap Jesus. It’s quite possible to imagine the woman was sexually assaulted.
Instead of answering directly, he writes in the sand and asks them if they are innocent.
Maybe that’s the only way to cope with the revelations we are hearing. We need to ask #Am I innocent
#Could I have done more to help?
#What does our culture do to protect people in these situations?
#How can I contribute?
The #metoo campaign is one way people are trying to do just that. There are probably lots of other ways we can all make the world a more blessed, joyful safe place for our children to grow up.
NIRV John 8 v1-11
8 1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At sunrise he arrived again in the temple courtyard. All the people gathered around him there. He sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman. She had been caught committing adultery. They made her stand in front of the group. 4 They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught sleeping with a man who was not her husband. 5 In the Law, Moses commanded us to kill such women by throwing stones at them. Now what do you say?” 6 They were trying to trap Jesus with that question. They wanted to have a reason to bring charges against him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 They kept asking him questions. So he stood up and said to them, “Has any one of you not sinned? Then you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 He bent down again and wrote on the ground.
9 Those who heard what he had said began to go away. They left one at a time, the older ones first. Soon only Jesus was left. The woman was still standing there. 10 Jesus stood up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Hasn’t anyone found you guilty?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then I don’t find you guilty either,” Jesus said. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”