At first glance, the scandal involving Harvey Weinstein, the movie producer who has a long history of harassing and abusing women, looks like a single, terrible story of a terrible man who got away with terrible behavior for too long.
But then 38 women came forward to accuse film director, James Toback, of similar behavior. Chef John Besh stepped down from the company he started after two dozen women spoke out about his behavior. And it hasn’t been that long since Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes were brought low by harassment claims. And then, of course, there’s President Donald Trump …
The point is, as any woman might tell you if they feel safe enough, that this behavior is far more common than we would like to admit. That’s why the Twitter hashtag #MeToo took off with such intensity.
Unfortunately, the institutional church is not exempt from this behavior. One of the worst cases in recent history involves the former pastor of First United Methodist Church, Fort Worth. Barry Bailey stepped down from his pulpit after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct; later, a judge ordered him to pay $3.7 million in damages to seven women.
I’m sure you can think of your own examples of pastors who have betrayed the trust that others put in them. Sadly, pastors are not some super-species of the Christian community who are above misconduct.
There is a common thread that runs through all these stories. These are all men with power, and their victims are always people who have less power and are more vulnerable to their advances. And even though these stories always involve sexual acts, the primary motive at work is not simply lust or desire.
The force at work is domination. Harvey Weinstein took advantage of women because he could; he felt entitled to take whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
This dynamic isn’t something that only very powerful and wealthy men act out; it can happen anytime someone feels that he or she has power over someone else, and wants to take advantage of that edge.
It’s especially tragic when a pastor engages in this kind of behavior, because it is precisely this kind of behavior that the Gospel opposes. The entire story of Jesus is the story of a man who refused to dominate others. Jesus did not manipulate or coerce others to love him, follow him, or obey him. He let people walk away from him; he didn’t feel the need to prove his divine power or even his true identity.
As Paul said about Jesus in Philippians, “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself …” (Phil. 2:6-7).
As his followers, we are supposed to imitate this kind of behavior. In other words, even when we find ourselves in a position of power over someone else, we are not to use that position to dominate, force, or coerce. When we find ourselves in a position of leadership, we are to interpret our primary responsibility to be as one who serves, as one who is ready and willing to wash another’s feet.
As your pastor, I am committed to being your servant leader, to being a shepherd who cares for the flock gently and carefully. I am also committed to ensuring that Kessler Park UMC is a safe place for all people, where sexual harassment and abuse is not permitted or condoned, and where all people are treated with dignity and respect. If you have ever been harassed or received unwanted attention by any person at Kessler Park UMC, please notify me or another staff member, and your matter will be addressed immediately.
At KPUMC, there will be no domination, only mutual support, love, and fellowship.