Longhurst: We are sorry
In October, when Donald Trump’s comments about women were reverberating in my mind, I posted an apology to my female friends on Facebook.
In it, I expressed my sadness and outrage for how so many had been abused and harassed by men — including some who grew up in Christian homes and churches.
I went on to ask if this was a topic I should write about. The answers came quickly: Yes.
“Please do, John,” said one woman. “It is time that we stop accepting this as normal and a woman’s lot.”
“You have no idea how prevalent sexual harassment of young girls and up to adult women is in our Christian circles,” said another.
I then asked if some would share their stories. Those came quickly, too.
A female Mennonite pastor spoke about entering a room full of her congregants and having an older man say “come sit here on my lap.” She just laughed it off, “but it made me very wary of him,” she stated.
Several women, also Mennonites, wrote of being inappropriately touched by male relatives back in the 1960s and ’70s — men who were respected leaders in their churches.
“It was done in plain sight,” said one. “There was an apathy among Christian adults in the generation before us to look the other way.”
Another wrote about her father, also a highly respected church leader, who regularly touched her and her sisters in sexual ways.
“He treated us like we were inferior, all the while being an elder of the church. You can’t begin to know the devastation it caused!”
Reading the messages, I couldn’t believe how many women I knew had experienced those things — and I was probably only scratching the surface.
None of us can fix the problems of the past. But we can say we are sorry, both personally and as denominations, too.
That’s right. It’s time for church groups that haven’t already done so to apologize for the harm they have caused to women over the centuries.
What can they apologize for? Here are a few things that come to my mind.
They can apologize for not believing women when they complained about harassment, abuse and worse.
They can apologize for not holding abusers accountable for their actions.
They can apologize for selectively interpreting the Bible to justify silencing women and treating them as inferior.
They can apologize for taking so long to let women use all their gifts in service to God.
And they can apologize for not speaking out against injustices toward women in the broader society — things like denying them promotions and paying them less because of their gender.
One person promoting equality for women in religion is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. In a speech in 2009, he summed it up this way.
“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified,” he stated.
The truth “is that male religious leaders have had — and still have — an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”
It is time, he stated, “we had the courage to challenge these views and set a new course.”
We can begin by saying we are sorry.
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
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