1 – A Paradigm Profile and Cultural GPS
of the Christian Wing(s) of the #MeToo Movement
1 – A Paradigm Profile and Cultural GPS of the Christian Wing(s) of the #MeToo Movement. This two-part article is the most technical in the series, but foundational to all else in analyzing this movement’s paradigm, problems, and possibilities.
Part 1A applies aspects of paradigm profiling, subcultural emergence, and social transformation tracking to the punk rock subculture and “emerging ministry movement.” This gives us a robust historical example as a framework to consider what brings people together into movements, and how things tend to change over time in it.
Part 1B applies these frameworks to give an initial profile for the Christian version of the #MeToo movement. I base this description primarily on my own personal experiences, online interactions, and other sources. It includes my initial analysis of key elements of common ground that unify this movement. I also identify issues where there are considerable doctrinal differences that may have the power to fragment the movement if participants choose strict conformity over stepped collaboration.
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Introduction to Part 1B and Part 2
In Part 1A, we looked at big picture of why and how social movements come together, and how they tend to change over time. The point was to see a historical example of how these processes work, because it’s difficult to identify many of these elements while they are happening in a current subculture of change like we have with the #MeToo movement. In this post, I’ll apply those general cultural storylines and change principles to look more specifically at key components in the paradigm in the Christian collective of the #MeToo movement:
- How do we identify paradigm dimensions that let us profile this collective’s GPS?
- What are the core beliefs and values most involved in the Christian wings of the #MeToo movement?
- What key issues already represent fragmentation fault lines or areas of ignorance?
- What unsettled questions on culpability for abuse could become fault lines that splinter the movement?
In looking ahead, this post bridges us toward Part 2, where we’ll look at a related segments of the Church population that is, may be, or should be interested in #MeToo. There we’ll look at who’s in, who’s out, who’s suspect, and why. This includes those who want to be in the movement but haven’t established credibility with insiders to be in a position to lead (at least, not yet); they may not even be listening yet. And there are those who need to be in the movement to support survivors, but who don’t really want to be. What are the dynamics of these wannabe and should-be groups? But first, some key doctrines and dynamics of those already inside this movement.
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2. What Currently Holds Us Together?
Core Beliefs and Values That Act as Unifiers
A Defining Question for the Christian #MeToo Movement
Survivors, advocates, activists, and various kinds of allies interrelate as a mostly informal collective. What unifies “survivor communities”? What keeps connections going among such a diverse group?
First of all, we can extract what seems to be a defining question that acts like a magnet to those who may be searching for support in their journey to answer that question or a similar-enough one. From what I’ve seen of the streams that merged into the #MeToo movement, I see its defining question as:
Do you really believe I am made in God’s image and so am inherently of human worth?
I phrase the core question this way, because the actions of those who perpetrate abuse or violence give their answer as “No.” And, the more aware we become of how damaging abuse is, we see it potentially corrodes any/every dimension of what it means to be fully human – emotionally, family, identity, mentally, physically, relationally, sexuality, spiritually. So, those who answer “No” dehumanize victims, corrupting the very things that define humanity and making it extremely difficult for the survivor to feel connected to God and/or of worth.
If we answer “Yes,” then we are concerned for giving all people due respect and treating them with dignity. That defining question serves as both a magnet to draw the hearts of answerers, and a border for the movement of those so drawn.
From there, we get into specific paradigm elements that are unifiers for those on that journey. These paradigm elements of common ground for the common good incorporate:
- Concrete values and core beliefs.
- Social organization strategies and structures.
- Everyday personal practices that create a corporate culture of recovery.
Concrete Values and Core Beliefs
Here are three concrete values and core beliefs that go with the tribe’s answer to the movement’s defining question of: Do you really believe I am made in God’s image and so am inherently of human worth?
No one deserves abuse, and every victim deserves advocacy.
- If everyone is made in God’s image, and is therefore of value, then no one deserves abuse.
- Every victim deserves support and advocacy, regardless of any other demographic factors.
- As survivors, advocates, and activists, we will do what we can to prevent abuse/violence from happening to others. We will also seek to hold past and current abusers accountable.
Social Organization Strategies and Structures
This includes institutional processes and procedures. They are directly shaped by our deeper paradigm elements of concrete values and core beliefs.
How will we promote prevention and intervention of abuse to support survivors, not limit agency liability?
Here are social organization strategy and structure challenges that go with the answer to that key question, and are part of the solution to addressing problems of systemic abuse.
Practices. Forms of abuse/violence are rampant in society – including the Church. This means significant numbers of women, girls, boys, and men in a congregation are survivors. Every church and ministry is responsible to be/become a safer place for all people. This includes intervention and prevention practices infused into organizational processes and procedures. Examples: mandatory reporting of known/suspected abuse, support for victims, background checks on employees/volunteers, prevention trainings.
Individuals. Abusive people who have had a ministry platform should no longer be financed or promoted. They should not be “restored” to a role of public influence unless there has been an exceptional and public process in place. This is not about retaliation for the past, it’s about protection against malignant people causing present and future harm.
Institutions. When an agency’s board members, administrators, staff, and/or volunteers have reportedly engaged in abuse, it should not use processes that focus on limiting institutional liability and thus have the effect of silencing victims and squelching truth. (Problematic approaches: arbitration, conciliation, mediation, non-disclosure agreements – which we’ll look at in a later post.) Requiring silence makes it easier for perpetrators to continue inflicting harm on others.
Cultures and Lifestyles
How do we develop a dynamic ministry that is both trauma-informed and theologically robust?
The deeper paradigm layers of how we process information, plus our concrete values and core beliefs, affect our everyday activities – what principles we practice, what lifestyles we approve or don’t, what kinds of cultural styles we find acceptable.
Here are lifestyle and cultural activities challenges that go with the answer to that key question.
Part of (re)humanization is to relate holistically with people. For Christians, this includes theology. In Christian survivor communities, we recognize numerous doctrinal issues of faith and practice that amplify the dehumanization of people. So, emotional recovery from whatever forms of abuse, harassment, or violence occurred integrates with layers of spiritual recovery to identify and reject caustic agents: false/flawed ideologies, toxic institutions, malignant individuals.
It becomes our lifestyle to stand up for those who are victimized. We do this in part by standing against faulty doctrines and religious practices that damage, such as these:
Legitimizing the grooming of victims for unconditional obedience to supposedly God-ordained absolute authorities.
Implanting cognitive conditioning to accept all suffering and thus all abuse/violence.
Reinforcing victims’ self-silencing out of duty, guilt, fear, and/or shame – presumably to honor the reputation of Jesus, the local church, and the gospel.
Our understandings of recovery typically lean toward approaches that are trauma-informed, evidence-based, and whole-person in their orientations. Also, our everyday disciplines of discernment and resistance help us to relate with survivors and with one another more holistically, and to educate and minister more astutely.
Bringing the Threads Together
If the defining question of this movement is what brings us together, and the paradigm-element unifiers create a social glue to help the movement hold together, what is it that could weaken the basis for common ground for the common good? What fault lines in our cultural geography could make this unified collective fragment back into separated pieces? Those are the key issues for the next two sections.
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3. What Could Drive Us Apart?
Fragmentation Fault Lines and Areas of Ignorance
Twitter is currently where I follow a fairly wide range (both theologically and demographically) of women and men survivors of various kinds of abuse, oppression, and/or violence, and who are committed advocates and activists. There is a set of issues I see them disagree with each other over, sometimes vigorously. Will these opposite views lead to social movement splits? Either we’re willing to work with those who hold to these differences, to develop common ground for the common good, or we aren’t.
The way I see it, the fault lines that could break the movement into bits deal with collaboration style, doctrines, and demographics.
Normally at the third level of a paradigm system, I look at collaboration styles and not just cultures and lifestyles. [The first two levels were (1) concrete values and core beliefs, and (2) organizational strategies and structures.] However, how we do/don’t work together is one of the issues that I don’t see as unifier in this specific case of the Christian #MeToo movement. In fact, there seem to be diametrically opposed approaches about certain doctrines, and also about how best to keep the movement going and who should be viewed as a legitimate individual participant in it or partner ministry/organization to it. This is an issue that could split the movement.
The way I see it, our approach to collaboration is crucial to sustainability. It determines whether we maintain an open system that allows new people in, or a closed system that shuts people out and eventually withers. (Details on this in Part 2, which deals with who’s in, who’s out, who’s suspect, and why.) I will interweave some elements about this into this segment on what could drive us apart, and the next one on unsettled questions.
Theological Fault Lines
There are certain pre-set theological issues where various individuals and sub-groups within the Christian #MeToo movement differ in ways that likely will not change. It does not my purpose here to detail them, just list them. (Each of these could be an entire Ph.D. dissertation.)
Theological stream. It’s safe to say that no theological stream is complete free from cases of abuse/violence. Systemic abuse can take root via malignant individuals, institutional toxicity, and/or flawed ideology. But there seem to be layers of survivors and advocates in most if not all streams, regardless of how they self-identify their stream: fundamentalist, conservative, moderate, liberal, progressive, mainline, missional, evangelical, exvangelical, done, none, gone, Reformed, Calvinist, Baptist, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, charismatic, Pentecostal, etc.
Gender relations. There is a spectrum of views/practices on how the sexes should relate within marriage and family, in church participation and leadership, and in society. Although I don’t think I’ve observed in the Christian #MeToo movement any who consider themselves followers of patriarchy (“hard-core complementarian”), there are those who seem to be more the “soft complementarian,” and also several kinds of egalitarian, including unnamed in-between or alternative views on gender equity.
Sexual ethics in general are a significant source of difference – some are on the side of traditional sexual ethics, while others map out other ethical terrains. There are four specific items where I’ve noticed contentions within the movement: purity culture, LGBTQ, production of “ethical pornography,” and sex trafficking (some favor the so-called Nordic Model of decriminalizing the selling of sex plus criminalizing the purchase of sex).
Any of these could become fault lines in fragmenting the movement. Nevertheless, at this time, the Christian #MeToo movement encompasses people who hold differing perspectives on these doctrinal planks. We do well to keep this in mind:
- No theology has all members in the #MeToo movement. People from particular streams may be invested in #MeToo on some but not all issues that appear in it.
- Not everyone in the movement considers themselves egalitarian, and those who are more at the complementarian end of things probably aren’t as far over as patriarchy.
- Not everyone in the movement is of one view when it comes to sexual ethics, and even if they hold to the same general set of ethics they may disagree on specific issues within it.
Demographic Fault Lines
Other potentially fragmentive issues emerge from a relative lack of relational bridges across demographic differences – racial, generational, gender and sexuality, social, physical, financial, cultural – and understanding of intersectional dynamics. These parallel the problems the Church in general faces. However, there are evidences of intentional diversity, such as shown in the range of speakers, sponsors, and attendees at The Courage Conference.
Perhaps the added unifiers of #MeToo will pioneer new arenas for cross-cultural connections and collaborations. For instance, the significant overlaps between abuse/violence issues in systemic abuse, and historical oppression in racism, opens additional dimensions for conversations about perceptions about abuse, violence, and oppression; and possibilities for practical solutions.
Speaking of issues and solutions, there have been problems with imposing a certain culture’s perspectives and practices as the norm for all. One issue that has been raised is that many practical solutions being promoted emanate from those with enough economic means to carry them out. For instance, in a situation of domestic violence, just advising the wife to leave. This does not necessarily work for those with lower economic means, or in communities where the wife is expected to stay in the situation and is ostracized if she leaves or attempts to. In either case, she would be cut off from means of economic and/or social survival.
Such issues call for deepening our connections with and developing empathy for the widest range of people who are survivors of abuse/violence. If demographic differences lead to separation, it could quench the spirit of the movement and lead to stagnation.
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4. Unsettled Questions on Culpability for Abuse
as Potential Fragmentation Fault Lines
Fault lines are preexisting issues that are known in the wider Christian community because they tend to be beliefs, values, actions that are already dividing the Church into denominations. But what I’m calling “unsettled questions” of theology or methodology may or may not turn out to be fragmentation fault lines within the movement. They are unsettled in great part because they’re based in experiences where information is emerging, but there isn’t necessarily enough data yet to figure out patterns and/or there hasn’t been substantial conversation about them yet.
Resistance and Responsibility. Here are some key issues that my futurist spidey-sense tells me there are unsettled questions. (And I see enough people asking about some form of them on social media to suggest they are emerging as more concrete concerns.) Most are about individual and institutional resistance and corresponding levels of responsibility for abuse, plus dynamics of calling for organizational changes and dealing with systemic abuse.
Where are the dividing lines between clear culpability (direct responsibility for perpetrating abuse or perpetuating it) versus complicity (indirect responsibility; used as a pawn to keep a system going, but no significant level of power or access to insider information)? How do we deal with malignant people who are culpable versus misinformed pawns who are complicit?
What level of responsibility do people have when they have been “loyal opposition,” who remained inside a toxic organization but sought to confront toxicity and change the organization? Should they be barred from future ministry platforms?
How should we confront/challenge toxic individuals and institutions? What are the limits to what we CAN do and SHOULD do? Are there methods we should/shouldn’t use?
Valuation and “Restoration.” An issue of special significance to theologians and other academics deals with source materials: How should we treat the writings of theologians who were/are involved in immoral, unethical, illegal and/or otherwise abusive actions? Should we not use their writings at all? Should we use them only with notes warning our readers/listeners as to the situation? Should we study those writings with an eye to see how the author’s brokenness/sinfulness affected their doctrinal faith and practice? For instance:
Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth had a wife, Nelly, and a live-in mistress, Charlotte von Kirschbaum, whom he refused to give up. This article by Dr. Matthew Emerson captures the conundrum of “What Do We Do with Karl Barth?”
Mennonite author and professor (and one-time President of the Society for Christian Ethics) John Howard Yoder reportedly sexually harassed/abused over 100 women between the 1970s and 1990s. (See Case Study #2 on this page.) The denomination did extensive remediation (repair) work in the 2010 decade.
Hypergrace evangelical theologian Tullian Tchvidjian had multiple best-seller books issued during a period when a timeline shows he involved with as many as seven women simultaneously – his then-wife, some women in clergy sexual misconduct, and others in grooming them emotional/relationally. He continues in his attempts to maintain a ministry platform, but, to date, has not made any kind of personal apologies or amends to the women he victimized.
These complex issues call on us to get into the ethics of responsibility and resistance. It would be easy to simply issue preemptive labels to stick on people, but that sidesteps the hard work involved. I expect these unsettled questions to get more complicated as more people eventually leave abusive personal relationships and toxic organizations. They may be asking themselves if they should have done more, tried harder, left sooner. Can we find ways to remove false guilt, unearned shame, and feelings of powerlessness?
Final Thoughts – Strict Conformity or Staged Collaboration?
Forbearance has generally prevailed in the majority of the Christian #MeToo movement, but it is sometimes an uneasy alliance. Any of these particular issues can become inflamed. The question is whether demarcation lines turn into fault lines that split the movement, or we will be as conciliatory as possible without succumbing to people who may want to claim ownership in the movement to hijack it for their own self-benefiting purposes.
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For Additional Reading and Research
On movements and difficulties arising in collaborations. Series starts here: Thoughts on the Missional Movement. I see teamwork as one way to navigate the choppy waters of the world as it now is, a way to expand the surface area of the raft we float on together in that ocean of uncertainty. The problem is, collaboration doesn’t work well when there are deeply-rooted, irreconcilable differences between potential ministry partners. It’s not that we can’t find a level of appropriate tolerance in letting people be where they are, not where we wish they were. It’s about what to do when conflict occurs not in the content of our perceptions but in the deepest processes we use to make those perceptions. These are what keep us from linking together effectively … and maybe that disconnection is something that we cannot or even should not try to overcome. This series explores some key aspects of how the Church in the US has fragmented during the modern-to-postmodern paradigm shift, what the field looks like in its missional re-formation, and what this may mean in very practical terms for our discipleship systems and collaborations.