|Posted by chesterlanducc on December 4, 2017 at 2:20 PM|
A sermon on the story of Ruth and Naomi...
I must admit, I knew today’s sermon had be preached but I was hesitant to be the one to preach it. I even asked a female collogue of mine who I consider to have a strong prophetic voice if she might speak a word of truth this morning to the issue of sexual harassment and abuse that has engulfed our nation.
I asked her because I was hesitant to stand in this pulpit this morning as the events of this year have given me pause to be reflective of my words in the past, especially those when I was young—times I undoubtedly disrespected women without realizing the harm I now assume I caused. My college mentor who is much older and wiser than me, recently shared with me her understanding that harassment is NOT about what the harasser intends, it is about how the person who is harassed is made to feel.
It doesn’t seem appropriate in some ways, to have a man stand here preaching to a sanctuary largely full of women about this issue, but perhaps men such as myself should be made to feel unfordable about this issue. Perhaps more men should be finding ways to seek to make amends for a culture of sexual harassment that at best many men, not all, but many men, often have not done enough to remedy.
Today’s story is about two women, two strong, courageous, loving women who display tremendous tenacity and resilience in the face of both tragedy and desperation. The story of Ruth and Naomi is at the same time a beautiful and timeless story, but also a tragic one. As many times as Ruth’s story has been told over the past two thousand years it always ends with Ruth being forced to make a choice between the security of food and shelter and safety, or, surrendering her body over to a man she has never met—a stranger. That choice is tragedy.
Like Ruth’s story, today, there are far, far too many women who are forced by men to choose between financial security, or pay the great price of surrendering their body over to men who would objectify them and use them and eventually discard them.
The issues of sexual harassment and abuse are of course as old as our Ruth’s story today. There are stories of sexual assault, of men using their power to objectify and abuse women, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Many in our country would like to think that Americans have moved beyond men exploiting women in this way, but clearly we have not.
In the past couple years and especially in the past couple months, a number of the men many of us respected and admired and even modeled our lives after in some ways, have been accused of some of the most un-imaginable acts.
I literally grieve the loss of the Cosby show that formed and reinforced so much of my perception about what family is about. I’m not a morning person, but I imagine many Americans have spent the last twenty years with their morning cup of coffee and Good Morning America and today are left feeling betrayed; or if you are like me, you have etched in your brain the voice of the Prairie Home Companion on NPR who would share the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average and no longer will those words be heard over the radio.
All these men and many, many, others, individuals who have shaped many of our views of the world, stand accused of sexual misconduct.
It seems as though the entertainment industry is being systematically dismantled one scandal at a time. From NPR to Rap, from producers to actors, from media moguls, to conservative news hosts, to liberal news icons—men of status and power who were considered untouchable in many ways just months ago, have been losing their jobs and their respect with the millions of Americans who once adored and respected them and their work.
Despite the rash of firings and resignations in the entertainment industry, there are seemingly other places in our nation and culture where sexual harassers are not being held fully accountable, including our politics. Congressmen, senators, presidents—the men who are supposed to embody the best in our nation—those who are supposed to convey trust, dignity and respect.
It would be grand if at least one of our two major political parties was free of sexual accusations—it would be wonderful if the party of family values would not have nominated a man for president who had been accused of sexual misconduct by over a dozen women and who was heard in his own voice and with his own words bragging about being able to sexual assault women without consequence.
It would be brilliant if the political party that prides itself as standing for the marginalized would finally and forcefully separate itself from a popular former president who engaged in sexual misconduct while in office. It would be quite appropriate if both parties would unite completely in their condemnation of male congressmen, senators and those running for office, significant and multiple allegations of sexual abuse and harassment have been lodged.
There are still other places, in our churches and denominations, in our Colleges and Universities, in parts of our military, in people’s private homes—where sexual harassment and violence is often down-played, too often ignored, or quietly swept under the rug to protect the institution or the family. I have seen first-hand too many times the pain and brokenness that sexual abuse has left in its wake. I have seen men not held fully accountable, and women unfairly questioned and blamed.
So what now? The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said, “…and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” Each day is indeed a new day that calls men in particular to examine who we ought to be and what we ought to do in order to insure that women like Ruth, women like the thousands of brave women and men who have chosen to speak out against sexual harassment and violence this past year, can be who they ought to be without fear of violence or coercion or harassment.
There are so many stories of courage and exceptionality of young women among us today such as is the story of Ruth. One story that many of us will be familiar with is the story Malala Yousaf zai. While her story is not one particular to sexual abuse, it is a story of men seeking to control women’s bodies. Several years ago, Malala defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. In 2012, at age fifteen she was nearly fatally shot by a Taliban gunman, but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala tells us that When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful. When the whole world in silent, even one voice becomes powerful.
We each have the opportunity to be powerful voice in this world. We each have the opportunity to be that powerful voice calling for justice and equality for women. We each have the opportunity to be that powerful voice saying, no more—no more silence—no more protecting or excusing men responsible for harassment and abuse. No more locker room banter, no more joking about grouping women, no more men using power or authority as bosses, or fathers, or uncles, or coaches, or ministers, or politicians or the like, to abuse and intimidate and harass women.
As some of you know, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the National Women’s march last January in D.C. after the Presidential Inauguration and I got to see and hear hundreds of thousands of women and men sharing thier powerful voices declaring there will be no more silence.
There were children in strollers and on the backs and shoulders of their parents present in a moment in history where a ground swell of voices erupted millions fold across our nation in cities like D.C., Boston, Cleveland, and L.A., cities across our nation and even the world—proclaiming the power of our voices for issues that affect women.
What now? We speak up and we speak out for the rights of women. And those of us who perhaps have been complicit in a culture of harassment and abuse, we look deeply inward and we seek reconciliation and grace, but we too must speak up and speak out for the women we women we love, our daughters, our wives, and all women—all women like Ruth who deserve choices—who deserve our respect. Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.