Threading The #MeToo Needle

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Should the church get on board with the #MeToo movement? Beyond a shadow of a doubt the movement has done an awful lot of good in a very short amount of time. Women have felt emboldened to come forward and lay charges against serial offenders such as Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nasser and Kevin Spacey.

Rachael Denhollander represents the best expression of the #MeToo movement. Her testimony against the former Team USA gymnastics doctor who molested her was without a doubt one of the most moving and impactful examples of public rhetoric our culture has ever seen. It should be required viewing for every doctor, pastor, coach, teacher, politician and employer in this country. We need to talk more about the effects of our own unchecked sin upon the hearts and minds of vulnerable people. Rachael quoted Jesus as saying:

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42 NKJV)

That needed to be said – that needed to be heard by a culture that has forgotten about God, or turned him into some sort of dopey, benevolent grandfather. We need to remember that God is the AWESOME defender of the weak and the RIGHTEOUS judge of the wicked – Rachael Denhollander said that to the world and for that we must all be thankful.

The #MeToo movement must be celebrated if it empowers women, children and other vulnerable people to hold their abusers to account for their evil actions and behaviours.

But.

In our righteous enthusiasm for this movement and in our appropriate embrace of this moment, let us not abandon the principles upon which our free, democratic societies have been founded. In our society an accused person has the right to a fair trial before a jury of his or her peers. He has the right to defend himself. She has the right to face her accusers. He has the right to insist on a certain standard of evidence. She has the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

Most of those principles are rooted in our Christian cultural heritage. One of the most influential texts in the Bible, in terms of the development of British Common law was Deuteronomy 19:15-21:

15 A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:15–21 ESV)

In that single paragraph we see a concern for a certain standard of evidence, trial by multiple judges, dispassionate review and proportionate punishment. In the New Testament, despite that the covenant community was no longer a nation, but rather a collection of people from multiple nations, a similar concern for procedural fairness was still observed. The Apostle Paul said:

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Timothy 5:19–21 ESV)

A charge against a leader had to be substantiated, but if it was, the person was to be rebuked and censored publicly. No partiality was to be permitted.

This is the sort of reasonable process that makes for a safe society. People need to know that they will not be slandered, vilified, deposed and imprisoned on the basis of mere accusation. In such a society no one will venture to serve in public positions. We will be biting our nose to spite our face, as the old saying goes.

The recent resignation of Patrick Brown, a prominent Canadian politician, should make all of us a little nervous. On the basis of two anonymous accusations he was jettisoned by his party and subject to immediate on-line mockery and vilification. To be clear, I did not vote for Patrick Brown and had no plans to. But all of us should be wise enough to see this as a seminal moment in our culture. As Christie Blatchford wrote today in the National Post,

Whatever the merits of their accusations — and how is anyone to know? — the mere act of making them to a journalist was enough. This is all it takes now. It means that every man in the world is vulnerable, not because he has necessarily misconducted himself, but because a woman may say he has. The truth of the alleged misconduct — did it happen? Were there mitigating circumstances? Does the accuser have motive to lie? — is incidental, if not irrelevant.

In a free and fair society we do not trade one injustice for another.

We need to thread the needle.

We need to make it easier for vulnerable people to report abuse. We need to make the process less biased towards the rich, the powerful and the established.

But.

We need to maintain a concern for evidence and due process. And in the church we need to believe in the possibility of repentance, change, growth and restoration.

The former things are what make our culture great. The latter things are the heart and substance of the Christian faith. Let us cherish those things even while we embrace and celebrate the good that is being done by the #MeToo movement.

And may God alone be glorified.

Paul Carter

N.B. To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.

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