America is in the midst of a cultural shift. Women (and men) who have tolerated unwanted harassment, assault and rape are united in standing and saying no more. Time magazine acknowledged this moment in history by honoring all of the silence breakers of the #metoo movement by naming them 2017’s Person of the Year. High profile men, many household names, have lost respect and employment as we as a nation are beginning to give the victims a voice. Even the church is not immune to this cry for justice, evident through the #churchtoo confessions.
But what’s next?
Now that the victim’s voices are beginning to find strength and slowly a shift is happening to believe the victim rather than the oppressor, what’s next? How do we move from a world where there is a need for this movement to a world where it is no longer happening?
In an article by Slate, The Uneven Playing Field, one could defer that the expected direction of removing one offender from power is that another (just as bad or even worse) will take his place. If this happens then this moment in history will pass us by and we will be doomed to repeat the same injustices over and over. The rise of some politicians while others fall seems to imply this trend will continue. Morality does not equal fairness. It never has. Rather morality sets those who practice it apart. In order for tomorrow to be better, we must go high when others go low.
So how do we as a country begin to change?
Some men have expressed confusion, choosing instead to not engage with women co-workers. This isn’t the answer. In response, Tracee Ellis Ross’ went on Jimmy Kimmel Live to share her “children’s book” The Handsy Man. In great comedic form, she lays out the what not to do. Not being a comedian, I will leave that to her. But I do have a suggestion, one that is found in the pages of the Christmas story.
Upon discovering his fiancee was pregnant, “Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately.” (Matthew 1:19 NET) At first, he was shocked by the news and knowing the child was not his, he decided to quietly end the arranged marriage. It was in his right to call for her stoning, but his decision of quietly ending the relationship displays unconditional love and honor for this young woman. Upon learning from the angel that she was carrying the Messiah a shift happens in Joseph. We do not see him questioning the angel. Instead, we read in Matthew 1:24-25, “When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.”
#BeLikeJoseph Believe Her
Of course. there is shock in the beginning. When those we care for tell us the most vulnerable places in which they have been wronged it is natural to feel hurt. When we are told someone we love or respect has injured someone else it is normal to jump to the offense. But when we have had time to sit with the stories, when evidence is presented, when people’s character begins to show patterns, do not hold on to your belief simply because it is a difficult truth to hear. Words like rape, assault, and harassment are being framed with graphic stories that many don’t want to hear because the world felt safer before they were told. But truth be told, the world wasn’t safer. Those who felt safe were just blind to the truth, they were sitting in a place of privilege that allowed them to look the other way.
Joseph could have written off the interaction with the angel as nothing more than a dream or a wish. But he didn’t. He believed the angel, and he believed Mary. Joseph could have stuck with the privilege granted him in a patriarchal society that allowed him to dispose of the problem. Instead, he chose the difficult path of believing the young woman in front of him. He chose to take on the commitment of belief.
#BeLikeJoseph Respect Her
Joseph was told to do something unheard of. He was told, even after marriage, to keep his hands off Mary. “Hands off, even on your wedding night Joseph.” He watched over her, cared for her, and protected her as a life he had no part in creating grew inside. He waited until SHE was ready. He waited and respected her. Often the virtue of Mary is held up as an example for women to follow. But what of the virtue of Joseph? If boys will be boys and men can’t control themselves is true, then what of Joseph’s character? Joseph respected Mary for more than her body. He honored and valued a woman for more than how she could fulfill his own sexual pleasure. That is the model by which we begin to change.
Scripture is full of examples of people who have succumbed to sexual sins and those who have seen the value in the people before them. We should look to them to set our values of how to respect one another. We should learn from the examples of men like Joseph and begin to talk about what it looks like to truly honor our sisters and brothers who were created in the image of God.