On March 2, Nicky Reagan-Boyle, a twenty-something character on Blue Bloods on CBS, entered the workforce as an intern where she experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. We then see the empowerment of validation being visibly displayed on the television screen as Nicky immediately walks away from her job and is joined by other women, who, too, had experienced similar violations.
Herein lies a demonstration of the embodiment and empowerment of #metoo.
In recent weeks and months we have heard and read of similar scenarios being displayed in real life situations with real people across our nation. For instance, we became astonished and outraged to learn of the Olympic female gymnasts who were sexually abused by a team doctor, Larry Nassar. A demonstration of validation was shown several months after Rachael Denhollander reported how she was sexually molested at age fifteen by Nassar as other survivors of the women’s Olympic gymnastic team joined Denhollander by publically telling their stories.
Herein lies a demonstration of the embodiment and empowerment of #metoo.
This is only one example of the power of the Me Too movement, a movement that has widespread meaning as it seeks to assist survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. While Blue Bloods and the headlines currently highlight sexual harassment in the workplace, the Me Too movement envelops the sexual violation of children and teens at school as well as sexual abuse in their own families.
As I consider this significant movement, I ask myself, “How am I, as a Pentecostal, to respond to those in the midst of my tradition who would type the words #metoo? Is there anything within my own tradition that may speak to, and support, Pentecostal survivors of sexual abuse?”
I think so.
As Classical Pentecostals (i.e., our roots are found in the Azusa Street Revival), we adhere to a theology of healing in the atonement; thus, it seems appropriate during this Lenten season to reflect upon our understanding of this particular tenet of our faith. While this belief originally embraced only physical healing, many contemporary Classical Pentecostals include emotional healing in their understanding. On the one hand, this understanding is in itself a message of hope: through Christ being at-one-with-us, we have hope for spiritual, physical, relational, and emotional healing. On the other hand, I know of stories of Pentecostals being informed, “Your healing from sexual abuse or assault is complete, and the devil can no longer use it against you.” While I will not deny that such healing is not impossible with God, such blanket statements may overlook how Christ is ministering to an individual, thereby avoiding an opportunity to genuinely participate in Christ’s ministry of healing in that person. Such declarations may be ignoring the experiences of many survivors and in some cases may be in danger of stressing an overrealized eschatology that believes the not-yet is now. As a result, this understanding can play into the shame (I am bad; I am not good enough) and blame (as referenced in my previous blog) that is often already present in many Me Too survivors. In such cases, instead of hope for healing, there may be an increase of shame and self-blame when the survivors find themselves unexpectedly triggered and reliving the sexual assault instead of “walking in victory and healing.”
Instead of a carte blanche proclamation of instantaneous healing for all Me Too survivors, I suggest naming the shame and underscoring the at-one-ment that is in Christ. I believe the commonness of shame in the lives of Me Too survivors provides a place of connection with the atonement of Jesus Christ, who is the embodiment of God’s empathy that leads to empowerment and hope for ongoing healing.
In order to grasp the concept of shame, it may be helpful to remind us the main difference between guilt and shame. Guilt focuses on an action that one has committed while shame sees one’s being as flawed, such as “I am bad. I am not good enough.” Brad Binau notes that guilt is afraid of being punished while shame is afraid of being abandoned (see “When Shame is the Question, How does the Atonement Answer?” in Journal of Pastoral Theology, 2002). John Bradshaw believes there in a healthy and an unhealthy shame. A healthy shame is a human feeling that reminds one of her finitude; in essence, it allows her to be human, permitting her to make mistakes and admit that she needs help (see Healing the Shame that Binds You, preface); however, unhealthy shame is “the all pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being . . . the self becomes an object of its own contempt, an object that can’t be trusted” (Bradshaw, 10).
As we turn toward a brief examination of the atonement of Jesus Christ as seen in both his life and death, we see how Jesus identifies, becomes at-one-with-humanity’s shame, while healing it. For instance, during his life we see how he is called “Mary’s son,” in Mark’s Gospel, suggesting he is an illegitimate child. We also read how the religious leaders question his association with the sinners, drunkards, and tax collectors. As C. Norman Kraus writes, “[Jesus] identified with the socially excluded and despised and shared the stigma of their inferiority” (Jesus Christ Our Lord, 217). Therefore, while he did not live a life of cultural honor, he defied the cultural systems of honor and shame, seeking to bring honor to those who were dishonored. In other words, he embodied God’s empathy concerning humanity’s shame which then produced the healing and empowerment for others to be the human beings who God had intended.
Not only do we recognize his at-one-ment with our shame in his life but also in his death. The cross is said to be such a shameful form of execution that Roman citizens were not to be crucified. Unlike the tame images that depict Jesus on the cross with garments covering him, in a Roman crucifixion, the person is completely naked. Kraus points out that Jesus would be unable to control his body’s excretions or swat the flies that hover or land on his bloody, sweaty body. The cross was also a place of ridicule as people walked by and hurled hurtful words of scorn, and in Jesus’ case they sneered, “He can save others but he cannot save himself.” Kraus notes that such words dishonored Jesus by portraying him as weak, ineffective, and a failure (216). The identification with us is further seen as Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” These words illustrate that not only has Jesus identified with a Me Too survivor’s shame, but he also has identified with the fear that the survivor’s shame produces—abandonment.
It is here, in Jesus Christ’s embodied identification with our shame, that we are healed and empowered.
As Christ validates our shame and makes a connection with us, healing comes. Empathy does that. As Brené Brown has demonstrated, the healing of shame occurs through empathy. Jesus Christ’s identification with humanity’s shame, his at-one-ment, is a path towards healing for us. Jesus Christ embodies the empathy of God when he identifies with and validates humanity’s shame in his life and death, making a connection with humanity, and more specifically, the shame that is experienced by Me Too survivors.
But Jesus Christ’s at-one-ment with humanity goes one step farther as seen in the resurrection. The atonement of Jesus Christ is not only in his life and death but in his resurrection as well. Thus, Jesus Christ provides a way towards healing and a hope for complete healing as well as empowerment through his resurrection. God has made a connection with us through Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ, God’s connection with humanity, there is healing. Thus, in the atonement (life, death, resurrection), or in Christ’s at-one-ment with us, there is healing and a pull towards a future of complete healing as signified by the resurrection.
Christ is then the embodiment of identification, of connection, and of empathy, which leads to empowerment.
As I write, I also type #metoo. Thus, I, too, say that Jesus Christ is my own hope of complete healing in the atonement as a Pentecostal. I currently grieve the losses that I have experienced as I perceive Jesus Christ’s embodiment of an identification with my shame. This is in tension with the pull toward a future of my own complete healing, my own resurrection because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
Lord Jesus, may I see how you are ministering both to the other and to me and participate in that ministry through your Spirit as together we walk in the hope that you provide for complete healing.