A tidal wave of sexual assault and harassment allegations threatens to change the landscape of our country. As a woman, I can say that this stormy season (for me anyway) is both terrible and beautiful. Each public accusation, each story coming forward, is another trigger of memories of the abusive experiences I have survived. As countless women are finding courage to raise our voices together to say, “No more,” the swell of millions of #metoos feels both nauseating and empowering. Between shudders, I find myself hoping for a better future. I catch glimpses from the corner of my eye of a world in which women are treated as equals, a world in which the divine image within each human being is valued and treated with dignity. It’s a beautiful view.
Recently three men in our Joe’s Addiction Community who live outside in a camp with about twenty-five other people came to me. These guys are part of the #lovegang. They have committed to following the Way of Love, turning from violence and hatred to loving even our enemies. This is a new and difficult road, different from their past life, one with unfamiliar twists and turns.
One of the men spoke first. He said, “Miss Jamie, we had a situation last night in the camp and we didn’t know what to do.” They overheard a woman (who is also part of our Community) in distress. A man was in her tent, and she was shouting, “No. Stop! Get off me!” I asked the guys, “What did you do?” They looked at each other, and then looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, nothing. We didn’t know what to do?”
I was incensed. Inside my mind, I was yelling, “You did nothing?!!!” But I know these men. I know their histories. I know that they genuinely desire to live a New Way, and that they honestly did not know what to do, so I spoke slowly. “What do you think maybe you should have done?”
One of them said, “Well, I didn’t want to get in a fight. I knew it wouldn’t be right to go in there and beat him up.”
Another one said, “Well, you know . . . It’s confusing.”
I asked, “Why? What’s confusing?”
He said, “Well, you know she’s a prostitute.”
Yes. I know that this woman sells sex. It’s how she survives. She makes enough money to buy food, and yes, to support her drug addiction. I asked again, “So why is that confusing?”
One of the guys said, “You know. She has sex with the men all the time for money.”
I asked, “What was different about this time though?”
“She was saying, 'No.' He was hurting her.”
I agreed. That’s what made it different.
We then talked through the possibilities of this happening again. What could they do to help a woman like this in the future? They threw out suggestions and ideas about how to nonviolently make their presence known. To step in and tell the man to leave. It was so utterly basic. So simple. So obvious to most of us. Or is it?
It was a painful conversation for me as a female pastor to navigate, but at the same time it was amazing. Three men who in the past have been governed by their most base, animalistic desires evolved right before my eyes into men who loved this woman and wanted to see her treated well. I was so proud of them.
Something is in the air. The world is changing. We as a species are growing, we’re becoming better. As famous men are called to account, the systems of patriarchy and power are crumbling, starting at the top. It’s an agonizing process, but this week I saw with my own eyes that “the rising tide lifts all boats.”