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#MeTooBy Danielle Tumminio
The #MeToo campaign saturated my social media pages recently, as it has done for many others in our country. Posts showed the suffering, grief, and rage survivors experience and they together called attention to the many dynamics of gender-based harm. Many women described abuse in detail; men asked how they could help; some observed the sheer number of postings with lamentation at the brokenness that they signaled, while others bore witness to it all.
What can people of faith offer at a time like this, a time when it seems #MeToo is just the latest in an endless string of news stories that show how our society seems incapable of collectively respecting the dignity of all human beings? Responding can feel daunting—the parts we each play in this world may seem insignificant when compared with the challenges at hand.
And yet, it falls to us as Christian leaders to be Jesus’ hands and heart in the world. That means we are called to proclaim the message Jesus offered his followers, that each and every person has dignity. God, in turn, calls us to respect that dignity.
Jesus proclaimed this message creatively every day as he sought to knock down the divisions of insider and outsider, powerful and vulnerable that existed in his own culture. He did that by eating with outcasts, welcoming women into his fold, including both Jew and Greek, preaching in the Temple, and occasionally shocking the crowds with what he had to say.
So how can we live like Jesus at a time when we also see discrimination, vision, and violence saturating our world? First and foremost, now is not the time to be complacent in our faith. As in Jesus’ era, pressing problems have devastating effects on real human lives. The first step for us, then, is to keep our eyes open and to be willing to witness to those who experience violations, even when they bear what society at large seems to regard as inconvenient wisdom. Then we, like Jesus, can respond to that witness with the proclamation that all humans deserve dignity and respect, regardless of their gender, the color of their skin, the contents of their bank account, the country listed on their passport, or any of the other factors that seem to point to the ways we can be divided into “us” and “them.” It falls to us to shout Jesus’ message of liberating love and welcome to the world when the world seems to turn a deaf ear. And the more creatively we can do that, the better.
Back in the early 1980s, my mother watched as the AIDS crisis erupted, and she was upset by the stigma and discrimination and lies she saw others perpetuating. People were afraid, she realized, but instead of combatting that fear with knowledge of the truth, they hid from it with scapegoating tactics that gave the illusion of safety. Around that same time, my mother, a health educator, proposed writing the first AIDS education curriculum for New York City schools. The curriculum she put together taught students the facts of transmission so they wouldn’t fall prey to the myths that others preached, and it worked to dismantle the stigmas that others wanted Americans to believe. I was a toddler at the time, and my mother was very transparent with me about her work: She was teaching students the truth about how an awful disease was spread, and hopefully, they would live differently because of that knowledge.
My mother made an impact because she saw injustice and hurt, and she was willing to step in and work within her calling to proclaim the truth. As a result, somewhere there is a student who is now a healthy adult because he or she did not listen to the hateful rhetoric that permeated news cycles at that time.
Each of us is called to listen for how we too can make an impact on the issues that harm members of our communities today. Like Jesus, we can do this by watching for where the need exists and then preaching truth to a world that desperately needs to hear it.
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