It Takes a Village

By Rev. Patricia Rae Kessel
Rev. Kessel is a retired clergywoman living in Portland, Oregon and is this month’s guest writer. She touches on religion and the #MeToo Movement. 

When I was asked to write reflections on the #MeToo movement as a liberal United Methodist pastor (retired), I said yes and later wondered why I’d answered in the affirmative. I’ve titled this brief writing after the book by Hillary Rodham Clinton, “It Takes a Village.” That book expands on the necessity of community in all its variances as essential to the raising of a child. 

For the #MeToo movement, we need all parts of the “village,” including our brothers and sisters, our faith communities, our friends, families, colleagues, and yes, especially our government on all levels. 

From my 30 years of pastoral ministry, I offer a few reflections. The first is gratitude to the foremothers before me who fought for full ordination for women. The United Methodist Church included women as fully ordained in 1956.

In humility and sadness I learned that I was called to offer forgiveness even if I questioned the reason. I sat with a not so young woman who had already chosen to end a pregnancy, and had requested a pastoral call. I shiver to this day as I recall taking her by the hands and saying, “Loretta, in the Name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.”

The #MeToo movement teaches me that it is right and even necessary to question and not believe some of the Scriptures of Holy Writ that would seem to support the abuse of women. A recent quote from the late theologian, The Rev.Dr. Marcus Borg, put it well. He said, (I’m paraphrasing here.) “I wish that when necessary, preachers would take the courage to speak out when ‘the Bible is wrong.’”

As a theologian I do value some of the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament. I recall the audacity of Queen Esther as she summoned the courage to plead for her people. I shout AMEN to Ruth and Naomi who chose to stay with one another in a culture unsafe for single women.  I am awed by the Spirit Herself as one of the Trinity. (Since Ruach in Hebrew is a neutral word, and Pneuma in Greek is a feminine word, I dare say that this combination hardly yields a male spirit!)

I am stunned by the witness of the earthly mother of Jesus, whose faith had prepared her to say the eternal YES to bearing the Incarnation Itself. (Yes, I believe Mary had a choice!) I ponder Mary’s relative, Elizabeth who offered acceptance and full embrace of this unusual pregnancy. A woman encouraging another woman has great redemptive power.

I am encouraged by the two women at the empty tomb (called the apostles to the apostles). To them, Jesus said “Go and tell!”  I am made aware of my own imperfections when I recall Jesus’ saying to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.” 

Out of sequence here, I must recall the Creation Myths when humankind was created and God declared that all was “very good!”

Since humankind is made in the Imago Dei (image of God) then we can confirm that even the Divine has a feminine component that has no less confirmation than the male counterpart. Adamah, the name means earth people, NOT just the ancient Adam. So in my belief system, I believe when any woman is used, abused, neglected, ridiculed or made to feel “less than,” the Divine Image is also suffering for she bears that divine stamp.

I wish to close with some words from The Rev. Kaji Dousa, a United Church of Christ pastor in New York City. Her writing comes in two parts.

“We believe that sexual assault is a non-partisan issue. We believe that sexual assault is a criminal act. We believe that there is no statute of limitation for trauma. We believe that speaking out is an act of courage. We believe that victim blaming is wrong. We believe that survivors come from all walks as life, as do assailants. “

As a retired clergyperson, I fully concur with the same author’s following affirmations which sound almost creedal.

“I believe the truth that your body tells. I believe what you are too afraid or too ashamed to tell. I believe that you deserve to be whole. I believe that God intends for you to be well in body, mind, and spirit. I believe that Jesus’ touch was never meant to authorize non-consensual touch. And, I believe that you deserve to give and receive loving touch that does no harm.”

My prayer is that my granddaughters and great-granddaughters will never have to raise a hesitant hand and admit, “me too.” May it be so. AMEN.

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