It seems like the floodgates have finally opened up and the years of sexual abuse by men in power is finally being exposed. What the Catholic Church experienced over a decade ago is now being extended to every part of our culture. Politicians and powerful media elites are facing the consequences of an entire culture filled with sexual assault and harassment. Of all the revelations and responses, I think Louis C. K. marks out a path that might be most helpful for church people as we are being confronted on our patriarchal systems of power and the explicit and implicit way we have handled sex, sexuality, and expanding to race.
CNN reported this story and gave some great pull quotes. Quoting from the story,
"These stories are true. At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true," he wrote. "But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn't a question. It's a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly."
Louis C.K. went on to say that he is "remorseful" and has "tried to learn" from his irresponsible behavior.
"There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for. And I have to reconcile it with who I am. Which is nothing compared to the task I left them with ... The hardest regret to live with is what you've done to hurt someone else," the statement continued.
Although C.K. didn't explicit apologize to the woman specifically, he did recognize some facts that we in the church should be quick to acknowledge. As people become more and more free to share about their wounding church experiences and how people in power have intentionally, or even unintentionally wounded them, the church is going to have some reckoning to do as well.
Here are four things specifically I think we should be quick to recognize:
1) THESE STORIES ARE TRUE. There is no taste for spin or shading the reality of what has happened. It doesn't matter how long ago, or how immature you were, or what others did say or do. Immoral behavior is immoral behavior and calling it out. When these things come to light, a quick, open and honest response it the only way we can begin to move towards healing and reconciliation. (Even better, confess before you get busted will add credibility that you are actually sorry and agree to that what has happened is truly immoral)
2) YOU HAVE POWER OVER ANOTHER PERSON. Power is a strange thing. What many people, including myself, are coming late to the game in understanding, is the true power and institutional power the church and church leaders hold. We think that church is purely an elective experience, but that is not the case. How we treat people, talk about people, and leverage our power has real consequences. Just because we may think we are being funny, or working for a larger cause, or unaware, is no longer an excuse. We as church leaders have real power and must leverage it for the weakest and poorest, not for our own egos or status.
3) I AM REMORSEFUL. When called out, exposed or busted, our posture must be one of contrition and remorse. Nobody has a taste for excuses or minimization. This is more than a simple blow off or a surface ask for forgiveness. Remorse is deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed. I don't think many church people or people in power have deep regret. We have regretted that we got caught, but not regret the harm we have caused others. We must have true regret and sit in that for a while. This will allow us to also do the fourth and final point.
4) TIME TO LISTEN AND LEARN. People in power have had the mic for far too long and have used their voice to explain away and marginalize voices that call out injustice, especially those that threaten our power. If we are going to navigate this brutal time of deconstruction and reap the whirlwind that is occurring, then we must get healthy and do it quickly. This will only happen when we are willing to look deeply into the abyss of our own lives and systems, call out the injustices, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. But true forgiveness and reconciliation cannot happen until those wronged have space to articulate, grieve, and heal the evil and brokenness they have experienced at the hands of those in power.
I am not condemning the church or condemning those who are in power. I am acknowledging that all the things that have been done in private for the past 30 years are now being exposed. On the one hand, this is terrifying for me and for others in positions of power reflecting on all the stupid and awful things I have participated in, excused, and overlooked over the last 30 years.
If the church is going to truly be good news to a world that desperately needs it, then we have to be part of the healing process, not part of the systems that seek to gather and protect their own power. We are followers of the Incarnate God, who had ultimate power but gave all of it up, taking on the very nature of a slave, and in doing so made a way for all of the broken, sinful and even evil humans to be made right through. But this process of salvation and reconciliation starts and ends with humbly walking in the light.
May God truly have mercy on me, and the church as we navigate these difficult times.