It started as a drip. And then it turned to a steady trickle and then a stream. And now it’s a river of accusations, denials, resignations and firings over sexual harassment.
I don’t have to list the names. You know many of them as they span the political, moral and religious spectrum.
Time Magazine just honored The Silence Breakers with their Person of the Year award—the first women who bravely stepped up to the microphone and named their abusers empowered others and might have just started a movement.
The impact is wide and deep, touching on nearly every sector —-- Government, entertainment, sports, business and media. The possibility and implications of sexual harassment are being discussed behind closed boardrooms across the land.
Male or female, we should all think about what bearing these discussions will have on our workplace. And we who are Christ-followers should be strategic influencers.
Dr. Halee Gray Scott is the Director of the Young Adults Initiative Project at Denver Seminary. She’s an author and expert on gender dynamics in the workplace. Dr. Gray Scott has been formally studying data, conducting interviews with leaders, and writing about men and women in both secular and church workplaces. Her research has taken her into deep cross sectional analysis, looking for regional, ethnic and cultural trends.
But according to her, “the answers aren’t always so easy.”
Anyone who’s studied this issue knows it’s far more than a hashtag or a call for equality. It’s deep. It’s complicated. It’s messy.
“When I started down this path of study, I thought I was going to be Lewis and Clark, finding the path to the sea,” said Dr. Gray Scott. “Instead I keep running into the Rocky Mountains we have to climb over to understanding.”
While some are applauding the disclosures of inappropriate behavior, Dr. Gray Scott believes this is a time of sadness for our culture.
“This has been an old wound that has been festering and now that it’s exposed it’s ugly and its painful,” she said. “But there’s no substitute for salt in cooking and neither is there substitute for salt in truth.”
As the salt of the earth, Jesus knew the power of the metaphor. Salt stings. It hurts. But it heals.
In the same sermon, Jesus encouraged his followers to stand tall when the darkness closes in.
“You are the light of the world,” he said. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
The world is begging for clarity and it is the Christian voice that can bring it. Our influence in the workplace, the same space that God’s sons and daughters share, is desperately needed. Secularists will roll their eyes at what we call “Scripture,” but this old instruction manual for life has relevance for humanity’s modern problems.
“Now is the time for both Christian men and women to step up and take leadership in this issue” said Dr. Gray Scott.
I’ve been talking to coworkers, friends and family members about these issues. I’ve been asking the hard questions. I’m learning that #MeToo isn’t just a catchy hashtag. It’s a clarion call for all us to exercise leadership on this issue.
There are behaviors that are obviously wrong and inappropriate, actions that betray the responsibility of power and prey on subordinates.
But then there are the others, the subtle pleasantness that marks the modern workplace. The office side hug that lingers too long. The handshake that is not firm, but soft and tender. The friendliness that turns to flirtiness.
Dr. Gray Scott has wrestled with some of these complicated questions, especially in the Christian workplace.
“I have interviewed senior leaders who refuse to work with women, avoiding the temptation,” she said. “But that takes the contributions of females off the table.”
“In the secular world, beauty gets you places. But in the Christian world, the inverse is true. Attractive women are to be distrusted,” she said. “And it’s not just a male problem. Sometimes it’s their wives who cast aspersion on the attractive female.”
We live in a hyper-sexualized society and it taints everything, including the workplace.
The result is “Instead of trying to build healthy relationships, we cut them off,” according to Dr. Gray Scott.
She believes uncovering the veil of silence is the first step. To talk about the issues, apart from accusations and finger pointing, is where the Christian can set the pace.
“The discussions need to move beyond sexual harassment training. Instead we need to talk in earnest about how to partner together – male and female – more effectively in the workplace.”
Talking about the dynamics each sex brings to the table is an excellent starting point.
“How can we work on project together? Men need to recognize and embrace the perspective and qualities women bring that benefit the workplace and the organization,” she said, “We need to be institutionalizing collaboration for better success and productivity.”
“Male and female He made them.”
The Genesis account first separated the sexes, and right from the beginning there was interdependence. Since that moment, He has used both male and female to tell His story, to guide the world into truth and to make this a better world.
As a male, and one who has been a manager, have I always been above the fray? Am I guilty of the abuse? More likely, have I helped carve this culture of shame through inaction?
As a man, I’m thinking about these issues.
Through all this, I’m wondering if we’re looking for letter of the law and missing the spirit.
The example of Christ is the ultimate example of how to live life in the everyday – including the workplace. His interpersonal relationships, his admonitions and the subsequent teachings of his followers centered on respect.
What if the foundation of every workplace started with a standard of respect?
Jesus wasn’t just polite to the women in his life, he brought them into his inner world. And Peter tells us to “show proper respect to everyone.”
Respect starts with the employer. Paul admonishes bosses to not be bullies. “Don’t threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”
Respect works the other way too, employee honoring the master. “Obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.”
And in that environment, we begin to respect each other.
The fact that everyone has a voice is not some newly invented modern call for equality. It’s a Christian ethos that has been banging against the steely drum of humanity for thousands of years. It’s now a call to repent.
So, are we willing to listen? And once we listen, are we willing to start acting with professionalism and Christian virtue?
This topic will be discussed in depth at a breakout called "Better Together: Building A Workplace Where Both Men & Women Thrive" at the Denver Institute event “Business for the Common Good,” a half-day business event for leaders passionate about using their gifts and resources to shape our world.
Click here to learn more and to register.
David Rupert is a Golden-based writer who has more than 2,000 articles on faith, culture and vocation published in a variety of publications. He is the community editor for the Denver Institute blog. Most recently he was content editor at the High Calling, helping Christians connect their faith to the workplace. He regularly writes for Patheos.