How to Talk to Your Students About “the Reckoning”
“… How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important, it’s long overdue.”
These are the laments of Savannah Guthrie, once NBC cohost to Matt Lauer, amid reporting Lauer’s termination from the network due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Guthrie offered a moniker (also used by NPR in a special report back in November) to the current cultural moment that has since widely branded the conversation: reckoning.
While Lauer’s firing is only the most recent punctuation in the conversation over sexual harassment and violence among prominent figures, it seems to have served as the tipping point to a movement that is shaping the landscape for females in our country. And if all this has been the rising action to a much larger narrative, I would argue that TIME’s designation of Person of the Year to not one person, but a group of women known as “The Silence Breakers,” ushered us into the story’s climax.
As a minister to students, I have been battling with where/when I enter this conversation. It is a conversation that has and will have inescapable ramifications on both our male and female students, their relationships with one another and their future in the working culture. While this conversation is necessary for both male and female students, in this article I will focus specifically on addressing my female students. What started with the women’s march in January, set fire with the #metoo movement, and has since turned into a national “reckoning,” has had females as the driving catalysts.
So how do we, as youth leaders, respond?
First, join the conversation.
In recent weeks, the cultural dialogue has taken a shift from individualistic to communal. The news has gone from individual cases to a nation ready to “reckon” with this wrong. This reckoning is changing the landscape of our culture and catechizing female students with all its ideology – for better or worse. We would be imprudent to assume our students are immune to the conversation. In many ways, they are already well versed on sexual harassment and violence, whether they realize it or not.
A 2011 study by AAUW estimated that almost half of all middle and high school students have experienced some type of sexual harassment. This is also illustrated in one of the year’s most famed Netflix dramas, 13 Reasons Why, where high school sexual harassment turned to abuse and finally violence. Whether we like it or not, our girls are exposed to the conversation through media and friends, so why not help them navigate these waters with a gospel compass? In the midst of this moment of reckoning, our creator God desires to commune with His creation, revealing even deeper glimpses of His glory within it all. With this in mind, here are two starting points:
1. Justice as the aim
When asked what Lauer’s accuser wanted from NBC, her response was merely “to do the right thing.” Her response summarizes a main theme for this reckoning – justice for the hurting and broken. As we enter the conversation, we are already given the opportunity to shine a spotlight on justice and forgiveness with our girls. Females who have been silent for years are encouraging others to choose justice over fear; may we do the same.
A great place to start is by asking this question: why does justice matter? It matters because God is a just God. He cares so deeply for justice that “He did not spare His own son, but gave Him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). God willingly placed Himself on the cross – taking the necessary punishment of sin – in order that we might be forgiven. The desire for justice from man is a good desire, yet, it is only a mere reflection of our deeper need – justice from evil. And, oh my friends, praise God that this justice has already been served!
While we await the day when God’s ultimate justice reigns in perfection, and evil is wholly wiped away, we can see moments – like this reckoning – as opportunities to draw our students back to gospel truth. We can remind them that because of this hope, they can confidently “mourn with those who mourn” knowing that “vengeance belongs to the Lord” (Rom 12:15-19).
2. Empathy as the driving force
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstien allegations came the resurgence of the #metoo campaign which is founded on one key principle, empathy.
It is on a similar path that the church can, and should, walk amidst this reckoning. Yet, not only by the empathy of man, but by that of a merciful God. Through Christ we have been given everything we need to confront sin and suffering in our lives and in the lives of others – even when we have not experienced the suffering ourselves. We do not have to fear the unknown, but we can embrace what we do know – Jesus was made “like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a faithful and merciful High Priest in the service of God” (Hebrews 2:17).
While in the cusp of a national reckoning, we are also in the throes of the Advent season. We are in the midst of a time when our hearts are principally directed towards the remembrance of a God who literally made Himself empathy, by humbling Himself and becoming fully man. He was born of a woman, grew as a child, suffered in every way we suffer (Heb. 2:18) and felt the weight of sin around Him. Yet, unlike us, He is fully God and lived a sinless life. Because of this, Jesus is the only perfect empathizer. He is able to intercede on our behalf, even when we do not know what to ask. We can boldly enter into the conversation on reckoning, knowing we have a God who not only empathizes, but is King over all creation.
As we remember the advent of Christ’s first coming, may our hearts be stirred to the beautiful reality of His promised second coming. May we take heart in the promised inheritance, sealed and guaranteed, kept in heaven for the saints (1 Pet. 1:4-5) – that one day all of creation will be redeemed. We can enter the conversation on sexual harassment, not because we have the perfect answers, but because we have the perfect savior – the one who will one day lead a full reckoning over the curse of sin (Isaiah 2:12).