When Your Good Works are Interrupted
No matter how well you plan, goal-set or dot every “i” and cross every “t,” there is always the likelihood that something or someone will interrupt your good works. I’m talking about interruption in a major way – not just getting you off schedule and causing you to have to spend a few extra hours accomplishing a project.In October 2016, my good work was interrupted in a major way. I was in a ministry setting where I was repeatedly the “unwanted attention” of a male member who had a fixation on me. He would repeatedly grab me, uninvitingly touch me and was both consistent and persistent in his behavior. I reported it to the senior pastor on more than one occasion, yet it never stopped. It escalated to the point that this male member came in on me one evening as I was preparing to teach a Bible study class. I found myself alone, in my office, with a six-foot white man towering over me, insisting that he be allowed to touch me. My safety was at risk and the agency of my personhood as a woman had been interrupted.
In the time that followed that traumatic experience, every fiber of my being was impacted. Because the pastor of the church was adamant that this male member, who had a previous history of this behavior toward other women, be allowed to remain a part of the worshiping community, I could not remain. In every instance of reporting it, the senior pastor made it my responsibility to set boundaries with this man. My safety could not be ensured and as a result, my good work in that setting was interrupted.
My range of emotions went from fear and frustration of having to endure that “fixation” over a period of four months to being disheartened and disappointed. Even with there being no support or contact extended to me by the senior pastor of the church, following that horrific evening, I knew that in my own calling and work as a pastor, I had to decide that my good works could not and would not be permanently interrupted by this. In that I had been told by the senior pastor to set “boundaries” with the male member and to talk with someone else within the congregation who could offer advice on how not to “agitate” this male member, perhaps it was presumptuous of me to anticipate any support at this juncture in the ordeal.
To compound the situation, I was the first and only African American clergy serving in that church's 100-plus year history. The makeup of the congregation reflected the church's non-diverse history. Here I was, an African American woman repeatedly being "touched" by a white male member of the church. And every time I reported the situation, it came as no shock to anyone. Each person knew who I was talking about without me ever having to utter the name of the man. He was known for this behavior and the church seemingly had grown accustomed to it.
My agency as a woman of worth and value had been interrupted – in the church of all places. Too often, women find ourselves at the intersection of race and gender where our personhood is under attack. When it happens within the sacred spaces of the church, the impact of the hurt is magnified. If we are not careful in how we process it, the traumatic experience can easily interrupt our relationship with God – especially when the interruption happens in the church.
God is with us in our struggles. In the aftermath of this experience, part of my good works is to make sure that women, especially those who have suffered and survived sexual harassment, oppressive structures and systems, and other inequities, can find their healing within the sacred texts of Scripture. We serve a God of liberation and healing. It is important for pastors, preachers and those who proclaim the Gospel to intentionally lift up biblical texts in a way that restores worth and value of women. To not do it, is to further exacerbate the oppression and hurt.
In the collection of essays, “I Found God in Me: A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader,” womanist, theologian, scholar and author Mitzi J. Smith (who edited the collection) says, “God’s image is not monochromatic nor is God’s voice monotone. God speaks in tunes and tones that resonate with the oppressed and marginalized, particularly with the lived experiences of black women and other women of color.” (page 9)
When we open up the Scriptures and read the narratives of Miriam, Ruth, Hannah, Mary, and the unnamed women whose experiences are relatable to the women in our midst – our mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, sistah friends and besties – we should do so with the goal of looking through the lens of their experiences and then lifting up the hope and healing that is there in the text. If you only share the text through your limited experiences and never take into account the many experiences that those in your midst have endured, then you never truly show the full range of who God is.
When you are doing good works, the enemy will try his best to thwart God’s plans.
When you are doing good works, there are situations and circumstances that will arise, many times at no fault of your own, that will seek to destroy the purposeful and meaningful impact that you are having on God’s kingdom. But it is when your good works are interrupted that you must make a decision and declaration that the interruption is only temporary.
God will always make provision for you to do good works. When it does not work in one setting, trust and believe that God will go ahead of you to prepare the way for you to do God’s good work in another setting.