Ears to Hear: Pastors, Seminarians and #MeToo

A few weeks ago, journalist Danielle Young at The Root published a recollection of her own #MeToo account. It’s worth the read. It’s not about being raped or molested. And for that reason, she almost didn’t write about it. It’s common for many to minimize their experience because it doesn’t involve being dragged into a dark alley and forcibly brutalized. But make no mistake: the indignities and assaults committed in broad daylight can also inflict their fair share of damage. One of the biggest reasons these events don’t get talked about is because women have often been taught that it’s better to be assaulted than be thought of as someone who is “dramatic”. So we attempt to rationalize and even gaslight ourselves — trying to convince ourselves that what we’ve experienced isn’t real … or at least not that bad. And of course, these beliefs aren’t merely generated from internalized lessons. They are often overtly and explicitly stated by others. This is especially the case when the perpetrators are well liked or popular. This is why harassment can seem hard to navigate even, and especially, if done publicly. Is it better to laugh it off? Go with the flow? The result is often uncomfortable smiles or giggles as if the situation is no big deal. Yet it is. For the aforementioned complex reasons Danielle’s story of her encounter with acclaimed director John Singleton was met with disbelief and scorn by some. At the time I read her article one of the top commenters accused the author of making up her account. This person, who claimed to be present during the encounter, noted that from their perspective the author didn’t appear uncomfortable all the while she was being inappropriately touched and leered at. Never mind that this was during a professional function and the perpetrator was essentially a stranger to her. She hadn’t made a scene so she must’ve been ok with being groped and spoken to in a suggestive manner by this highly powerful man. But that’s the catch 22 — if one does “make a scene” you’re looked upon badly then too. It seems like a no-win situation.

It’s a situation I know very well. I used to laugh when uncomfortable as just like Danielle. I convinced myself that this defense mechanism would diffuse the situation. But, in one particular situation, one of my undergrad professors confronted me about my habit. “Why are you laughing?” he asked. “I don’t know — it’s nervous laughter I guess.” He admonished me to retrain myself to not smile in unpleasant circumstances. He noted that my expressions should be congruent with my feelings. At the time I thought his words were unduly harsh and somewhat paternalistic. Yet I still took them to heart. It’s served me well, but it still doesn’t deter uncomfortable situations from arising.

When I began Seminary 17 years ago, less than 1/3 of the students were women (including doctoral candidates and off campus students). And, from what I recall, I was the only woman who had been a Theology major who entered the MDiv program the term that I did (there were others before and after me). Because Theology grads and non-Theology grads had slightly different tracks, it wasn’t unusual to have only one or even no other women in any given class I was taking. This meant my study partners were overwhelmingly males. And they were also the people I had available to socialize with. Hanging out in the commons meant being surrounded by guys. Unless you wanted to be a hermit, that was reality. Thankfully, the majority of my classmates were respectful and friendly. But there were times when the conversations of some people veered in crass directions. One classmate in particular had a habit of engaging in crude jokes. Though I had learned to express my displeasure, it sometimes wasn’t heeded. My close friends assured me that this guy “meant nothing by” his offensive banter. He was a “really great person” they assured me. I was encouraged to not be so uptight.

One day in a class he walked behind me and touched my waist. Like so many women, my initial instinct was to downplay it. “He just needed to pass me” I rationalized. But I examined the situation logically: there was enough room to pass me without touching me. There were other ways to get to his destination without even being near me. Walking behind me and putting his hands on me wasn’t necessary. I confronted him. In no uncertain terms, I let him know that his actions were unacceptable. He defensively told me that he didn’t mean anything unsavory — he was in a committed relationship after all — he wouldn’t dare! I didn’t care about his rationale. It just needed to never happen again. And it didn’t.

The sexual jokes and sexist comments continued though. Other women were uncomfortable around him too. One day sitting in the Commons with one of my male classmates, one of my Seminarian sisters walked by. She was visibly flushed. When she caught my eye, she came over and told me that this same guy had looked her up and down and made a lewd comment about her appearance. She was flustered and at a loss for what to do. I comforted her and decided that we would be proactive about this. Meanwhile my study partner overheard. When the young lady left, he inquired almost in an accusing tone, “why did she feel the need to tell you that about him?” Implicit in his voice was the same doubt I hear echoed in men defending popular predators today: “this sounds like you’re trying to ruin this guy’s reputation”. Never did it occur to these defenders that perhaps the men they’re holding in such high esteem don’t deserve the sterling reputations they have. I brushed off my friend. I had spoken to him several times before about this guy. It had fallen on deaf ears. Now I had a different plan.

I went to the Dean’s office the next day. I outlined some of the issues experienced by me and by other women. I proposed that we have an assembly about it. I suggested we openly discuss what harassment was and how appropriate interactions between sexes should occur. This wasn’t just for my benefit or the sake of the other female seminarians — all of us would have to deal with members of the opposite sex in our churches out in the world. I was asked if any individual had done something to me personally. I noted that some things had happened and I had confronted the person. I didn’t name names. I still don’t know if it would’ve been better if I had. But my point had been that this was beyond one individual. It was the entire permissive atmosphere. It was about guys who may not tell the sexist jokes, but who laugh at them nonetheless. It was about the men who themselves may be uncomfortable with inappropriate remarks, but still remain quiet. This was about the women in ministry who admonish other women to stay silent in the face of disrespect: women who don’t “make waves” and don’t call out bad behavior for fear of being ostracized and isolated in a profession that is still overwhelmingly male. This is about the culture that encourages everyone to “go with the flow” and “not make a big scene”.

I would love to say the administration responded with decisive action. Alas, no. I have a lot of admiration for the professors and administrators I had in Seminary. And I feel confident that had I reported that an individual had violently physically assaulted me, they would have stepped in. But I was disappointed that this type of harassment — the out-in-the-open, public kind — was waved off as not being a big deal. Nothing was done. The single time I remember harassment being addressed by any of my professors was when one joked that if he had had to abide by current standards of avoiding harassment, he wouldn’t have ever landed a date with his now wife. His comment was met with hearty laughter. Hopefully things have changed at the Seminary in the last couple of decades. There is now a female Associate Dean. I would hope her very presence has made a difference.

Lupita Nyong’o publicly addressed her encounter with Harvey Weinstein. She reported about how she extricated herself from a very threatening situation relatively unscathed. She has since gone on to have a successful acting career with no further incidents. She attributed her subsequent harassment-free years to having women in leadership.

She writes, “Fortunately for me, I have not dealt with any such incidents in the business since. And I think it is because all the projects I have been a part of have had women in positions of power, along with men who are feminists in their own right who have not abused their power. What I am most interested in now is combating the shame we go through that keeps us isolated and allows for harm to continue to be done. I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to. I wish I had known that there were ears to hear me. That justice could be served. There is clearly power in numbers.”

Revelation talks about having ears to hear. Abuse, assault, and harassment happens in our schools and churches worldwide. How different would that reality be if there were women in pastoral and administrative leadership everywhere providing ears to hear? How different would it be if we all had ears to hear? Whoever has an ear, let them hear.

Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is a clinical psychologist and ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found at:


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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8434

Excellent question, and one which SDA leadership everywhere should contemplate. I’m mortified by the extent to which my gender mistreats and objectifies women. I have been told of studies showing that religious groups–and more so if more conservative–have some of the highest rates of childhood and female sexual abuse (unfortunately, I don’t have time to confirm this right now). I think there is a moral imperative that our Church become more receptive to female leadership–for many reasons, but this being prominent among them. I think it would make a real difference.

Sure, Mr. Shepherd, we can play the Biblical quote game, too: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” Eph 6:5 [in defense of slavery?] Would you like to give us a lesson on Scripture and culture?

Cassie, I VERY MUCH appreciate what you have shared. I just wish more people could read your comments. I’m sorry that Birder (a hobbyist’s name) has such little respect for alternative views; other biologists (real ones), I can assure you, have a much greater appreciation for x chromosomes. If you ever share more of your story, I’d like to see it, though I certainly understand if you choose to say no more. Blessings to you.


We were to discuss Romans 8 last Sabbath at Sabbath School, but one of the members, a sort of delightful rabble rouser stated that, “The present situation was just a which hunt for men. etc…”

Well, that set off a heated discussion that lasted for 45 min. The gest was this:

  1. Almost all the women had had unwanted advances, and some went further than just that.
  2. The situation at this time was no joke.
  3. There was real concern for the girls at the school. Not because they are being abused, but how to develop strategies to help them deal with such advances as they surely will meet in the future.
  4. One lady, a very good friend, who does not feel it wrong to dress provocatively on occasion said, “It does not matter how I dress, that gives no reason for a man to do something he shouldn’t. They should all be Christian gentlemen!” I pointed out that not all were. And that I had an insurance co that covered my buildings and required me to avoid certain practices so as to keep risks down.

Women, such as Hillary’s crowd, did not prevent such abuse when “their” man was at fault. Power does that, and I am not sure being a woman would change that.

To Prof Kent:

It’s Dr. Shepherd, actually.

If you read Eph 6:5 carefully, it does no really support slavery. It does admonish slaves to obey, and not foment rebellion, encouraging them to live peaceful submissive lives. It is the recommendation to let your light shine where you are without offense.

But, it is not addressing the issue of the legitimacy of slavery at all. Only giving advice to ones finding themselves in such a position. Paul elsewhere encourages slaves to get their freedom if they can.

Think of the atmosphere in the church if slave masters were washing the feet of slaves at the communion service. Earth and culture shattering. One did not have to openly oppose slavery to see what the gospel was teaching.

(Ahem…) That’s the lesson for today,


The heinous, heretical headship dogma, recently infecting and permeating our church hierarchy, like a plague, perpetuates patriarchal practices, where women are “less than “.

Wife beating / spousal abuse is prolific and endemic in Adventism congregations according to reliable women pastor friends of mine ( women are more likely to confide their horrific situation to women pastors than to male preachers ).

So when our “headship “ brethren feel it is OK to assault their life partner, no wonder lesser forms of sexual harassment are prolific and prevalent.

Opposition to women’s ordination is a mere symptom, the “tip of the iceberg “ about the role of women in our church and the way their menfolk treat them.

Response to Groucho :
You state:
“You apparently move in circles where there is abuse. I do not.
Really ??
Groucho, do you expect your cronies to boast to you that they are beating their wives? How do you know what happens behind closed doors?

Spousal abuse is one of the most secretive sins on the planet. Unless the wife confesses/.reveals it to a close friend/confidant NO one is aware of it.

And often the perpetrators are those whom you would least suspect—affluent professional men or “pillars in the church “.

Winona Wendth made a very astute comment.

My sources are women pastors from very large Adventist congregations.
I have no reason to doubt them.


I attended a " marriage renewal ceremony", held by the then president of the Central Mexican Union, said gentleman is in the IAD today. What amazed me throughout the talk that not once was an Adventist author mentioned, nor EG White, but just one person who is not Adventist. What became clear through this “Holy ceremony” was that the women/ wife had no place in the marriage, it was the man, sorry pastor was the only intersessors that could hold the marriage together. The marriage become a one person commitment, between man/ pastor and “God”. Now you ask about abuse, and adultery, with these comments to "pastor’s"only leads the male to amuse that he is God’s gift to women and that has happened. Headship only allows Satan to replace God, with a man, and Adventist are leading the way.


this is amazing initiative on the part of a female student, especially coming 17 yrs ago…

today’s “me too” movement may very well be yet another instance where “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light”, Lk 16:8…but even though we’re watching from the sidelines, it will be interesting to see whether “me too” leads to real social change…certainly the recent spate of firings and resignations by prominent public figures suggests we are witnessing something serious…


Does your wife call you, “Master”?

Sadly, yes! Same with equal pay for equal work. It took litigation and the EEOC to order the denomination to do the “right” thing.

Indeed. Many experts are calling this a “watershed moment” in our society. We’ll see.


For seven years I was senior Affirwntive Action Officer of a major health science university. my picture and position was postered at every ground level elevator on campus. I had to deal with at least one harrrassment situation a month. Each was taken seriously and due process was followed. One case was classic.A young blonde nordic type entered my office with a large legal pad. Her story was she was and aid to a major poressor. He made repeated advances. Her father was federal Marshall of the region… He said he would like to use his service hand gun on him. but the better idea was toget a legal pad and make note of each unwanted encounter. . The young lady wanted only three things. her job or its equal, the harassment to stop, and that her admissions to Physical Therwpy not be challenged We followed due process under federal guidelines. The young lady became a wonderful physical therapist. The professor lost any raise for five years and all travel funds, a keen warning and close supervision of his relationships with all staff. it was left to him to explain t hs wife the lack of a raise. Etc.


An amazing statement, and full of judgmentalism, as if you could know the situation of all those who oppose WO. I suppose all the women who are opposed to WO are abused and loving it? Trying to connect an article on sexual harassment to opposition to WO is pretty far out, a grasping at straws, a sign that one has no logical argument.

I am often accused of “painting with a broad brush,” and generalizing. Well, your statement is the epitome of generalizing. And it’s utter nonsense. I know a lot of people (both men and and women) who oppose WO on Biblical grounds, and I rarely detect chauvinistic behaviors or attitudes among them.

The fact that some opponents of WO are chauvinists and mistreat their wives does not mean that the majority do so. Your conclusions are anecdotal, nothing more. You apparently move in circles where there is abuse. I do not. Your experience is no more proof than mine. Human nature is what it is. There are bad apples in any group. Are there more wife abusers among WO opponents than among WO supporters? Maybe, but, unless a reliable survey is taken, it is a mere superposition.

Much evil has been done in the name of Christianity. Is Christianity therefore bad because some of its professors are hypocrites? The answer is obvious. So, even if many opponents of WO abuse their spouses, it does not therefore follow that WO is unbiblical.

Who makes up these rules? Someone with a PhD is no more knowledgeable than someone with an MD. They have specialized in one area, and have expertise there. So have MD’s. My PhD Botany professor had a good perspective on these things: BS=Bad Science; MS=more of the same; PhD=piled higher and deeper. I always wonder about those who, outside a professional setting, need to have titles affixed to their names. Many of my customers are PhD professors or MD’s. But, they don’t flaunt it. They are just Fred, Ellen, Susan, Helmut, etc. Yeah, there really is one named Helmut.

Why not? We discuss just about everything else. :grin:

And how would you know, either? You made the accusations,based on anecdotal evidence and then extrapolated to include anyone who is opposed to WO.

1 Like

The Bible must be read with reason, not everything should be taken literally. Can those who desire women to be under male control follow this command?

On hearing this, Jesus told him, “You still lack one thing: Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

“You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you–not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel.” 1 Pet 2:18 NLT

The Bible must read in view of the times and culture. Rome was a Slave State, to suggest slaves should seek their freedom–was the same as to today not paying our taxes and opposing the Constitution.

Even if the master wants you to work on the Sabbath or asks personal favors from the young believing woman. They were to submit without question. Would we follow this Biblical passage today? Would anybody?


Let’s not overlook the statistical relationship between headship-oriented families and spousal/domestic abuse—it’s higher than the relationship between social drinking and alcohol abuse and its recidivism rate is higher than heroine addiction. This is a basic health and safety issue . . .


Alan, I think an inference that could be drawn from the Old Testament telling of the story of Abraham attempting to offer his son as a burnt offering to his god, is that there were limits to Sarah’s submissiveness. Perhaps another reference to wifely submission would better support your contention.

(Sorry, Harrpa. I tried hard to find Alan’s original quote, but couldn’t find it, so I copied your copy of his quote. Hence, you received credit.)


Birder, you move in circles where abuse is hidden, women have no voice, and are plowed under.

I only hope the situation is better since the time the General Conference President was not interested to know that one of his conference presidents was a practiced predator, when it became apparent that I was not going to sue. (It took me ten years to overcome my shame and trepidation enough to make that call.)

My call was shunted to Risk Management. I was in total shock. I told Risk Management I didn’t want to sue, I just wanted them to know they had a predator in office. The call was over when it was clear I was not a threat. No one cared at the highest level of Adventism. No pastoral concern whatsoever. They didn’t even ask me his name.

This man was promoted from state to regional conference president. He was speaker at my niece’s graduation, so I had to sit there and listen to him, knowing I didn’t want to ruin her graduation.

He was my brother-in-law’s boss, and spoke ill of me to my family to cover his tracks.

Later, I sat on the front row at a meeting where the General Conference president was speaking. Again, I was paralyzed and swallowed my voice, just absorbed knowing things that no one wanted to hear, and wouldn’t care if they did.

I experienced just as egregious behavior from an SDA college professor. Again I swallowed my voice and enabled the institution to continue to look good at my expense.

Women cannot take on a behemoth like the Adventist church without adequate social support.

The headship ideology will make women’s and children’s situation in Adventism critically dangerous.

I have spent years in a non-Adventist headship church, and I know what it feels like to be ganged up on, and toyed with, by men until I lost my voice completely, along with the will to live.

Men do not possess the maturity to handle this kind of power over women. This social experiment has already been run with disastrous results.

Amen, Courtney.

Chronology of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention:




SBC leader says churches must address violence against women


Pulitzer winners tie domestic abuse to Christianity

CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP) – The South Carolina newspaper that won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism has drawn criticism for linking the Palmetto state’s domestic violence problems with its residents’ belief in the Bible’s teaching about gender.



This is actually an old subject for the Adventist Church. BUT, it is fairly new in that the Denomination has become active in training it’s ministers and teachers. I am 80. My father was a pastor in the 1940’s to 60’s. He had his ‘woman’ in every church and the Conf. Presidents at that time moved him on to another Church. Their answer to my mother, who would tell them what was happening, was to say “well people will talk in all Churches but that doesn’t make it true”. Who did they think SHE was. Finally after 25 years a Calif. Conf. President believed my mother. My father was removed from the ministry. My mother ‘stayed with her man’ because that was the Christian thing to do (she was told that by one of the Conf. men who later went off to have his own affair). Before my mother died in 2004 she wrote a book on this subject “We Suffered In Silence” Barnes and Noble. Her intention in writing was to warn young minister’s and their wives about the deception of the devil in their ministry. Her co-author was Dr. Mable Dunbar, a Christian Psychologist from Upper Columbia Conf. who has her own ministry for abused women and pastor’s wives. Excellent reading and training in this book for men and women. I am thankful for the insight that our denomination has in recognizing the spiritual and emotional needs of its employees (especially ministerial) but there is still a long ways to go.