by Tiffany Bluhm
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
Rosie couldn’t believe her boss and mentor spoke to her in such vulgar terms as they waited for a fresh pot of coffee to brew in the staff kitchen. He had flirtatiously joked with her in the past, but she let it slide. Over the years, Rosie’s tolerance for the coarse joking and close physical distance between her and her boss had increased, but now he had clearly crossed a line.
Rosie doubted herself. She had long been proud of the candor between her superior, but in the discomfort of that moment, she wondered whether she’d done something to invite his harassment and if she should (once again) offer the benefit of the doubt to her superior. What’s more, she knew if she were to speak up, she’d likely lose the opportunities afforded to her by the very man abusing his power in her midst. Her commitment to her dream job and loyalty to her superior had been compromised and she felt guilty and ashamed.
Beyond that, she wondered if anyone would even believe her if she spoke up about the incident? Could those who knew her boss to be kind, benevolent, and generous wrap their minds around his hurtful actions? Could they see how his joking and harassment was an abuse of power at a woman’s expense?
What happens when women—who’ve played by the rules of their employer, church, and community—are penalized for something they did not do, did not invite, and did not entertain?
It’s a dilemma that countless women have found themselves in with no doing of their own.
As abuse of power against women’s bodies, voices, and lives is exposed in society, it is a unique time for women of substance, faith, and leadership to care for and serve women who’ve been maligned by spaces that were charged with respecting them. Historically, women have been blamed for the acts committed against them by clergy, society, and those in power to control the narrative. Yet, as faithful women leading in various spheres, we can and must address how we treat women who’ve been on the receiving end of power abuse.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV
When a woman has been silenced and still chooses to speak up to those she trusts, it is imperative we listen without judgment. She has likely experienced the gamut of emotions and our active listening is what she needs most in the moment of her confession. Consider your tone, posture, facial expression, and words as she shares. The goal is not to cause continued harm by assuming that she asked for it or deserved it when she didn’t respond in a way we might potentially respond to a traumatic event. As Christ comforts, we can comfort with listening ears and a compassionate heart.
Jesus wept. John 11:35
As we discover how a woman has been harmed, we can lament the pain she’s endured. Our lament brings her pain to the forefront, not hidden from view, but before the Lord where we grieve over what she has endured and begin the call for justice. Lamenting individually and corporately over how we’ve been complicit in systems that silence women is necessary to understand how women are not harmed in isolation, but by society as a whole.
“This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’” Zechariah 7:9 NIV
Love is not divorced from truth and justice. Love works hand in hand with advocacy to push for honest answers by those in power who have tried to silence and slander any woman who has spoken up to tell the unpopular truth of how she has been harassed or abused. Love seeks safety for the victim and redress from the perpetrator who has committed the harm. Love walks with the harmed as she processes her trauma and pushes for justice in the system that allowed the misconduct.
This is our time in history to steward, to shape culture by locking arms with women to ensure safe, equitable, and whole spaces for both women and men. As we partner with one another, we can stand on the shoulders of women who’ve gone before us and raise the banner of dignity for women in this cultural moment and for future generations, because as women thrive at work and at church, everyone benefits. Safer laws are enacted, the GDP increases, congregations are cared for, and the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, where it belongs.
Tiffany Bluhm is the author of Prey Tell: Why We Silence Women Who Tell the Truth and How Everyone Can Speak Up, She Dreams, and Never Alone, and their companion Bible studies. She writes, speaks, and cohosts the Why Tho Podcast. Her work has been featured in Publishers Weekly, Sojourners, The Jenny McCarthy Show, and on the Youversion Bible app. Her work can be found at www.tiffanybluhm.com and on Instagram @tiffanybluhm.