I stood in line at the grocery store, the ten things or less aisle, with a bottle of wine and two packages of chocolates to share with my husband when I got home.
The man in front of me, probably in his early to mid 50s, was wearing a suit with a gold watch, texting someone on his phone. He’d smile and look at it, then put it back in his pocket.
He was buying beer and toilet paper.
Normally, if someone had smiled in the aisle of the grocery store at a text message on their phone, I’d have thought nothing of it, but in America today, it’s heavy in the front of my mind constantly. Older white men aren’t to be trusted.
I trusted older men when I was younger. They were my caretakers. They were my pastors and my leaders.
But then I realized that I could be manipulated by them. I saw the stories come out about other women who have been manipulated, assaulted, harassed, and suddenly what was so safe became toxic and terrifying– a veil lifted to discover a true reality.
Suddenly, I could see the stains of patriarchy all over the place, and those stains spread from generation to generation.
In my late teens, I was on a worship team at a newly planted church. I hated it, because as the only woman in the band, I stood aside during practice and listened to the men around me make lewd jokes about their sex lives, wives and girlfriends. I sat and listened to their locker room talk right before we were to lead worship for a church body.
And for some reason, I accepted it as normal, because no one questioned it. No one else was uncomfortable. We were continuing the perpetual sin of a patriarchal Christianity that began the moment the indigenous peoples of America were taken over, enslaved and attacked for not conforming to a model of God believed to be the best model—power and ownership.
But today, as more and more hashtags emerge like #metoo and #churchtoo, we’re remembering. We’re retracing our steps and we’re seeing that a toxic patriarchy pervades every space of power and privilege in America, and it’s leaving us reeling. Those of us who grew up in the church are wondering who the abusers were in our midst that we didn’t notice back then.
And we know it’s not just white men. We know that there are stories of other men, from different races and social circles who also get what they want by the power of patriarchy. But when men like Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor, America’s everyday heroes, are brought under scrutiny in a different light, the women of America are left trying to make sense of it, trying to find a way to move forward.
And so, I don’t know how to trust anymore. I can’t find a way to separate one man from another, to determine who is good and who is not so good. I can’t find the reasoning that reminds me that the Gospel is good news for everyone, that rain falls on the just and the unjust. I find it difficult to remember that the Gospel keeps us in check, and sits with us both in our goodness and in our evil.
Instead, I sit in mistrust of any man who looks powerful enough to manipulate, strong enough to exert whatever he wants over whoever he wants.
I don’t trust the white man on the street corner.
I don’t trust the white man in my church.
I don’t trust the white man standing in line to buy his own groceries.
And the good men, the truly good ones, are stuck there, too, trying to find a way to stand up and give the microphone to the women around them.
The truly good men in our midst, who long for the Gospel to find its way into our society, are wracking their brains to find better ways to raise young boys and young men who will respect and revere women in our society, our churches, our schools and businesses. They are the ones looking to women for advice, for a way forward. They are the ones trying to make something right here.
But in a patriarchal, colonial society whose own bad consequences are finally surfacing after years of oppressive systems, what now?
What now for the everyday woman, for the Native American woman living near an oil field, for the young woman and the older woman who are terrified to tell their stories?
What now for the new Christian woman looking for guidance in her new church?
What now for the woman standing in line at the grocery store to buy her own groceries, too, struggling to trust the stranger in front of her?
What now, America?
To the truly good men– we need you to tell us that you’re listening, and we need you to do the hard work of dismantling every ounce of patriarchy in your own circles, in your own churches and neighborhoods.
To the men who benefit from patriarchy and abuse power– we need you to step down. We need you to make room and accept that the Gospel is for the least of these, that the Kingdom of God is not one built on money and manipulation.
To the women who don’t trust– step into the light, sisters, and tell us your stories. The world needs to hear them.
You Are America’s Future.
You Are America’s Matriarchs.