Two weeks ago, two black men walked into Starbucks. Minutes after they walked in, an employee from Starbucks called the police to have them removed. Starbucks recognized that this was not an isolated incident and responded by taking responsibility. The organization announced that they were going to shut down their stores to host a training for their employees.
A couple weeks ago, Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and a prolific Christian writer, stepped down after several women accused him of inappropriate sexual advances and after years of investigations. Rather than take responsibility the church as a whole – not Willow Creek, but the wider Christian community – has turned on the victims. Calling for male pastors to be careful and urging pastors to put in place the infamous and hurtful “Billy Graham Rule.” The Christian community neglected the opportunity to repent from creating a culture where women are victimized and treated as less than.
The church needs to learn from Starbucks.
Starbucks Took Culpability
There were plenty of people who gave Starbucks an out. It was argued that it was an isolated incident. Starbucks could have gone along with that line of reasoning. However, instead, they listened to their costumer's people of color and heard the complaints that this example is a symptom of a larger problem. People of color – specifically black men and women - are treated differently at Starbucks. And rather than blame the world – “oh it’s just a racist world, we are only one company” – or blame the victims – “maybe they were looking threatening” – Starbucks took responsibility as an organization.
The Christian community has not taken responsibility for the multiple examples of church leaders sexually assaulting women or sexually harassing women.
Throughout scripture, prophets take responsibility for the societies problems. Isaiah cried, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Before we can repent, we need to see where we have fallen short and to take responsibility – not just for our actions as individuals but the collective sins of our church.
God has called his church – the Bride of Christ – to be holy. The church is asked to be set apart, and when the church is stained with allegations of misconduct against women, it is imperative that the church repents as a whole. But to repent, it must first admit that it has fallen short. The church has created a culture where women are preyed upon.
It is possible to blame society. There are parallel examples across every industry in America which explains the #MeToo movement. But to blame society would ignore Peter's words, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
In order to be a royal priesthood, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and take responsibility for allowing rape culture to go on abated within our own walls.
Starbucks Acted Swiftly
I believe that people are innocent until proven guilty. However, when allegations go unanswered, it forces the victims to pay the price.
When Starbucks heard the news about the two men being arrested, they responded. I’m assuming they are going to do an investigation, giving the employee a chance to address the allegation. But if Starbucks had waited to act, they would have told the two men, who were victims of racism, that their pain didn’t matter.
A person’s presumption of innocence does not override another person’s right to justice.
In the case of Bill Hybels, allegations have gone back five years. In the course of multiple investigations, the board of the church never asked Hybels to take a leave of absence. The Willow Creek Community leaders could have addressed this issue in a way that provided justice for the women and protected Hybels presumed innocence by providing transparency and being swifter in their actions.
The larger church’s silence is deafening. Outside of the Christian publishing world and a few Christian women leaders, the church has been silent about these allegations. Churches could easily condemn the alleged actions without calling Bill Hybels guilty, allowing Hybels presumed innocence and providing justice. Instead, the church as a whole has been silent.
Waiting to speak out against injustice leaves the victims to bear the pain of the crimes. The church is supposed to be a place where people find justice, not a place the protects the strong while ignoring the voiceless.
The Victim Should Not Bear the Repercussions of Justice
If Starbucks had announced that in order to rectify the problem, they were going to ask all people of color to order drinks as soon as they walked in to help Baristas and managers know who should be allowed to sit, there would be a public outcry.
When a system fails, it is the people who are benefiting from the system – whether benefiting by making money or gaining power – who need to suffer to address the injustice.
Starbucks realized this by being willing to take a significant financial hit by closing their stores for mandatory training. Not only will Starbucks pay their employees salaries for attending the training, but they are also paying the facilitators for the training and Starbucks is giving up their profits while their stores are closed.
The church, on the other hand, is blaming women. The “Billy Graham rule” communicates, because men do not know how to have an appropriate relationship with women, we will just keep them separate at the expense of women. Plessy vs. Ferguson already showed us that separate by equal is a myth. In ministry, most of the new ideas, opportunities to learn and growth happen when pastors come together to learn from one another. If the “Billy Graham rule” is followed, women will not be allowed in crucial conversations, excluding us from opportunities to grow. It will silence our voice in the body of Christ, further discriminating against women.
To punish women, because some men do not know how to keep their hands to themselves, is the opposite of repentance.
Repentance means turning from sin, which is often painful. But the pain must be bored by those who sinned. Rather than further victimizing women with policies such as the "Billy Graham rule", churches should bear – specifically male leaders of churches – the burden by paying for training, creating resources for women pastors and women mentors.
Starbucks Chose to Learn
Starbucks is choosing to learn from their mistake. They are taking steps to move forward by educating their employees. And while there will always be more they can do, this is a great first step.
The church is doing the opposite. I heard a man say, “So basically, I can’t ever be around a woman without being accused.” If you read the accusations of Bill Hybels, it wasn’t the times where he was just around women that were the problem; it was kissing women without their permission, inviting women up to his hotel room and other eyebrow-raising locations. If you can’t tell the difference between being alone with a woman in an office versus being alone with a woman in your hotel room, then you need to go learn about healthy women and men relationships.
The fact that healthy relationships between men and women are difficult is the reason the church should teach us, not an excuse to be silent. Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is the churches job to teach us to live together as one. Maybe, we need to all close our doors one Sunday, so we can have a family meeting and do a little training.
It is interesting that the church – whose leader, Jesus, said, “Repent and believe the good news” – is struggling to repent. Luckily, Jesus gave us a modern day rabbi: Starbucks.