Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The #NeedHug Movement?

Dear Friends,

Times have changed. The #MeToo movement has become a wake up call for us men to seriously evaluate our behavior and change any of that which can be perceived as sexually demeaning or predatory. That’s a good thing and I strongly support it. Those of you who know me as I’m on the cusp of 70 years will understandably have a hard time imagining that I was a muscular, good-looking man in my late thirties when I was employed at the Cal State Northridge University. That was where the four women in the front office would sexually harass me on a regular basis. It was looks, overt sexual comments, speculation about how “big” I was and even grabbing my butt if I was standing at the copier and not paying attention. They teased me for years. A woman food service manager came up behind me one time in the walk-in refrigerator and rubbed herself against me. I didn’t think of myself as a “victim” and it was even somewhat flattering that women found me attractive but the overt sexuality embarrassed me and made me very uncomfortable. It’s embarrassing for me to now have you know this about me, but I tell you this to say that I have an idea of what some women have experienced throughout their life. 

But for the good being accomplished by this #MeToo movement, there is also a downside. When a man lightly touched a co-worker’s back with his fingertips to signal she could step ahead of him through the doorway it was reported as a “sexual assault.” A man is accused of sexual harassment for inviting a co-worker to lunch. A woman reports to her employer that a co-worker had leered at her. He was suspended from his employment without pay during the investigation that eventually showed he was gay, not attracted to women, nearsighted, and he didn’t have his glasses when he was looking at the woman to see who she was. A woman model and organizer of beauty pageants became angry at her agent and posted to her facebook fans that for many years when she was dating him, after a dinner at an expensive restaurant, she stayed the night with him. In her desire to be part of the #MeToo movement, she claimed that every time she had spent the night in his bed with him during those many years, he had “raped” her. I knew someone who was also dating her and my advice was to run from the relationship as quickly as possible. 

The #MeToo movement was necessary, but the accusations, recriminations and accompanying high level of rage have led to tense and uncertain relationship situations in the office, socially and even at church. The LA Times reported that men no longer feel safe inviting women co-workers to business lunches and women complain about not being included in these business discussions. Police-style video cameras are being marketed to young men to wear on dates in order to provide evidence of innocence in the event of a harassment complaint and some young men are beginning to avoid dating relationships entirely. One outcome of our rapidly changing culture in America is the demise of the friendly hug between two acquaintances and I read that a woman pastor in a mainline liberal church now prohibits “hugging” during the “passing of the peace” in order to prevent the men from touching a woman.

A few Sundays ago, I was at a church in that same denomination. We used to rent this church property for our services and so I knew most of the people there but had not visited for many months. After the service, many of the women rushed up to give me a hug. At one point a line had formed. One woman hugged me three different times that day. They were showing me how much they loved and cared for me. That’s what hugs are for. And as I hugged them back I can only hope that they felt just as cared for and as loved by me because they were. 

A Christian Psychologist once said that, “The persistent cry of the human heart is to hug me and hold me close.” Many people today are over-whelmed with feelings of loneliness. A survey showed that 60% of married people experience loneliness. Many struggle with depression, despair and discouragement and they walk through their days feeling alone and forgotten. Sometimes those hugs at church are the only loving contact they will have during their week.

We communicate and bond through touch. Our comfort level with touch is determined early on. If mom and dad didn’t hug and hold us in the first three years of our life, we may become anxious and stiffen up if someone hugs or touches us today. If hugs were lacking in our family culture, we can be fearful of the hugs that cement warm, caring relationships. If we were abusively touched as a child, we can recoil at the healing touch of another person. But safe, non-sexual touch can play a critical part in healing those childhood wounds and that’s why it would be sad to see our churches become hug-free zones out of a desire to be politically correct. If Jesus came to our church, He would be embracing people. The church today is filled with people who need a hug. But, unless you know the person well, it’s always best to ask, “Can I give you a hug?” A hug is the physical expression of our Christian love for one another. Romans 16:16 tells us that the early church greeted each other with a holy kiss and today we greet each other with a holy hug. 

Yes, the #MeToo movement is essential and needful in our culture today. But maybe the church should start the #NeedHug movement because, well... that’s what Jesus would do.  Amen?

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