Sunday, September 23, 2018

Faith and Sexual Misconduct

Women are raging.

And women who've been abused sexually are feeling traumatized all over again, not merely by the description of the alleged assault against Dr. Ford, but by the behavior of the GOP, the President and some of their apologists. To say "boys will be boys" or to say "all guys do this" is to open wounds so deep that it seems as if blood is flowing throughout our society.

The rage spills over into social media. Women (and some men, because men are victims too) report that they feel physically ill, and have had exacerbation of chronic conditions.

It's important to remember that so often the initial trauma is bad, but that it could have been far less had there been a vehicle for healing available. Instead, most victims face shame, repression, silence, denial, and disbelief if they do tell. Those who report are scorned by the perpetrator's allies and humiliated by attorneys and sometimes law enforcement. I believe that most perpetrators of sexual violence get away with their crimes, usually for their entire lives. Hence the hashtag #whyididntreport

This column by Maureen Dowd covers the extent of the fury. Read the column.

In my own family, this has happened.

My mother died when I was 5. Soon after, my father remarried, a woman with 4 sons, the oldest of whom sexually abused my sister, my brother and me. In my case, he backed off. I think he knew my father and stepmother would believe me if I told. But the others suffered severely, and their trauma has destroyed our family, our relationships, and taken a toll on several generations. So much of my own life has been devastated by the actions of this person that I am keenly aware of not only the first hand but second, third, and fourth hand effects of sexual trauma. A few years ago, I went back to my home place to live and work, and made an effort to unmask the perpetrator, now in his sixties, who has two young sons in his care. It was more out of concern for their safety than for revenge that I went to extreme measures to alert authorities to his crimes. Although I was listened to (probably because I am a minister), and I had a chance to meet with individuals in law enforcement up to the County Judge Executive, and there was a home visit made by Child Protective Services, nothing could be done. The person involved, Roger Tees of Atlantic County, NJ, was not yet 18 at the time the actions took place in our home. There's no statute of limitations, but he wasn't an adult. So.

Soon after, he and his wife and their young children came to the church I was serving as an interim. They only stayed for about 20 minutes, then got up and left. I suspect they came in an attempt to intimidate me. They did not. I tell you this not to claim a victim stance or a moral high ground but to say that I speak with knowledge of someone whose life was permanently altered by sexual assault and who has yet had a productive life, who refuses to stop trusting men, or people in general.

Roger Tees and his sons

The faith tradition I serve, Unitarian Universalism, is historically Christian but has evolved to embrace many paths to God and truth. We do agree on a number of tenets, not a creed. Topmost among them is The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

There have been times when I've questioned that. Times when I've felt that, although every person is born with innocence and free of sin (where Universalists fall away from Calvinists), there are those who immerse themselves so egregiously in evil that they eliminate any trace of worth and dignity. Nonetheless, my Christian foundation cautions me, as do my experiences, that there is always hope, that salvation is possible, and that even the most unrepentant may yet do good.

This stepbrother claims to be Christian and wears a big cross. To me, if he were even slightly serious, he would have made amends to those he hurt, and he'd be attempting to right his wrongs. He'd have gotten treatment for what was a classic example of pedophilia. If not, his "Christianity" is a cover for what I fear may be continued abuse that I can do nothing about, and what no one else, neither family, friends, nor the state, will do. You only hear these stories in retrospect, and by then the next round of abusers has already been created. 

Back to my own faith.

I'm disconcerted by the number of Unitarians and especially of Unitarian ministers who are making statements that, if I were a male, would make me feel as if I'd somehow been in the room with Kavanaugh and Ford. If you say #notallmen, you're toast, yet some posts I've seen look an awful lot like it's okay to say #allmen and that just doesn't go along with my personal beliefs. How can you believe in the inherent worth and dignity  of every human, yet somehow deny that to 50% of humanity? It's one of many problems I have with my own faith tradition right now.

Brett Kavanaugh is a conservative and a person with whom I likely disagree on many things. He's not a monster. What he allegedly did at 17 sounds pretty bad. I don't know what he's done to repent or repair the damage. He didn't apologize to the victim. Nor did he go on to a life of sexual assault (both conjecture).* Nonetheless, even though, as a liberal, I don't want to see him on the Supreme Court, I think he has inherent worth and dignity.  I think he probably did it. It's going to outweigh all good he's done since, in many minds. What if he'd gone to her then, begged forgiveness, stopped drinking? I am assuming he was and is Catholic. Did he tell his Priest? I agree with one wise commentator this week: He should step down. That would be the ethical, moral, and even politically correct thing for him to do. It's what appears to be his lying about it now, as well as his lying and dissembling about numerous other issues, that to me is completely disqualifying.

*Clearly, since, I wrote this, further allegations and details have emerged. It is now evident that unless the GOP and Trump are correct and all of this is a huge "con job", BK has a litany of behaviors that are appalling and disqualifying. Furthermore, perhaps even more distressing, it would seem he has chosen to lie about it all.

I conducted an unofficial poll of mostly ministers from my own faith tradition. I just asked them to respond to the question, Does Brett Kav have inherent worth and dignity? Yes or No. I also added the comment, And not "yes, but.." This should be an easy "yes" since it is first among our Principles, and many answered "yes". Others felt compelled to say "but" without using the word by explaining to me that even though he has it, he is still responsible for his actions, etc. Some explained that while it is inherent, it can be diminished by one's behavior and choices. One asked me if I was applying a litmus test for UUs (very funny for anyone who knows me).

My true goal was to see what people would say. Although it's true (as many reminded me) that our principles are not beliefs, or a creed, for me they have been a foundation to my 25 year ministry. They explain why we exist as a people, historically, and theologically, and they call us to service and justice. We have welcomed and embraced individuals in our midst that others would shun. We ordained LGBTQ individuals when other faiths banned them. We affirm people of all faiths and of none. We have even striven to make room for sex offenders to return to society. So whence comes this Puritanical hellfire toward Brett Kavanaugh? No way am I suggesting he be put on the Supreme Court. He's suffering humiliation and it sounds like it is well-deserved and long overdue. But him being drawn and quartered will not move us any closer to the real solutions we need to seek.

Every human being deserves forgiveness and Grace. That is my faith. I'm sticking with it. 

For the rest of us? I'm not telling anyone else what to do right now. I'm going to go on believing that most people are basically good. It's worked for me so far. And it's what my faith tells me.

Kids. Innocent & Safe.
Inherently Good.