“I declare!”

“I declare!” my mama used to exclaim when she found herself at a loss for words.  It was an exclamation often accompanied by the shaking of her head in  exasperation.  And here I am today, her eldest daughter and heir of her exasperation.

I am frustrated almost beyond words by the failure of even the most truthful and intelligent media to help the people of our nation — women and men alike — begin to get at the root of the sexual abuse scandal in our midst.  I felt much the same way — exasperated at my core — decades ago, when priests of the Roman Catholic Church, together with parishes, schools, and dioceses, were being brought down by revelations of rampant sexual misconduct.

The sexual problem that has been pulling us down all along  is not the aberrant behavior of individual men — from Donald J. Trump right on down the ladder of power and privilege. The problem is white racist, hetero/sexist patriarchy.

All of the abusers have been shaped by the psychospiritual dynamics of patriarchy, which have muddied these men’s moral moorings.   It is time for us to wake up to the fact that we have ALL been shaped by the pervasiveness of patriarchal power relations structured precisely for the purpose of perpetuating ruling-class and ruling-race men’s control over the lives, bodies, and sexuality of women, vulnerable men, children, animals, and earth.

There is a great deal of enthusiasm these days that we women are finally coming out as having been targets of sexual misconduct, and I honestly don’t know a single woman who hasn’t been.  This historical unfolding is likely to be a  boost to the self-esteem, integrity, and courage of many, many women and quite a few men who have been victimized by predatory sexual behavior.  This, we can hope, will be a healing process for many people — those who’ve been abused and, perhaps even, some of those who’ve been among the abusers.

But we make a grave mistake if we participate in rounding up men and sometimes women who’ve sexually exploited women, children, and sometimes men — and casting them out of our public life.  Why make them disappear — as if somehow they no longer exist?  If they are not repentant, if they continue to deny that they have hurt people, if they blame the women, then, like all violent people, yes, put them away somewhere they can’t keep causing pain and distress to so many.  These are the ones who need to be cast out.

But whenever abusers really do seem repentant and genuinely want to figure out how to live differently in this world, why not give them opportunities to do public penance?  Why not give them a chance to work for sexual healing and gender justice?  Why not require them to give  their time, talent, and treasure to organizations dedicated to social change —  movements and efforts to eliminate sexual violence in all its forms, for starters?  Why not insist that they spend the rest of their lives working to transform white racist hetero/sexist patriarchal dynamics into genuine mutuality between and among genders, races, and cultures?  Why not give these people another chance — this time, to change the world?

Let’s face it.  The basic moral problem with Donald Trump is not that he has taken advantage of so many women but rather that he doesn’t give a damn about those women or anyone but himself and whoever he needs and can control.  Not only is Trump not repentant.  He delights in being able to touch, titillate, and take whomever or whatever he pleases on his own terms: women, money, the presidency.  If he could just be God, he’d be satisfied, maybe?

This is the essence of patriarchal privilege, power, and control.  This — not a bunch of sexually confused, sometimes violent, & often hurtful men —  is the root cause of the sexual misconduct crisis we are facing.  Until we get at this root, nothing will change.

And until this kind of call to action, this radical insistence, begins to be voiced in the public square, I’ll continue to echo my mama whenever I hear some well-meaning journalist sound shocked when she announces that yet another guy has been accused. To this news, I’ll just keep shaking my head and muttering, “I declare!”

 

 

Roy Moore, Christian teaching, and sexual abuse: a few admissions

First, let’s admit that having a president accused by at least 15 women of sexual harassment makes this a particularly challenging moment for legislators and other public figures to honestly and openly discuss sexual abuse, harassment, or misconduct (I’m using these terms interchangeably here) — especially as perpetrated by elected public officials or those running for office, like Roy Moore.  As long as Donald J. Trump is president of the United States, every public voice raised against sexual abuse among political figures will be distorted by the sexual lies, secrets, and silence oozing from the White House.

Second, while Donald J. Trump’s nasty sexual lies (and, yes, I believe his accusers) constitute a Big Moral Problem for this nation, let’s admit that the problem of sexual abuse moves us beyond partisanship.  In the present moment, we do indeed have Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and as of today Al Franken as men accused by women of sexual misconduct.   In the recent past, we have had Anthony Wiener, Mark Sanford, et al.  Reaching further back, we have had  Bill Clinton, Teddy Kennedy, Dennis Hastert, and we have heard recently some accusations against George H.W. Bush.  Receding even further into the mid-20th Century, we have FDR, Dwight Eisenhower, and of course JFK, one of the most glamorous sexual predators ever to occupy the White House .   No political party has any lack of men who seem to enjoy wagging their penises and wielding their power over sexually vulnerable women and sometimes men.

Third, let’s admit that, while all sexual abuse is morally problematic, the sexual abuse of children lowers us to another moral level — of sickness and depravity.  To quote or paraphrase Ivanka Trump, there is a special place in hell for those who abuse children.  As obnoxious as the behavior of such men as her own father and Bill Clinton, neither of these men was, or has been, accused of abusing children.

Fourth, we who are Christians need to admit the role that traditional Christian teachings have played historically in setting the stage for men’s sexual abuse of women and children.  (Judaism, Islam, and other major patriarchal religions of the world share this problem, but we Christians have enough in our own tradition to keep us busy). All patriarchal religious traditions have given “the fathers” tacit permission to work their will over women and children — physically, economically, psychologically, spiritually, and sexually.  We cannot begin to understand the rampant sexual misconduct among clergy — Roman Catholic priests and others — unless we realize how psychologically damaging and spiritually distorted are the Christian teachings and practices that have shaped these men’s psyches, spiritualities, and sexualities.  I suggest we might include Christian political figures, like Roy Moore, here,  one whose anti-sexual piety has distorted his life as a Christian man.

We  Christian pastors and priests and other leaders also need to publicly and emphatically distance ourselves, our morals, our theologies, and our faith from those morally mistaken Christian pastors like Mark Burns who continue to support Roy Moore as a God-loving man and who, at the very least, continue to cast doubts on the voices of his female accusers even in the face of strong and mounting evidence.

Fifth, let’s admit the stunning hypocrisy of all the God-loving legislators, governors, judges, and even presidents — almost always Republicans in the modern era — who seem to get off on condemning gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people as well as women who seek control of our own bodies via reproductive freedom.  These men — Roy Moore is a pathetic example — have made their reputations as men of God who hate sin and love to legislate against the rights and well-being of sinners.  No wonder Roy Moore so adamantly refuses to admit to any sexual misconduct!  To do so would be to pull the spiritual and moral rug not only out from under his campaign but also out from under his sorry life as the sort of hypocrite Jesus had in mind when he warned us against trying to remove the speck out of our neighbor’s eye when we have a log in our own.

Finally, we need to admit that, whether or not we have ever been guilty of sexual misconduct, we all participate in the brokenness of our common humanity.  We all hurt our neighbors in one way or another, often through our fear of one another and our personal greed.  So as we go about trying to understand, unravel, and condemn sexual abuse in all its forms, may we have the courage to admit to our own brokenness, ignorance, and sin, if this is a term we find meaningful, as I do. I understand sin as personal and social alienation from God, the source of all justice-love and our power to generate mutuality in all our relations.

In this moment, I believe that this Sacred Spirit is pushing and pulling us to be emphatic in our condemnation of sexual abuse, humble in understanding our own capacities to hurt one another, strong in our compassion and encouragement for those who have suffered abuse, and open to forgiving those abusers who are genuinely seeking to turn their lives around — and to go and sin no more in this way.