Voices: Church Must Speak on Sexual Assault

assault

This slightly edited article first appeared the blog, Average Youth Ministry.

What a wild several weeks it has been politically!  Multiple stories about a powerful man treating women as sexual objects and using and abusing them to his heart’s content.  And right now, at least in my Facebook stream, is a whole lot of people who are horrified and outraged that a presidential candidate would behave in such an awful way.  I also have another group of people on my feed who are dismissing the allegations because the other side is worse.

Politically you can choose to vote for the person that makes most sense to you or against the person that seems most dangerous to you.  This post has nothing to do with who to vote for or against.  But this post does have everything to do about powerful men and the attitude that they / we / I take in our position of power, especially when it comes to people with less power, and even more so when it comes to minors.  

Ever since the Monica Lewinsky scandal of the late 90’s, the conversation regarding sexual assault and harassment has gotten incredibly complex.   It seems that sexual assault, sexual harassment is horrible and should be condemned and those who perpetrate it should be held accountable.  That is, unless the person of power is deemed to important to your cause to take down.  But, when the feminist sided with Bill Clinton something fundamentally human was revealed about us as a nation, and more importantly, about us as a people.

We long for power first and we will protect the people and the institution that allow us to keep our power at all cost.  This reality has been, and is crushing our politics, our culture, and in the church.  

The Roman Catholic Church experienced the same problem when it came to priests molesting young boys.  There were powerful men who leveraged their position of power to prey on those weaker, and in this case minors, which made it even more horrendous.  But the powers that be felt like protecting the institution was more important that protecting these boys and covered up and shuffled around the perpetrators in hopes of keeping everything under wraps.  Like all things, the truth eventually comes out and when it did, the sexual assault on these boys not only crushed the individual priests involved, but has crushed the entire institution.

And now we have a situation where sexual assault is again on the front page of our feeds and we are forced to wrestle with how to respond.  

Are you going to defend sexual assault or are you going to condemn it?  Before you get too self-righteous, take a deep breath and consider what team you fight for.  For it is in our human nature to defend the indefensible when it comes to fighting for our side to get and keep power.  And we can go from defense to outrage when it helps take the opposing side out of power.

This is where it might be helpful for the church to step away from the political scene and not endorse or aligning yourself too closely to any politically powerful person or movement.  For the quest for power and the desire to keep it corrupts us to our core.  And when we do, we lose the opportunity to be the prophetic voice our culture desperately needs.

The church needs to reclaim her rightful prophetic voice to a culture that is dark and depraved.  

The church stands with and up for the weakest and poorest among us. The church does not sit back and make excuses for those who abuse their power.  The church doesn’t defend those who crush their victims even further to defend the status quo.  No!  The church advocates for the dignity and respect that all humans deserve.  It doesn’t matter your age, your race, your sex, your gender, your sexuality, your political affiliation, your economic status or your body type.  If you are a human, then you are valuable and deserved to be treated with dignity.

We must be done with dehumanizing each other.  And in this particular case, we must be done with dehumanizing others as sexual objects.  We have turned a blind eye for too long and we have tolerated too much when it comes to sexualizing everyone and everything.

The young people in our churches must know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have value and worth, and that goes far beyond their sexuality.  

Particularly, our girls need to know that it is never ok for boys to grab their bodies as they walk across campus, or to perform sexual acts for them in public or in private.  They need to know that the ways the boys on campus, the men who coach them, the images that consume their social media feed are not the way that God longs for things to be.

They will never know that unless we as the church stop defending people and institutions of power, our own included, and leverage our power and influence for the sake of the poor and oppressed.

SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NEVER OK.  

We should be ashamed that we have let our quest for power and influence (on both sides) dilute our prophetic voice.  May God have mercy on us all.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Our ECC military chaplains are in the forefront of providing training to service members, male and female, about sexual assault — preventing it and responding to it when it unfortunately occurs. A key element in the training is what we call Bystander Intervention. It would apply in a military or a college setting, but other contexts as well. That means that when a bystanders sees someone leaning in a little too close to another person who doesn’t seem to be enjoying the advances, the bystander intervenes. That might mean, asking, “Hey, are you okay?” or even a firm “Dude, knock it off!” from someone who can back up their words.

    It can also mean noticing that either Tim or Tina has had enough to drink and is either about to do something stupid as a perpetrator or is too incapacitated to protect themselves. “Okay, Tina, you’ve had enough, let me take you home” and then you do. “Tim, you’ve had enough, time to back off and let’s go home.” Not a cure-all but a step in the right direction. All our pastors/chaplains can talk about these simple things in a variety of teaching opportunities. It starts with talking to your own kids.

    I personally give quarterly training to Marines

  2. Also, sexual harassment must stop in our churches. For decades in our congregation, a man who seems to have been a self-appointed greeter maintained a solid presence in our narthex/lobby area. He greeted all with smiles, firm handshakes, quick wit and all of the qualities a good greeter should possess. Not until I was verbally assaulted by this man did I finally awaken to the fact that he is an abuser. He continued his inappropriate verbal comments. After speaking with other women about this, I discovered that this man’s behavior was nothing new. I was informed that in the 1990’s a mom and her teenage daughter approached one of our staff members to complain. The employee stated that he acts this way because he doesn’t “get it” at home so he acts out here. He must be innocent.

    Many women approached more staff personnel over many years, I being one of them. We heard everything from the man is innocen to ignore him and that’s just the way he is. He continued to be a greeter for years. Recently, he has become too frail to be too much of a nuisance. He continues so shout out at those of us he knows. Silently, I briskly walk away. But, the memories linger on. Many of us women do ignore him by entering our worship center through back or side doors. We avoid the narthex/lobby area almost every time we enter the church building; the man has successfully bullied us. Has he frightened visitors? Has he offended those of women of color? We know of several assaults on people of color made by this “greeter.” Have they returned to worship with us?

    When our pastors ignore our complaints, who do we turn to? Do we wait for this man to die before we find peace? Our churches need to wake up to the fact that sexual abusers hang out in church lobbies, Sunday school classes and other areas of the church. Heaven forbid and God have mercy on us all!

  3. First of all, I want to state that I can’t stand Trump. From the beginning I have felt that he was a bully and had no respect for women. But I have to wonder why suddenly these women have come forward now, this close to the election. I understand that this is a very difficult and emotional thing to do, to accuse someone of sexually abusing you. I don’t know if their stories are true or false or some of both. I wish they had come out sooner so he would have dropped out of the race early on as candidates in the past have done.

    But on the other hand I can’t stand Clinton either. She is so pro-abortion for any and all reasons from conception until the time of birth. She wants to make abortion as common as the cold and make us all pay for it. I believe abortion is murder, is not necessary for the health and well-being of a woman, and both women and babies can live without it.

    I can’t stand the idea of voting for either of these candidates. I know it is my right and priveledge as an American to vote, but I struggle to decide who is the lesser of two evils this year.

  4. I have been upset that the name calling and verbal abuse have been going on with vigor and disdain all through this campaign. Persons have not been called to account for it. It is harmful and abusive bullying. Sexual predation is a part of that abuse as well. And verbal abuse remains as a very hurtful way to undermine self confidence and influence the value of the abused person in their own mind and the minds of others.

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