#MeToo–I Didn’t Tell Either

Progressive Christian Social Action

#MeToo—I Didn’t Tell Either.

No one wants to tell about their own sexual assault, but I feel compelled to do so in solidarity with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who is being viciously maligned for speaking out about being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh so many years ago.

These years of Donald Trump’s presidency will go down as a dark and shameful period in our nation’s history.  A known sexual predator holds the highest office in the land. (We’ve all heard the Access Hollywood tape.)  Now he has nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and he continues to stand by Kavanaugh while insinuating that Dr. Ford is lying because she waited so long to tell her story, saying, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents…” This same theme is being reiterated by other Republicans and across the internet: the implication that she is lying because she didn’t tell years ago.

This most recent incident has convinced me that I, too, need to go public with the story of my rape as a 16-year old, and why I didn’t tell.  The perpetrator was 18.  He was the son of my divorced mother’s boyfriend, a man whom I loved and trusted and who taught me how to drive.

I began dating this man’s son. One night he (the son) raped me in the back of his van. I struggled. I fought. I said “no” and “stop,” but he didn’t stop. He hurt me. What I didn’t do was scream or call for help. Why? Shame, shock, embarrassment, disorientation, bewilderment? I’ve asked myself many times.  I was stunned, and I had no mental or emotional category that could help me make sense of the experience. Because I did not call for help, I thought I had “let it happen.”  I felt guilt, shame, and self-hatred. I blamed myself.  I didn’t even call it “rape” in my own mind, until years later, when I learned more about what rape means.

This was not my first experience of sexual assault or harassment, nor would it be my last. But Dr. Ford’s story has reminded me of how traumatic for a teenager a sexual assault can be and how hard it can be to come forward. It took a lot of courage for her to come forward recently when she heard that Brett Kavanaugh had been nominated to the Supreme Court.

As a pastor and as one who seeks to live in the way and Spirit of Jesus, I am especially distressed that many white Evangelical Christians, over 80 percent of whom helped elect Donald Trump and continue to stand by him, support the GOP’s efforts to push through an immediate up or down vote on Kavanaugh, without an FBI investigation or other witnesses.  Reverend Franklin Graham, an Evangelical leader, said, “It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh who has a stellar record–that somebody can bring something up that he did as a teenager close to 40 years ago. That’s not relevant.”  Or as another Kavanaugh supporter said, “What boy hasn’t done this in high school?”

Unconditional support for Trump and his nominee has descended into hateful and hellish attacks on Dr. Ford, maligning her character and motives and threatening her family and her life.  If she had known the extent of the hate that would be directed toward her, she may have chosen to not tell her story or to remain anonymous, as she had hoped to do.

I am horrified to know that my grandsons are hearing people say that assault and attempted rape is normal behavior for teenage boys. God forbid!  The teenage boys I have known understand that violence against women, including sexual violence, is always wrong. It’s not normal, and there’s no way to justify it.  I’m also horrified that my granddaughters are hearing it.  As one college freshman said, “Girls my age are watching, reading, and hearing these conversations. And it’s making us scared.

Women have come a long way since the years of my childhood, but violence against women and children is still pervasive.  The #MeToo movement and the broad challenge to Kavanaugh’s fitness to be on the high court because of this (and now other) sexual assault allegations are moving us forward.  But we still have a long way to go to end the culture of misogyny and rape.

#MeToo                                   #IBelieveHer

Read the Grass Valley Union article about our local demonstration.

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Never Again: Protest is Our Prayer

Progressive Christian Social Action

Never Again!  Protest is Our Prayer

United Methodist Building, Washington, DC

On this Monday of Holy Week, reflections on the events that led to the death of Jesus merge with events that are taking place today.  As in Jesus’ day, today’s ruling Powers are entrenched in control by domination and violence.  People who seek to change the dominant system and make it more compassionate are maligned and persecuted, as Jesus was.  He was put to death after he drove out the money changers from the Temple, challenging the economic system upon which the Roman occupation of Jerusalem was maintained.

Today it is our youth.  Some are congratulating them for their activism, but they are also being insulted and called names for marching for their lives, standing up to the ruling Powers, and demanding reasonable gun laws and safe schools.  When these demonstrations of active democracy are maligned or called naïve, while our political process is dominated by corporate front groups like the NRA, we are in dark times indeed.  Meanwhile, gun manufacturers and their political advocates accept very minor gun-control policies that they know will increase gun sales. (See the March 2nd Time Magazine report:  Gun Maker Says Sales are Plunging.)

Nevertheless, young people are stepping into leadership, raising their voices, and calling for an end to gun violence, including shooting deaths (often of young black men) by police.  They demand that adults act and that lawmakers establish policies to protect them from being shot and killed in their own schools.

In my own community, many students joined in the nationwide school walkout, some with support of teachers and administrators and some on their own.  I’ve talked with several of them.  One student told me that their school let them make signs, but they couldn’t have words or images related to guns.  Another told me that the teacher said that since it was raining, they could march around the halls, but later relented and they did go outside.  One girl told me how she overcame her personal self-doubt when the marchers she was with turned around and she found herself in the lead.  She didn’t feel like she should be leading the march. She felt like fading back and letting someone else take the lead, but she stayed the course, letting her values guide her instead of her fear.

Many people, including me, believe that there would be less gun violence if there were stricter gun control laws, background checks, mental health services, and (not often mentioned) greater economic and social equity.  Some people are feeling more hope for the future because of this uprising of student activism. I, too, applaud the spirit of these young people and rejoice that they are awakening to what is at stake and coming into their own power.  Every so often there is an uprising that catches fire and kindles a spirit of hope and activism for the sake of a better world.  Every so often a time comes around when “the politically impossible suddenly becomes possible” (Naomi Klein).  This is such a time.

But adults, now it’s on us.  Youth can take the lead, and they may well be the ones who will change the world.  But we can’t just cheer them on.  We must act as their allies, acting in solidarity with them.  We, too, must show courage.  We, too, must speak out, in our homes, at work, in our places of worship, no matter how entrenched these institutions are in the status quo.  We, too must demand action in our communities, in public spaces, and to our legislators. The kids shouldn’t be the only ones to say “Never Again.” They shouldn’t be the only ones to say “We call B.S.” to the conventional wisdom that weapons of war should be easily acquired or to challenge the paralysis of lawmakers because they are in the pockets of the NRA.

Adults, too, need to extend their support, experience, expertise, and resources to this movement.  We need to join with our young in taking action that will make true the call, “Never again.”

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Climate Change-What Love Requires

Progressive Christian Social Action

Climate Change-What Love Requires

This post is an excerpt from Love in a Time of Climate Change, published at the Evangelicals for Social Action website.

It was love that brought me to this jail cell. – Sandra Steingraber

When my granddaughter Nikayla was ten years old, climate change became real to her. She learned that glaciers and ice sheets are melting, endangering the habitats of Polar bears and Emperor penguins. She loves animals, as most children do, so she created a poster with pictures of hearts, the earth, and animals. The poster said:

“Save our earth! We all know our earth is at stake! We need to do something about it. Try not killing animals or grow a garden. We need our earth to live on. We need you to help save our earth. There are many endangered species of animals. Please save our animals. There is a Polar bear for instance and all of a sudden the ice melts under his feet and he sinks in. There is no land for thousands of miles so there is nothing to do. He just dies. We need to save our animals, too. Save our earth. Save our animals.”

My granddaughter empathized with the penguins and Polar bears, felt grief when she thought about their suffering, and responded by making a poster. Her feelings motivated her to action. Her response brings to mind John Wesley’s counsel to reflect on the suffering of animals as a way to “soften and enlarge our hearts.” The resulting empathy involves an experiential change: a change of attitude and an increase of love.

Studies show that in order for people to be motivated to take action on climate change, their knowledge and concern must move from the head to the heart. Those of us whose lives are still intact may not realize the grave implications of a warming world. Even if we understand climate change intellectually and accept the conclusions of climate scientists, we may not internalize the dangers if we experience relative stability in our day-to-day lives. This disconnection between our head and our heart may prevent us from responding in a way that is proportional to the dangers we face.

We have seen that scripture, tradition, and reason uphold the call for justice, but how can we internalize this knowledge so that it is confirmed at the level of our own experience? What will lift us out of denial, self-centeredness, despair, and paralysis, and motivate us to respond to the suffering of others by joining in the work for climate justice?

The answer is love. According to Michael Lodahl, “For Wesley the love of God is to be experienced, in some sense felt, deep within our beings. Wesley was not content with a purely intellectual faith, nor even with a simply volitional faith, but with a faith of conscious and experienced relation to God and neighbor.”

Wesley spoke of salvation as “deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God.” Religious faith is not simply a rational assent to a belief or doctrine, but as Wesley said, it is “no other than love, the love of God and of all mankind; the loving God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, as having first loved us…, as the fountain of all the good we have received, and of all we ever hope to enjoy; and the loving every soul which God hath made, every man on earth as our own soul. This love is the great medicine of life; the never failing remedy for all the evils of a disordered world; for all the miseries and vices of men.”

This love is real in human experience. We have explored the experience of God as revealed through creation and the experience of assurance of God’s forgiveness and love. Now we focus on the experience of God’s love within us, moving us to compassion for others. Compassion motivates us to acts of mercy and justice that witness to God’s love, embody hope, and positively influence the world. Love is the only foundation strong enough to carry us through the difficulties posed by climate change with courage, compassion, persistence, and hope.

Love is the only foundation strong enough to carry us through the difficulties posed by climate change with courage, compassion, persistence, and hope.

Some people may fear being swallowed up by pain, guilt, or the inability to cope if they open their hearts to the magnitude of suffering caused by climate change. Denial and suppression of such feelings may seem to be the only way to carry on with current responsibilities as a functional human being. But as we grow spiritually and mature in faith, our capacity for both joy and sorrow expand. As we become more fully alive and connected with others, we come to recognize the presence of love in the full range of human emotion. We move out of denial through faith and are carried by love. The climate crisis presents us with opportunities to demonstrate that love in a variety of ways, in solidarity with people on the front lines of the struggle for climate justice. As Joan Baez said, “Action is the antidote to despair….”

As people of faith, the climate crisis demands that each of us decide where we stand and what love requires. In each moment we have a choice: to follow where love leads or to relinquish our responsibility to choose. Each prayer and each action has significance. With each decision we move the world closer to climate chaos or to climate justice. In each moment we stand on the front lines of climate change.

Love brought Sandra Steingraber to a jail cell for civil disobedience. Love brought Jesus to the cross. Where will love bring you?

Sharon Delgado creatively adapts John Wesley’s theological method by using scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to explore the themes of creation and justice in her book Love in a Time of Climate Change, from which this article is excerpted with permission from Fortress Press. The premise is that love of God and neighbor requires us to honor creation and establish justice for our human family, future generations, and all creation. From the Introduction: “As we entrust our lives to God, we are enabled to join with others in the movement for climate justice and to carry a unified message of healing, love, and solidarity as we live into God’s future, offering hope amidst the climate crisis that ‘another world is possible.’ God is ever present, always with us.  Love never ends.”

See the article at http://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/creation-care/24462/

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Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

Progressive Christian Social Action

Teaching Children about Creation… and Evolution

I have a collection of children’s books about creation that I read to my grandchildren and to the Sunday school children in my church. Some of the books present the seven-day sequence from Genesis 1, with colorful pictures showing the emergence of light and dark, heavenly bodies, plants, sea life and birds, and finally animals and human beings. Some books are based on the story of Adam and Eve. Jane Ray’s Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, on the other hand, tells the creation story, which has a completely different order of creation, by saying: “At the very beginning of the world the earth was a dry and dusty place, where nothing could live and nothing could grow. So God made a mist which watered the ground all over. Then with his great hands, he formed the first man of the clay of the newly watered earth.”

Other picture books on creation are more loosely based on scripture. And God Created Squash by Martha Whitmore Hickman portrays God as an old man with long white hair and a beard, thinking up things to create. He puts his ear to the ground and says, “I’d like to hear something growing.” As he creates he walks around smelling flowers, tasting food, and enjoying the abundance of life. At the end he says, “I’ll be around. You may not see me. But I’ll be here—and there—wherever you are, whenever you need me. Even in the middle of the night.” Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root presents a feminine image of God: “When Big Momma made the world, she didn’t mess around… she rolled up her sleeves and went to it.” Big Momma, with a playful baby on her hip, takes mud and knits it together to create the world and everything in it, culminating in a huge ball of mud out of which emerge people of every race, size, and shape. They are, apparently, naked, to the delight of the children.

Each of these books is a creative contemporary expression of Judeo-Christian traditional teachings on creation. Each has its own unique twist based on the theological interpretation of the author. Christian tradition is not static. It develops in an ongoing way.

A Christian understanding of creation doesn’t rule out respect for science. I also read the children a science-based book about the origins of the universe called Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton, author of children’s classics such as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House. Life Story begins with the birth of the Sun, “one of the millions and billions of stars that make up our galaxy.” It proceeds with a fascinating walk through geological time and the evolution of life on earth right up to the present. “And now it is your Life Story… The stage is set, the time is now, and the place wherever you are.”

I have never felt there was a conflict between reading the traditional storybooks that talk about God creating the world and children’s books based on science. These accounts of creation complement each other. The children aren’t confused. They know the Bible stories, they know about Jesus, and they know God’s love. They also know about stars, black holes, dinosaurs, and fossils.  . The scientific story of creation doesn’t negate an understanding of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the world.

This blog post is an excerpt from Sharon’s new book,  Love in a Time of Climate Change

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Light in this Present Darkness-Reposted

I am reposting “Light in this Present Darkness,” which I posted three years ago.  It is just as relevant today, as mass shootings continue.

No Evil for Evil

In the midst of winter darkness, people of various spiritual traditions are preparing to celebrate the return of the light.  For me, this year’s Christmas pageant was especially poignant, as the children acted out the story of the birth of a special child.  Following the killings at Shady Hook Elementary, a shroud of darkness has settled across our land.  How can we celebrate in the midst of such unspeakable tragedy?  Where is God, where is the light?

The only light I see is the light of Love, which brings us into being, nurtures us and works through us to nurture others, and leads us in the direction of hope for a more peaceful, just, and compassionate world.  This Love, which is the only God I know, enables us to keep going, caring for the children, enduring hardship and even suffering to make their days bright.  It was this day-to-day Love that motivated Shady Hook’s principal and teachers to try to protect the children in their care.

This Love, “in which we live and move and have our being,” is the light in the midst of this present darkness.  This Love is our only hope.  It points toward a brighter future.  But we can’t see the way Love is pointing if we can’t see where we are.  We must awaken to where we are as a people if we are to see the direction we need to go.

Many of us think of ourselves as spiritual, but we live in and tolerate a society that is violent to the core.  We can see the outward evidence:  bullying of children and others, child and spousal abuse, hate-filled rhetoric in the media, violent movies and video games, military-style weapons available on the open market, gun violence.  We are outraged and frightened by the most shocking incidents, but we don’t know what to do.   Start carrying guns, as suggested by the gun lobby?  Will more people with more guns make us safer?  I don’t think so.

The problem is that there is also an inner dimension to the violence that we see all around us, and even within us.  The violent milieu of our society is supported by a world view that is largely unquestioned by politicians, by the media, or by religious institutions.  US society glorifies domination and violence.  We see ourselves as the Number One nation and promote the “American way of life” as better than other ways of life.   We take for granted our right to use any means at our disposal, including drone warfare, to enforce our will.  Our criminal justice system, which is racially biased and unfair to the poor, is based not on restoration, but on retribution.  Our foreign policy is based on a view of global Empire and is supported by a military-industrial complex that seeks to dominate the world.

At the same time, our society glorifies the Market.  We are told that the Market can best allocate society’s resources, and that taxing the wealthy at a higher rate or putting rules on corporate behavior will drag down the economy.  This is the rationale for cutting services of every kind.  Giving “the Market” so much power means giving power to those with money.  This enables powerful corporations and wealthy individuals to consolidate their power and wealth by dominating political and economic policies.  Such policies do not support services for the mentally ill, victims of domestic violence, or other vulnerable people.  They do not, for that matter, support schools, libraries, or any other public institutions that we have until now taken for granted.  Rather, they increase the gap between rich and poor, which studies show is linked to increasing levels of violence.

To prevent more mass killings, gun control laws are necessary, along with increased funding for mental health services.  But these actions alone will not bring about the social transformation that is needed.   To live into a more compassionate future will require us to face the current darkness and acknowledge that we, as a people, are on the wrong track.  We have allowed ourselves to be swept along by compelling myths and powerful institutional forces that harness money and use violence to dominate our world.

We can choose to resist complicity and join with others to work for the common good.  We can face the darkness, celebrate the light, and by our actions embody hope so we can assure the children that there are brighter days ahead.  Love will be our guide.

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