#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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Rejecting Theological Sadism

The bumper sticker on my car.

The country is moving toward fascism.  We see the current administration dismantling beneficial social and environmental programs while expanding repressive police and military functions of government.  Resistance is our only hope, for what we tolerate is what we get.  Besides, standing up to institutional Powers that would destroy life is the right thing to do.  “In times of tyranny, the only way to maintain our humanity is to resist.”

One form of resistance is to expose the ideologies that provide a foundation for tyranny.  Today I critique the theology of the Religious Right, which wields tremendous power in the Republican Party and was able to influence so many white Evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump.  My primary purpose today is to refute the “theological sadism” that tolerates and furthers suffering while explaining it away in religious terms.  As theologian Dorothy Solle said, “That explanation of suffering that looks away from the victim and identifies itself with a righteousness that is supposed to stand behind the suffering has already taken a step in the direction of theological sadism, which wants to understand God as the torturer.”

Religious justifications that support cruelty, abuse, exclusion, and hierarchical domination are based on a faulty understanding of who God is and why Jesus died.   Did God send Jesus to die on the cross?  Was this God’s original plan to save people who believe in this story from going to hell?  Is the suffering of Jesus on the cross a pattern that we are to follow by accepting our lot in life?  I say NO, as do most feminist and other liberation theologians.

The idea that human beings need to be reconciled through blood sacrifice to a wrathful God is basic to conservative Christianity and is reflected in popular culture.  A scene from the movie The Apostle illustrates this view.  At the high point of the movie, the main character, a preacher played by Robert Duvall, holds up a baby in front of the congregation and says, “Could I ever drive a nail through the hand of this precious baby?  I couldn’t, but God could.  That’s what God did for you and me.”

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ, criticized for its gratuitous violence and anti-Semitism, portrays a similar message through its unrelenting scenes of the sadistic torture of a passive and miserable Jesus.  The point?  That Jesus went through all this suffering (yes, it was God’s plan) in order to save you and me.

But this view substitutes a dogma about Jesus for the reality of Jesus’ life and teachings, and the events that led to his death.  It makes the death of Jesus acceptable, and takes away the “scandal of the cross.”

If I stand by, approving the execution of Jesus as a human sacrifice given in my place to a judgmental God, I stand with the High Priest Caiaphas, who argued that it was “expedient for one man to die for the people.”  If I applaud the crucifixion of Jesus as a good plan, even God’s plan, I place God on the side of the Roman Empire, which crucified subversives, including Jesus, as a matter of course, just as governments execute subversives today.  If I collaborate with those who put Jesus to death by justifying his murder on religious grounds, with theories of why blood needed to be spilt, I put myself on the side of the blood-thirsty mobs who called for Jesus to be crucified and who have engaged in atrocities throughout history.  If I ignore the political context and accept the execution of Jesus as a predetermined event that happened just as God intended, the symbol of the cross becomes a sign of God’s approval of the status quo rather than a symbol of hope for transformation of the world.

Previous post:  Rejecting Theological Sadism.  Next post: Jesus Was Not Born to Die

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Resisting Cultural Possession

The “Golden Bull” at Occupy Wall Street in New York

All of the kingdoms can be yours,” the devil tells Jesus, “if you will just lord your power over others and take up the sword of the nations. Take charge of the biological weapons, deploy some troops, command the implementation of a ‘Star Wars’ missile defense system. All the kingdoms can be yours—if you will just use the world’s means of power: domination and violence.”       Charles Campbell

There is a call in life to come to terms with who we are in relation to the universe, to give ourselves to something ultimate, to live in right relationship with the Ground of Being, to fulfill our destiny, to enter into the Great Mystery.  But we hear other voices as well, voices that we have internalized from our families and cultures, which we hear as our own.  These voices tempt us.  They present us with a choice:  to be true to ourselves and live as free human beings or to be ensnared by desires that reflect the values of our culture and end up being possessed by them.

Jesus, too, experienced this conflict.  After John baptized him in the Jordan River, Jesus saw a vision in which the Holy Spirit descended upon him as a dove and heard God saying to him, “This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).  This revelation led him to a time of testing in the wilderness, during which a spiritually strong but very human Jesus strove to find clarity about his identity and calling (Matthew 4:1-11).  He especially struggled with what it meant to be “son of God.” This was a well-known designation in the ancient world.  The term “Son of God” was applied to the Roman Emperor, who possessed status, wealth, and worldly power.  Jews who awaited the Messiah were hoping for the coming of a king like David who would embody these characteristics.  Not surprisingly, these were the very things that tempted Jesus.

“If you are the Son of God,” said the voice of temptation (the “devil” or “tempter”) to Jesus, testing him.  If you are the son of God, then prove it… by refusing to be bound by human limitations, by ignoring the laws of nature, by choosing a path that will lead to fame, fortune, and power over others.  But each time Jesus refused, choosing instead to be faithful and to entrust himself to the will of God.  We are called and empowered by grace to do the same.

Theologian Walter Wink demythologizes “the devil” or “Satan,” relating these concepts to the “interiority” of a culture at a particular time in history:  “Satan is the real interiority of a society that idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good. Satan is the spirituality of an epoch, the peculiar constellation of alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy that characterizes a specific period of history as a consequence of human decisions to tolerate and even further such a state of affairs.”

These words were true of the time in which Jesus lived, when the “Roman Peace” was imposed and enforced throughout the Empire, but they are also true today.  Clearly, the United States is a society that “idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good.”   The present culture of unrestrained corporate capitalism, enforced by mass incarceration and endless war, exalts nationalism, pays tribute to wealth, promotes consumption, bows to worldly success, glorifies violence, and vilifies people who have not attained these things.  The “alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy” that characterize this time in our history are made possible by the personal decisions of many individuals to tolerate or even further this state of affairs.

The temptation of Jesus set the stage for the events that led to his death.  By choosing a path of deep integrity instead of adopting the cultural values of his time, Jesus set himself against the religious, political, economic, and military rulers of his day.  It’s no wonder that the religious elite, who benefited from the Roman occupation, collaborated with the Roman authorities in targeting him, plotting against him, and finally putting him to death.

And it’s no wonder that those of us who live here in the United States are often tempted to submit to cultural expectations.  Today’s ruling Powers have a million ways to reward and punish based on whether or not we comply.  But there is a deeper way to live, which offers immeasurably greater rewards.

There is always temptation, especially in our consumer culture.  It might be easier to come to terms with who we are and who we are called to be if we could go out into the wilderness.  That is what the season of Lent is about—a season that involves taking time out to reflect on what is ultimate and to accept the responsibility and privilege to make a conscious choice.

We do have a choice.  We do not have to surrender to the Powers or be driven by desires to conform and excel in their service, at the expense of other people and the earth itself.  We can refuse to submit to social pressures, resist cultural possession, and live in freedom as fully human beings, as beloved children of God.

There are many paths to freedom, and divine love is universal, offered to all people and all creation.  I choose to follow and live in the Spirit of the one who calls me, Jesus Christ.

Previous post:  A Lenten Call to Resist.     Next post:  Rejecting Theological Sadism.  

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War is Not the Answer

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Arrested at Beale

Today I was arrested for peace with my dear friend Shirley Osgood at Beale Air Force Base, supported by several Veterans for Peace and other peacemakers.  Beale is home of Global Hawk surveillance drones, which identify targets in countries around the world for U.S. killer drones.

Shirley and I walked through the main gate to sprinkle ashes on the base in an act of resistance to our government’s endless wars. The ashes symbolize the innocent people incinerated by our government in faraway lands by drones via remote control.  I think especially of the children.

As movements of resistance multiply around the country and around the world, it’s important to include a critique of the permanent war economy and a call to international cooperation and peace.  The Trump Administration’s approach to foreign and military policy is exemplified by attempts to ban Muslims and other immigrants, alienation of allies, threats to revive torture, promises to raise military spending (again), and the recent Navy Seals raid in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of at least fourteen civilians, including nine children.  The stories told by witnesses of the raid are horrendous.

At Beale today we commemorated the deaths of these people.  Demonstrators will be there again tomorrow.  But we are also mourning the deaths of the fifteen Afghan civilians who were killed by a U.S. drone strike while sleeping in their beds last September.  While Barak Obama was president, he authorized drone strikes in seven countries.  U.S. drones have killed thousands of people, mostly civilians, including hundreds of children.  These extrajudicial killings ignite hate, fuel terror, and perpetuate the cycle of violence.

How has this nightmare come to be reality?  As divided as Congress appears, the Washington Consensus still holds in Deep State matters of finance and national security.  The “experts” that guide the Ship of State in these areas have been there for decades, even as presidents come and go.  The power of the “imperial presidency” has grown under both Republican and Democratic administrations, while the reach and secrecy of the national security/surveillance state has grown, consuming an ever-greater share of the economy.

Now we have a right-wing ideologue in the office of the presidency who is, evidently, uneducated in matters of State, irrational, and unpredictable.  Obama’s drone “kill list” is now in the hands of Donald Trump, as is the authority to use the new generation of “useable” nuclear weapons approved by Obama.  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports that the hands of the Doomsday Clock have now been moved to two and a half minutes to midnight.

I am so happy to see people rising up, finally!  In times of tyranny, the only way to maintain our humanity is to resist.  But the answer is not a matter of simply getting Democrats back into power.  If we continue to accept the unacceptable actions of our government, deep systemic change will be impossible.

I chose to sprinkle ashes on Beale Air Force Base because the day after tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, a day for repentance and reflection on our mortality.  I chose to kneel and pray for mercy for the people my government is targeting, and to plead for the transformation of the hearts and minds of people in my country who accept and perpetuate these atrocities.  War is not the answer.  God help us all.

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See other blog postings about actions related to drones and Beale demonstrations

Go to Occupy Beale Air Force Base Facebook page to find out more.