Why Kavanaugh Should Withdraw

I believe her

The #MeToo movement marks a distinctive cultural difference between 1991 and 2018. This is obvious in how the public (and the Senate) have responded to Anita Hill vs. Christine Blasey Ford.

I remember the Anita Hill hearings vividly. They were televised live and were on every TV in sight. This was a remarkable feat in 1991 before the era of cable news. Or the phenomenon of “breaking news.”

In an era of blame the victim, Hill’s accusations were definitely breaking news. And, oh boy, was she ever bombarded with victim blaming. Forced to relive some of the most humiliating experiences of her professional life, Anita Hill became a hero.  A generation of women were struck by her willingness to call a public figure to account for his abusive behavior.

Women across the country took to wearing pins that said, “I believe Anita Hill” and simply, “I believe her.”

Unfortunately, Hill was treated to shameful and shaming abuse in front of the entire American public and Clarence Thomas was still confirmed. That is the history of justice (or lack of it) for women who are victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence and assault.

#MeToo movement

Fast forward to 2018 and the newly emerging allegations of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

In the wake of Ford’s accusations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her as a teenager, fewer people are questioning whether she was assaulted. While this is a cultural step forward, his defenders are also not saying, “Let’s find out if these allegations are true because we wouldn’t want an unrepentant sex offender on the nation’s highest court.”

As we have heard in other #MeToo cases, some people are asking if people’s lives should be ruined by actions they took when they were teenagers. Clearly preparing a line of defense for his nomination if the allegations prove to be true. What his defenders are really asking is whether men’s lives should be ruined by the behavior of their younger selves. No one is asking about the lives of the women who were deeply marked by the violence of these boys.

Michelle Goldberg pointed out in a NYTimes column that we are not really asking if boys and men should be accountable for their sexual violence, but rather, which boys and men should be accountable. As she notes, sex offender registries regularly mark men for life for their crimes in an effort to protect vulnerable populations.

But prep school boys and other boys of privilege are rarely held accountable in the same way for their abuse of power and physical strength in perpetrating violent actions against their dates or even just women at parties. And Kavanaugh is on record promoting a storied secrecy of the boys club world.

Sexual violence and restorative justice

The problem with confirming Kavanaugh “even if he did it” on the premise that men shouldn’t have their lives and careers ruined by the actions of their youth is that if he did it – he has clearly shown no remorse, no recognition of the harm that he caused, nor any understanding of the restorative justice that is required before forgiveness is possible.

Restorative justice is the principal that injustices need to be remedied. When people are victims of injustice, their experience can rarely be undone. Such crimes often include violations of a person’s body, mind, and soul. The body’s memory of rape or sexual assault can never be undone. Just as degrading and demeaning verbal abuse cannot be unheard. The fear and terror associated with these crimes or with a mugging or physical attack cannot be erased or forgotten.

Our culture routinely accepts sexual violence against women as normal. Or at the very least, as a woman’s fault for putting herself in a vulnerable situation. In such a culture, it would not be particularly surprising that the boy who grew up to become Judge Kavanaugh didn’t remember the encounter.

Violent, terrifying, and abusive encounters with boys and men mark the histories and psyches of countless women. Across this country and across the world. The normalization of this violence and the refusal to hold boys and men accountable for violent, sexually aggressive behavior is a symptom of a culture that cares more for protecting male privilege than defending women’s human rights.

Compromising the Court’s moral authority

read conclusion here

Trusting women to make abortion decisions is a Christian norm

There is a dominant belief that Christianity and Christians are against abortion. In fact, many Christian communities accept abortion in certain circumstances. That abortion is acceptable in some cases means that the real social question is not whether women can have abortions, but which women and for what reasons?

Prenatal health, Rape, Incest, and health of the Mother – PRIM. Evidence indicates widespread consensus and acceptance among many Christian denominations that abortion for PRIM reasons is justifiable.

Of the 11 Christian statements included in a 2013 Pew Research Center study, only Roman Catholics state that they oppose abortion in all circumstances. All the other denominations, even the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), and the Missouri Synod Lutherans concede that abortion is justifiable when a woman’s life is in danger. The LDS, the NAE, and the Episcopalians also specifically mention that rape and incest are considered justifiable reasons to terminate a pregnancy.

Beyond Christian communities, more than three-quarters of the U.S. public have consistently approved of PRIM abortions since 1972, indicating a broad public consensus that abortion is sometimes necessary.

Christian acceptance of PRIM abortions has helped shape the dominant public discourse about abortion into a debate about justification. By requiring women to justify their reasons for ending a pregnancy, this framework divides women who have abortions into two categories – the tragic and the damned.

Women who have PRIM abortions are portrayed as tragic, not only deserving of access to abortion services but also equally deserving of public sympathy. Women who have abortions for other reasons are stigmatized as morally unfit and labeled as selfish, cruel, and irresponsible. In short, they are the damned.

Given that only 27.5 percent of abortions happen from PRIM reasons, that leaves nearly three-quarters of the women who have abortions in the United States damned. These women stand outside acceptability in the justification paradigm that conservative Christian voices have established for our public conversation about abortion.

In a justification framework when women get pregnant, we expect them to have babies.

It is time for Christians to challenge the inadequacy, intolerance and misogyny of this paradigm of pregnancy and abortion. As my deeply Christian mother taught me, “You shouldn’t have a baby because you are pregnant. You should have a baby because you want to be a mother, because you want to have a family.” The moral wisdom of this Christian perspective recognizes that parenting is a profoundly moral act.

To choose to have a child is to make a significant moral commitment to raise the child or to place it for adoption. Since only 1 percent of women place their children for adoption, the overwhelming majority of women who continue unplanned pregnancies are making the choice to mother that child.

Creating healthy families requires more than ensuring that babies are born. Creating healthy families and raising children is a deeply spiritual and moral task requiring commitment, desire, and love on the part of parents.

Limiting our cultural approval of women’s reproductive decisions about the size, shape, and timing of their families to a narrow list of PRIM reasons flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching that he came to bring abundant life. A Christian vision of abundant life requires recognizing and supporting the development of healthy and robust families. It requires respecting women and the moral decisions that they make about their families. A Christian approach to supporting healthy families recognizes that only individual women and their partners are able to determine their ability to parent a child.

Why the Supreme Court’s Decision to Respect “Sincere Religious Beliefs” is Wrong

 

https://www.123rf.com/profile_fintastique
https://www.123rf.com/profile_fintastique

Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld a Colorado baker’s decision to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. It was an oddly narrow decision that reaffirmed protections for gay rights while simultaneously allowing the baker to violate them.

The case was argued on two grounds – free speech and free exercise of religion. Regarding free speech, the argument that baking a cake is a speech act did not seem to hold much traction. Neither did the majority opinion hold that a businessperson has a right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

Surprisingly, perhaps, the decision was ultimately decided on very narrow grounds. The majority ruled in favor of the baker based on the judgment that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission demonstrated “hostility” to religion. The Civil Rights Commission had made the original ruling against the baker.

What Justice Kennedy is referring to here are remarks that were made by one member of the Commission who said:

Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be – I mean, we – we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination.

So far, what this Commissioner said is simply fact. Religion has been used in exactly this way throughout history. Furthermore, religious people continue to claim “freedom of religion” to justify misogyny, violence, homophobia, and other egregious and uncivil behaviors.

Here’s where it gets tricky

However, the Commissioner went on to say:

And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to – to use their religion to hurt others.

This is what really seemed to set Justice Kennedy off. He argued in response:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical – something insubstantial and even insincere.

Based on this statement of one Commissioner, Kennedy held that the whole Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to uphold their responsibility of “fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law – a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.”

The opinion equivocated on a number of points and fairly invited further cases by stating:

The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

Just what is “undue disrespect”?

It is the phrase “without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs” that gives me pause.

How are we to determine what constitutes “undue disrespect”? Is that another way of saying we need to respect these “sincere religious beliefs”? Who decides what is “undue”?

After all, we live in a country where Christians hold some horribly disrespectful beliefs.

Some of these beliefs are against the law. As in, some Christians sincerely believe that they have the right to beat their wives and some of their wives have been taught to believe they deserve it.

Some of these beliefs are used to harm women. As in, some Christians who sincerely believe that fertilized eggs are human beings are interfering with women’s access to birth control and abortion.

Some of these beliefs are simply morally abhorrent. As in, some Christians sincerely believe that the white race is morally, physically, and intellectually superior to all other races.

Freedom of speech means that we must allow people to express their beliefs, however abhorrent. It doesn’t mean we must respect those beliefs.

The same must be said for freedom of religion. While people have a right to believe whatever they wish, they do not have a right to act on those beliefs when they harm other people.

My faith calls me to challenge hatred

read more here

 

What Christian Feminism Can Teach Us About Dealing with Our Racist Past

In many states across the country, annual Democratic Party fundraisers are promoted as Jefferson-Jackson dinners to honor the two men often credited as the founders of the Democratic party. A number of states are beginning to drop the Jefferson- Jackson link in the face of increasing interest in racial and gender inclusion.

In the midst of a country where black lives appear expendable and some white people are unable to recognize that memorializing their ancestors should never be done in ways that celebrate the Confederacy and its’ mission of defending slavery – the question of how we handle our past is a question we have yet to effectively grapple with as a nation.

Jefferson’s revolutionary commitment to democratic equality established the foundation of our country’s independent spirit in the Declaration of Independence, in his words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” His writing was poetic and inspirational and his words have served to motivate and encourage generations of Americans to uphold and fight for the principles of freedom and equality as basic human rights.

The problem is, Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves. Not only was their labor and immiseration the foundation for his own tremendous wealth and social position, he carried on a long-term relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. While Hemings left no record of the relationship or her feelings about it, as his property she would have had no choice in the matter.

What do we do with the seemingly contradictory realities that Jefferson was committed to freedom and equality AND that he held slaves?

Of course, it wasn’t just slaves who were excluded from the Revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality. Women were not allowed to own property and were, in fact, treated in many ways as the property of their husbands under coverture laws that cast wives as subservient to their husbands.

And let’s not forget Andrew Jackson who is credited as the first Democratic President and one of the founders of the Democratic party. Not only did he own slaves, he helped usher the Indian Removal Act of 1830 through Congress and oversaw the removal of Native Americans from their lands via the brutal and genocidal Trail of Tears.

Were Jefferson and Jackson heroes or villains? It’s complicated.

History is complicated. Life is complicated.

As a woman, I have to live in a world whose history is overwhelmingly misogynist and patriarchal.

As a Christian woman, I was born into a religious tradition that has sanctified misogyny and institutionalized patriarchy.

As a Christian feminist, I have chosen to stay in my tradition despite this history. After all, given how deeply these problems are embedded in the history of the world, rejecting everything associated with misogyny and patriarchy isn’t really an option.

Christian feminism offers some insight into thinking about various ways to “deal with” oppressive histories.

Let’s start with the Bible.

I love the Bible.

Yes, it is full of violence against women. Yes, most of the female characters are denied voice or their stories are told for them. Yes, there are passages that have been interpreted in ways that have hurt women through the ages. Yes, there are some passages that are simply rude, demeaning to women, and in my estimation, simply wrong (I’m looking at you Paul and pseudo-Pauline writers!).

The Bible is also full of wisdom, and insight, and justice and compassion. It is a text that has shaped history and guided civilizations. It is a text of power and inspiration. I love to study it – on my own, in dialogue with other scholars, and in small groups of people committed to God and justice and to making the world a better place.

Is the Bible oppressive? It’s complicated.

I don’t find the Bible oppressive because I have learned how to study and interpret it in ways that are liberating rather than oppressive. We all interpret scripture. Even Biblical fundamentalists and literalists profess a particular interpretation of scripture, even if they think they don’t. Ignorance or denial of interpretation isn’t evidence of the contrary. Rather, it is evidence of a profound misunderstanding of how text functions, especially sacred texts.

My relationship to Jefferson and Jackson is much like my relationship with the Bible and many of the Church “fathers” who said some pretty horrible things and some pretty inspirational things. I study them in a similar way to how I study the Bible. I search their writings, their actions, and their lives for truths that I find meaningful, inspirational, insightful. I study them for what they might help me discover about justice in our own age. I also study them with my eyes wide open to the injustices that they actively caused and those in which they were complicit.

The problem with setting people up as “heroes” is that people are human and humans are flawed. It probably makes sense for states to rename their annual fund-raising dinners. But it doesn’t make sense to deny or reject Jefferson and Jackson completely. The question that we must continue to grapple with as we seek to shape a more free and equal society is how to live with and learn from our past instead of rejecting, rehabilitating, or glorifying it.

Why My Heart Breaks When Churches “Leave” the PCUSA

My regular bike ride takes me past a small rural Presbyterian church that has been struggling with a decreasing congregation over the last ten or twenty years. It is the nearest Presbyterian church to our old house and so I have attended worship there several times over the years.

I’ve even preached there once or twice when a friend of mine pastored the church for a number of years and asked me to fill the pulpit when she was on vacation. Like many small churches, they worried about their declining numbers. My friend tried to help them focus on reimagining their role in the local community and how they might be a faithful church rather than to obsess too much over church growth (or lack thereof).

So, I have a connection to this small church and its congregation and always think fondly of them and my friend as I cycle past the church several times a week.

I also know that this church has been struggling with the issue of homosexuality in recent years.

Several years ago I was on an Presbytery panel that focused on “Amendment One” in NC, which sought to define marriage as “between one man and one woman.” I presented an overview of the PCUSA’s support of civil rights over the years alongside a summary of the divergent expressions of marriage in the Bible. I argued that regardless of how Christians felt theologically about the issue of homosexuality, legal discrimination against any group of people is unjust and contradictory to the witness of the PC(USA).

The interim pastor of Memorial Presbyterian was on the panel supporting Amendment One and its proposed discrimination of gays and lesbians.

I can only imagine how members of this church received the recent news that the denomination had voted to allow pastors and churches to celebrate gay and lesbian marriages. I knew that they had been having conversations about leaving the denomination over these changes.

A couple of months ago, the sign in front of the church read “Welcome EPC.” In the world of Christian acronyms, this stands for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church – a denomination created in the early 80s for Presbyterians who felt that the denomination was too “liberal.” I wasn’t entirely sure what the sign meant – were they welcoming members from the EPC to worship? were they welcoming community members to a new EPC congregation? were they testing the waters of transition with their weekly message? Who knew?

Yesterday, when I rode past the church I noticed with great sadness that they had covered over the iconic PCUSA crosses on that very sign. The sign still reads “Memorial Presbyterian Church” but with the erasure of the denominational symbol of the PCUSA, this small church has joined many other churches across the country in leaving behind the mainline Protestant tradition to embrace an evangelical tradition representing conservative values and rigid, intolerant interpretations of scripture.

pcusa cross

My heart broke a little as I rode my bike past that church. It broke for that congregation whose prejudices against gays and lesbians pushed them to leave a community of churches that they have been a part of since their formation. It broke a little for my Presbytery that has now lost another church from our community of faith. It broke a little for the knowledge that it was likely the prejudiced teachings of earlier traditions of Christianity that helped to shape the prejudice and bias that continues to mark this community’s reading of scripture.

I believe that the Christian faith is full of wisdom that can help lead people to live strong, faithful, justice-filled lives rooted in community and compassion for the created world. It is not the only source of wisdom for a meaningful life, but it is an important source that motivates, inspires and helps to heal and guide billions of people around the world.

Christianity can also be used to hurt, exclude, shame, and harm other people. Often by people whose interpretation of Christianity is rigid, intolerant, and exclusive.

As a living faith, Christianity grows, changes, and responds to the world in which it lives. Christians learn from science, from history, from experience, and from people witnessing to their knowledge of the sacred – even when it is different from our own.

In recent years, many Christians have had to unlearn many hateful and inaccurate things that the Christian church and tradition has taught about homosexuality in the past. Many of us have learned from our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters new ways of understanding what it means to be created in the image of God and this has helped us to see and understand scripture in new ways.

These shifts in interpreting scripture are an example of how Christianity continues to live and grow and have meaning for people of faith in our world. Over the centuries we have reinterpreted our understanding of many things that were once thought fixed due to our “interpretation” of scripture – slavery, divorce, the role and status of women, and sexuality are just a few of these.

My heart breaks for Memorial Presbyterian Church and the many other churches who have left the PCUSA and other mainline denominations over the issue of homosexuality. Not because of the continued fracturing of the body of Christ, although that makes me sad too. Not because I think my denomination is best and the churches who leave can’t be faithful Christians somewhere else. Not because they have taken their property and walked away from Salem Presbytery.

What I see is fear and intolerance winning out over justice. And it breaks my heart.

Celebrating Birth Control

Copyright: vadimdesign / 123RF Stock Photo

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of contraceptive forms of birth control. As a 40-something woman who grew up in the wake of the sexual revolution – it’s hard for me to fathom that birth control was ever illegal.

Access to birth control is something that I have always taken for granted – thanks to Planned Parenthood, free condom programs as part of university health care, and later my health insurance. However, my relative ease of access to birth control is not the norm in this country. Conservative religious groups have rallied their forces to shape public policies that prevent or impede women’s access to birth control in increasingly paternalistic and controlling ways. What is happening today is not unlike what happened in the mid-1800s when abortion and contraception were outlawed.

Continue reading Celebrating Birth Control

Biblical Marriage is Not What You Think

This week’s Supreme Court debates about the definition of marriage echo the same debates that have been dominant in communities and states across the country for the past several years. Justice Kennedy, who appears conflicted about where he stands on this issue, expressed his concern about changing a conception of marriage that “has persisted for thousands of years.”

In truth, like most social institutions, the institution of marriage has shifted and changed over the years in ways that have strengthened it and made it both more accessible and more just.

Two hundred years ago we debated whether or not slaves should be allowed to marry. One-hundred and fifty years ago we debated whether married women should remain their husband’s property under the principle of coverture (the principle of two-becoming-one-flesh), or whether women should be regarded as their own persons, with full rights and responsibilities. Forty-seven years ago we debated whether or not interracial marriages should be legal.

In 1967, the Loving v. Virginia ruling eradicated states law prohibiting interracial marriage and thus transformed the institution of marriage yet again, in ways that struck down discriminatory state laws in much the same way that a ruling in the current case might do.

That ruling read, in part, “Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man [sic],” fundamental to our very existence and survival . . .To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes . . . is surely to deprive the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.”

Even more recently, we have debated no-fault divorce, marital rape laws, and now marriage equality. In each of these cases where we have debated about the nature of the institution of marriage, we have shifted and expanded our understanding in ways that moved us a little closer toward justice in our society.

But, so often in this debate it is Christianity and the Bible that is brought up as the ultimate weapon in defense of a marriage between one man and one woman. The Genesis text that states that man shall leave his parents and join with wife to become one flesh is trotted out as “proof” that God has defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

Unfortunately, these folks must have stopped reading their Bibles at the end of Genesis, chapter two. Even a cursory read of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament demonstrates that marriage was not understood or practiced this way at all.

Marriage in the Bible was much more about property rights, ensuring paternity of offspring, succession, political alliances and tribal stability than it was about companionship, mutual support and affection as we think of marriage today. The patriarchs of the Jewish and Christian tradition often had sex with multiple women, usually, but not always, for the purpose of procreation. Many of the women in the Bible who were slaves, or servants, or handmaids were reportedly “given” by the legal or primary wife to her husband for the purposes of securing children. The notion of consent, particularly for women, in matters of sexual intercourse is not a relevant moral norm in most of scripture.

continue to Huffington Post to finish reading this article.

image Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_michaklootwijk’>michaklootwijk / 123RF Stock Photo</a>