Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune offers analysis and commentary on issues that concern the work of FaithTrust Institute.
Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as you ever can. These words are often attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, although there is some dispute about their authorship. They may have been penned by a woman, unnamed of course. It appears they were frequently revised. But our ancestors offered them to us to ponder so ponder them we shall.
I live in a parched place. In east Tennessee, it has only rained 3 times in the last 4 months. This relentless heat and drought are palpable every day. So also on this political landscape: the heat of hateful rhetoric and the drought of substantive discussion of the serious issues. Facing the weeks ahead, I turn to Jeremiah 17.
“For crying out loud!” I yelled for three long months, starting in early June. “My whole life’s being hijacked!” “Why NOW?” I asked, as if there’s ever a good time for a case of abuse threatening to destroy a ninety-year-old—who just happens to be my mother, living hundreds of miles away.
This is what Rape Culture looks like—Donald Trump’s “locker room” chat that was recorded and is now before us. I am not as offended by the lewdness of his comments as I am by his aggression and his assumption of entitlement to women...
As I wish blessings in the New Year to Jewish friends and colleagues, there is also good news to celebrate. There is finally a solution to the problem of the get in Modern Orthodox Judaism. For centuries, women have suffered because a husband in a divorce refused to give the get, the agreement to divorce, to his wife. Orthodox Jewish wives, committed to Jewish law, could find themselves bound to a spouse for life which meant that they could not remarry. Many Jewish battered women have suffered from get refusal on the part of an abuser and even rabbinic tribunals have been powerless to force a husband to give a get. Now there is an answer: a halakhic prenup.
I recently preached at my home church on the issue of justice for survivors of sexual or domestic violence. During my sermon, a member of the congregation got up and left. Obviously I didn’t know why. I called and emailed the next day just to check in. Her first response was that the sermon triggered some very old memories and she just needed to leave. But the next day, she emailed and said that really what happened was that “you are the first person I have ever heard exhibit understanding and compassion for people who have had these experiences.”
I’m probably not alone in feeling the need for some good news, so I'm happy to share this: In a welcome development, three groups of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis have issued a proclamation addressing child sexual abuse. Over 300 rabbis from the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshiva University have signed the proclamation which outlines in detail their response to the suicides of members of the Orthodox community who were victims of child sexual abuse.
When national Protestant denominations meet, there is a lot of necessary but mundane business that goes on. But sometimes something very important occurs and it should be noted. This summer, I've received updates from two denominations that are explicitly addressing abuse by clergy at their national gatherings: The Presbyterian Church USA and the Unitarian Universalists.
Hate is by definition not a reasonable, rational thing. Yet it is a powerful motivator that causes untold suffering for so many people who are regarded as “other,” as marginal. In the case of the Orlando massacre at a gay bar, the hatred is about homophobia. Make no mistake: laws that seek to intentionally perpetuate discriminate against LGBT people, churches that continue to deny us acceptance as full members, individuals who deny us services in public commerce and defend their right to do so with religious arguments— all of these contribute to a culture in this country that accepts discrimination and homophobia against us and opens the door to individual acts of hatred and violence.
The Board and Staff of FaithTrust Institute want to take this opportunity to share with you some of the outstanding responses we’ve read to the rape case at Stanford over the last few days. The media attention has been extraordinary, as have the comments and reflection on social media. Perhaps it's because of the powerful statement read by the survivor in court, which she addressed directly to the perpetrator, Brock Turner. (Note: If you haven’t already read this, be mindful that it is painful, powerful, and graphic. It may be difficult to read.) Or perhaps it was because the perpetrator was a college athlete from a prestigious university. Or maybe it was the blind entitlement and callousness of the letter written by the perpetrator’s father, which stood in stark contrast to the heart-wrenching pain expressed in the letter that the victim of this crime read in court.
Ramadan is almost here. It begins on June 6. This holy month is a time for Muslims to fast during the daylight, focus on prayer, generosity, compassion, and family. It is a special time set aside from normal daily life. Meditation, prayer and reflection take a central role in the day, while the fasting focuses the mind (and the body) on a personal sacrifice for faith. It is a beautiful holiday. You have certainly heard the hate-filled rhetoric that permeates our airwaves these days. It began on September 11, 2001 and has waxed and waned ever since. Now it has reached the presidential campaigns. We have a candidate who is inflaming hate and violence against Muslims and threatening to prevent all Muslims from entering the U.S. Of course, the U.S. is not alone in this. The response in Europe is just as shameful, with many countries struggling with the challenges of thousands of refugees leaving the war-torn Middle East.
I am sure that there must be some nights that you can’t sleep because you are carrying a load heavier than most of us can even imagine. But I can only assume that some nights are especially hard. A few months ago, Monsignor Tony Anatrella told new Bishops that they did not have a duty to report allegations of the sexual abuse of children to law enforcement. Not only did this instruction contradict your current policy of requiring reporting, but your Commission for the Protection of Minors was not even involved in the training. As soon as it hit the news, Cardinal O'Malley, who chairs your Pontifical Commission on the Protection of Minors, came out asserting strongly that Bishops have a moral obligation to report disclosures of the sexual abuse of children to law enforcement. It will not be a surprise to you that Cardinal O'Malley’s position is one that I strongly support for all clergy in all faith communities. And then there’s Cardinal Pell, who is now one of your closest advisors at the Vatican.
There has been a recent spate of attempts to reverse progressive laws protecting people of all genders from discrimination. These include the repeal of laws in North Carolina requiring restrooms to be accessible to transgender people, the so-called ‘Potty Law’ HB2. Some of the proponents of repealing these laws are faith communities believing the Bible only accounts for two genders, male and female. The Bible’s Five Books of Moses (Torah) passed down over the millennia speaks to our origins and how we define ourselves, even in modern times. The Chapter Gen. 24:14, 16, and 28, called ‘Life of Sarah’ is one of them.
Madi Barney, a student at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, Utah, reported being raped off campus to the Provo, Utah, police. She did not report it to the university and did not want them to know. But a police officer shared the report with the university and they have gone after her for violating the “Honor Code” of the university. The Code prohibits students from inviting members of the opposite sex into their rooms, mandates chastity and modest dress and no drugs or alcohol. Barney has been told that she cannot register for future classes at the school.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States, coinciding with a renewed attempt for New York legislators to ratify the Child Victims' Act (A2872A/S63A). The proposed legislation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), is being reintroduced after previous failure to pass. It would eliminate the statute of limitations (SOL) for prosecuting perpetrators of sex crimes against children, and would create a one-year window for victims to bring civil suits against perpetrators in cases where the statute has already expired.
Encounters with death are a usual and inevitable part of my work as a hospital Chaplain. Having a day bookended by Death and Taxes, such as I had last week however, caused me to pause and reflect on how the secular and the holy can become one and the same. My day began with Taxes. Oy. The annual day of dread for Susan J Katz.
Watching the Oscars on Sunday night, you might almost start to think that we’ve reached a tipping point in terms of the cultural acknowledgement of violence against women and children, and that at some point in the last 40 years, we activists have made a sizeable dent in the wall of denial and silence. Could it be? Here’s my evidence. You can sort out the reality, or my wishful thinking, yourself.
I have spoken with hundreds of victims, survivors and perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence over the forty years of my ministry. Teenagers, adults abused as children, young and old adults abused by a spouse, assaulted by a co-worker, a pastor, an acquaintance, or a stranger. What I had not yet realized was how many of my senior peers are now facing the abuse of their adult daughters and sons by a spouse or partner.
The recent film Spotlight highlights the investigation by The Boston Globe into the coverup of child sexual abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese. Using the lens of investigative journalism, it takes us as viewers/bystanders through the years of complicity by the legal system, The Globe, and the Catholic Church— as well as the active efforts by the Church to hide the abuse and protect the pedophile priests at the expense of the laity. The sexual abuse of children by faith leaders is no longer “news”. Sadly enough, it is too common to be “news”. But what is informative and important about Spotlight for those of us who are bystanders to these atrocities is the laying out of the institutional practices that have allowed this suffering to go on for decades. In November, 2015, the National Center for Victims of Crime called for a national commission on child sexual abuse to investigate institutional settings where children are particularly vulnerable and where we know there has been a history of child sexual abuse.
Spotlight is the name of the team of Boston Globe reporters who investigated the Archdiocese of Boston in 2001 when the puzzle pieces began to fall into place surrounding the sexual abuse of children by priests. Their reporting yielded a Pulitzer Prize and finally blew the lid off the long-standing conspiracy of silence surrounding the protection of priest pedophiles in the Catholic Church. Spotlight, the film, is indeed a cautionary tale for us all. While non-Catholics might be tempted to walk away from the theater with just a tinge of self-righteousness, assuming that this is a Catholic problem, don't give into that temptation. And let us not spend time arguing (as some commentators have) over whether "the problem" is greater or lesser in our faith community. Neither will serve us well.