This might sound like the start of a bad joke: What do a theologian (John Howard Yoder) and a comedian (Bill Cosby) have in common? More than you might imagine—and I’m not laughing. Both were major figures in their fields. Both were widely regarded and respected, even adored by many. Both were powerful men with a sense of entitlement. With impunity, both sexually abused scores of young women who trusted them for years. Both were shielded by their peers and colleagues from any meaningful accountability.
Dear Dylann Roof: When you gunned down 9 people in a Charleston church who were sharing Bible study with you, you said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Author Lisa Wade described this as “benevolent” sexism. I find this an overly generous label.
Dear Pope: It’s been a while since I wrote to you. Like many people around the world, I’ve been watching your tenure closely, particularly regarding the sexual abuse of children. I want to commend you for your move to establish a tribunal for holding bishops accountable for their actions to protect abusers and stonewall investigations or their inaction to protect children in response to sexual abuse by priests. I also commend you for actually listening to the Papal Commission you established in late 2013 to advise you on these matters.
A few years back there was a news article in California about the prosecution of a husband for marital rape of his wife. The wife had locked herself in the bedroom to protect herself from the abusive husband. He broke down the door and assaulted her. His defense at trial was that he was Roman Catholic and the church had taught him that once he married, he could have sex with his wife any time he chose; therefore his arrest for marital rape was a violation of his First Amendment right to exercise religion.
In the northern hemisphere, this is the season of spring. Each year I try to spend a week in the Smokey Mountains because spring here is an event that unfolds each day before our eyes. Warm days and cool nights coax the sprouts from the ground and the buds from the trees. Wild violets cover the ground, tender fiddle heads of ferns unfold, the redbuds are just ready to burst into purple, a faint touch of green covers the mountainside.
Passover is the Jewish holiday about the passage from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom. In remembering the Exodus story of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, it is an occasion to reflect on our own journeys.
The story of Mohammad Abdullah Saleem of Elgin, IL, is not unlike that of a Catholic priest, a Protestant pastor, a Jewish rabbi, or a Buddhist teacher who has sexually molested a faithful follower. Over the past 30 years, we have heard from many survivors of abuse by a faith leader in all of these groups, but few Muslim survivors. It has simply been harder to break the silence in the Muslim community where any discussion of anything sexual remains largely taboo.
Last Friday marked the opening of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about rape on American college campuses, in which students share painful testimonies about sexual violation and frustrated hopes for justice. The film highlights the serious human toll resulting from the fact that roughly one in five women faces sexual assault during her college years... “The Hunting Ground” comes at an important moment in the public conversation about the epidemic of campus sexual assault in this country. While the movement to raise awareness about widespread sexual victimization of college women has continued to gain momentum, the countermovement that has emerged is fierce.
“As gun rights advocates push to legalize firearms on college campuses, an argument is taking shape: Arming female students will help reduce sexual assaults.” I will tell you exactly what will go wrong. Here’s how it will go. Undergrad Sally is given a handgun by her parents on her birthday. Sally attends an abbreviated gun safety class which includes target practice. Sally now carries her gun in her backpack on campus. She says she feels safer. Two possible scenarios:
First, a confession: I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey nor do I intend to. I have not seen the film nor do I intend to. When I choose a novel to read or a movie to see, I pay attention to reviews or suggestions of my friends. The thought of spending time reading second rate prose about dominant-submissive heterosexual sex or of watching soft-core porn in a theater just doesn’t seem very appealing. Life is too short. But I am intrigued by the apparent popularity of this book, now movie, and the discussions it has engendered. Sounds like a raunchy romance novel of the Twilight genre, expertly marketed and hyped to an adult female audience. Feminist? Anti-feminist? Liberating? Depressing?
In a spirit of full disclosure, it’s true: I am a fan of the game of football. In my hometown, that means the Seattle Seahawks. And that means the Super Bowl on February 1. Having said that, of course I have to comment on the intersection between the NFL and domestic violence. Particularly in light of events this past season, which involved high profile cases of NFL players assaulting family members. As we approach the Super Bowl, the urban myth regarding the increase in domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday will once again make an appearance. It is a myth, by the way, that there is more domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday. We don’t know where it started; probably it was someone’s hunch way back when. But the numbers don’t support it.
Each day seems to bring another report of tragic gun violence. The latest three incidents: Sydney, Australia: Man Haron Monis held hostages in a Sydney café for 16 hours until police stormed the café leaving Monis and two hostages dead. Monis had been charged earlier with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and also with sexual assault of a woman. Eagleville, Pennsylvania: Bradley Stone shot and killed his former wife and five of her relatives before killing himself with a knife. New York City: Ismaaiyl Brinsley ambushed, shot and killed two police officers sitting in their patrol car. Mr. Brinsley, 28, then fled down the street and onto the platform of a nearby subway station, where he shot and killed himself. He had come to New York from Baltimore where he had shot his former girlfriend. Fortunately, she survived. Actually these seemingly disparate events had a lot in common, namely, gender based violence.
My favorite hymn of the season is “In the Bleak Midwinter” written by the English poet Christina Rossetti in 1872. It begins by describing the environs that we in the northern hemisphere experience in December: “In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter Long ago.”
On this day after the announcement by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, it is cold, dark and rainy here in Seattle. The weather seems fitting somehow to reflect the despair and hopelessness that so many people are feeling. The announcement that there would be no Grand Jury indictment of the police officer who fired 12 shots to kill a young black man in Ferguson, MO, was made under the cover of darkness because it was shameful. The justice system failed.
Every day seems to bring a new chapter in the National Football League's drama of discovering the urgency of addressing domestic violence in its ranks. Team sports are about statistics. Football is about yards gained/lost, touchdowns scored, passes completed, third downs converted, etc. Here’s a statistic: conservatively speaking, 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence at some time in her life.
A Reflection for Rosh Hashanah: There is an old Jewish blessing offered as the New Year arrives: “May the old year and its troubles end, and the new year and its blessings begin.” A beautiful and hopeful thought, until you think: each new year begins with aspirations of change, redemption, blessing, and healing, and yet each ends with disappointment, struggle, and challenge. Perhaps this is the human condition.
I confessed my enjoyment of football last year when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. I also understand that football (and the National Football League) is a huge part of the fabric of American culture, for better and for worse. It is certainly a primary factor in the socialization of boys and men in our society. So, yes, I do read the sports page every day. Sometimes a story jumps from the sports page to the front page. This seems to be the case with the Ray Rice story.
The recent death of Joshu Sasaki Roshi and the publication of an extensive article on John Howard Yoder raise once again the contradiction of beneficial teachings and abusive teachers. What legacies do these prominent faith leaders leave?
A 14 year old child goes to her priest and tells him that an adult parishioner has been initiating sexual contact with her. She asks the priest what she should do. “The child testified during deposition that [the priest’s] advice to her was to handle the issue herself because ‘too many people would be hurt.’ Court documents also say she testified, ‘He just said, this is your problem. Sweep it under the floor.’"
The 200 plus girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria are not home yet. Despite efforts by Nigerian military, U.S. military, and the United Nations, the girls have not yet been rescued from the terrorists.