October 7, 2018
Vacation was OK. It was in my house in Sedona. It was more of a time for house maintenance and body maintenance than a real vacation. I visited my dentist, my eye doctor (cataracts) and my medical doctor. I talked with my sister about getting Tom to help with some outside house maintenance needs. I had an opportunity to walk several times one of my favorite 2 1/2 mile trails and Sunday morning hiked my favorite 5 mile trail at Red Rock State Park. I spent quality time every day with my sister and had a fun birthday party with old friends on Friday. And since I was home I was able to watch some of the proceedings taking place on the national stage with the hearings for confirmation of a Supreme Court judge.
All of today’s focus for this worship service was done prior to my leaving on vacation with much of the focus on World Communion Sunday and with a different topic for the sermon. Clergy colleagues will understand when I said to myself after the hearing: I really don’t want to preach on this and you probably don’t want to hear any more on this subject either . But avoidance is not what ministry calls us to do, does it? So I shelved what I was going to preach on and entitled today’s sermon – A change of mind – not a change of heart, because I feel the need to speak of the elephant in the room – that particular event that unfolded last week. I will not be sharing with you my political stance, because that would be inappropriate – but my faith stance isn’t so I’ll share with you some observations and thoughts – my own as well as a couple of other faith leaders.
The courage of the witness who came forward to speak her truth was powerful, and I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The impact of the assault on her even after 36 years was obviously still traumatic. And the number of people who called abuse helplines on the Friday after her testimony jumped to new heights. Many well-known individuals also broke their silence and shared their stories of assault and rape that happened to them decades ago. Many men also courageously identified themselves as abuse/rape victims. Trauma was triggered or retriggered after memories resurfaced or were reawakened in both men and women who were sexually assaulted or sexually abused. PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder – is not only something our veterans live with. I also heard one man’s apology for the abuse he foisted upon his step-sister years ago and I hope there is a growing awareness among those who have been abusers to recognize that fact – that they never were entitled to do what they did. Bell Hooks asked this compelling question: “How do we hold people accountable for wrong doing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” Facebook: Bell Hooks FB Everyday Feminism?
John Dorhauer, President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ wrote at length: “America is in pain. People who have suffered sexual trauma, who have spent significant effort shielding themselves from public shame and humiliation, and who have sought healing from deep and festering wounds, are now compelled to tell their stories on very public and highly politicized stages.
Further, contributing to the pain of those affected, our elected and other high profile leaders willingly filter the truth in order to expediently meet their personal or party-first ends. Political parties have grown completely intolerant of one another and push ideological narratives with little to no regard for the individuals who may be affected in the process, or for their mental health, personal truth, or our shared humanity.
Those who have mustered the courage to tell their stories are true patriots, willing to face derision, shame, humiliation, and death threats in order to let the world know what the men they have elected or nominated are capable of. Anyone willing to make such a sacrifice for the collective good deserves to be heard, to be taken seriously, and to be met with our compassion and empathy. When women speak of what men seeking power have done, we should not let our political passions dictate what we hear and what we ignore.
In the most recent past we have witnessed an acceleration of women speaking their truth inside of and in spite of the threatening environments in which they find themselves. We have seen direct evidence of the kind of assault and abuse they have endured, yet repeatedly the men who have threatened them, abused them, told them to keep quiet, and dismissed them, remain in positions of power. This forces all of us to look away from what we know to be true and to indirectly become accepting of and complicit in unacceptable behavior.
Every time this happens, women are conditioned to remain silent. The message received is that the cost of their truth is too high and not one we are willing to pay. And, facing the truth about some men in power is simply not worth it, a situation greatly exacerbated when ideology or political partisanship is involved.
This is the message received by our children. It teaches boys at a young age that they can get away with a lot more than they might think and it teaches girls to keep quiet, and that unmasking a male abuser can come at great personal risk. At the present moment in history, we are watching this being played out on the public stage and some of our nation’s most revered leaders are reinforcing this message, again and again.”
Dorhauer continues: “I learned a long time ago how much courage it takes for a women to break her silence. I learned as a pastoral counselor how critical it is for health and recovery that when a woman breaks her silence she be heard, trusted, and believed. Many women have been threatened by their abusers, and many times the threats come at a cost not only to them, but people they love. Women’s silence is intended to protect them along with those they love. Threats are as real as the trauma of abuse. If, when women find the courage to speak, they are ignored, dismissed, ridiculed, (mocked) or become targets of public rage, we retraumatize them and make it far less likely they will ever speak up again.
America is in great pain. Too many women are living in bodies that have been abused by men with power. Too many men are living in a world where their abuse of power is accepted, excused, and protected. I believe. I don’t doubt any women, no matter how long it has taken to tell her story, when she speaks of her abuse and trauma. I refuse to respect the authority of any man who has used his power to subdue a woman against her will. I call upon people of faith to find their voices and speak out about the sexual abuse, trauma, and assault that has become far too common.
I call upon people of faith to find their voices and speak up in order to create a world where women who dare to tell their stories and break their silence are cared for, heard, and nurtured, and where the men who look to us to shame their victims do not get the audience they need to protect them. I call upon men of faith, men in power, and men in political offices to adopt a position of radical and deep listening to the voices of those who experience our use and abuse of power as a threat. These are important steps we must take to heal the wounds we have all had a hand in creating. Healing will not happen immediately, but we must begin immediately to act. Anything short of this guarantees the wound will fester and grow.” He ends saying: “Be the Church. Believe. Listen. Teach. Heal.” (Facebook; John C Dorhauer, 9-28-18)
The following is from another voice, Methodist Bishop Bruce Ough who wrote: “…but, the hearing on Thursday was far more than political theatre. It felt as if the very soul of our country was being laid bare. Thousands, more likely millions of women and girls relived the pain of their own sexual harassment, assault, abuse, or rape. It was a powerful, indelible teaching moment for millions of people and, indeed, a nation too long in denial of our epidemic or sexual assault and abuse. No matter what one’s political positon is, we, as followers of Jesus, can no longer remain silent about the sin of sexual assault and abuse or tolerate ‘boys will be boys’ excuses.”
“I am always struck when studying how Jesus called individuals to discipleship to realize that he almost always started by making a safe space for them. I encourage you to re-read the gospels and note how frequently Jesus had compassion on the people, invited individuals to come to the center of his attention, welcomed persons to be seated at the banquet tables, went into the intimate space of their homes, sheltered those on the margins from religious bullies, engaged outsiders in deep conversations, listened to the heart-song of followers, or scratched in the dirt to diffuse accusatory behavior. Jesus shows us the way at this critical moment.” Bishop Ough then goes on to encourage churches to create those safe spaces by especially listening and honoring these stories.
He wrote: “As I sat down to write these reflections, the words of the Psalmist came to me: ‘Their words aren’t heard, Their voices aren’t recorded, But their silence fills the earth: Unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.’ (Psalm 19:3-4; The Message)
Silence is a virtue for people, like me,” he said, “who often talk too much. Or, when we need to fall silent before God so that we can hear God’s still, small voice. But, make no mistake: The silence of the countless women and men who have been sexually abused ‘fills the earth.’ It is the silence of torturous pain, fear, shame, and re-victimization.
We are called to break the silence for those who cannot. We are called to honor the courage and truth of those who find their voice. We are called to ensure that the ‘unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.’” (Facebook: Bishop Bruce Ough; www.minnesota-umc.org.; shared on Clergy Coaching Network, 10-4-18.)
While here in Las Cruces I heard from Karen, a woman I knew when I served in a South Portland, Maine congregation. At that time, in the late 1980s, she shared with me the abuse she received at the
hands of the senior minister who was there during the 1970s. I believed her but leadership at that time was of no consolation to her or to me – dismissing her story because of her struggle with mental illness. In time Karen and I lost contact with each other, but I often wondered how she was doing. That contact a few months ago told me she was doing ok. The reason for the contact all these years later was to tell me that the church finally took her story seriously and that minister had finally lost his standing within the United Church of Christ. The words that meant the most to me were not only saying how grateful she was for my supporting her, but Karen saying “You believed me. You believed me. Thank you.”
Creating safer communities is what ultimately grounds and unites us as human beings and people of faith and followers of Christ. First Christian Church is a safe place for many in the Las Cruces community. Your voice and your presence make it so. You reflect God’s love by your words and actions and by extending invitations for others to find this place in the midst of a hurting world. Thank you.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “It is not enough for us to talk about love. There is another side called justice. And justice is love in calculating. Justice is love working against anything that stands against love. Standing beside love is always justice.”
May God bless each of us. May God touch each hurting heart bringing healing where needed. And may God soften those hearts open only to the power of the world and the sense of entitlement that it brings no matter who gets hurt. God bless us all – everyone for we are all in need. And may the touch we give and the touch we receive only be the kind that blesses. Amen and amen.
Copyright DMC 2018