Of Course I’m Politicizing Sexual Assault . . .
I don’t know about you, but this whole Kavanaugh nomination has me riled. Okay, so I admit that I don’t like his politics/judicial philosophy anyway. But setting that aside for a moment, the accusations (and the associated denials by Kavanaugh) of sexual assault have set off alarm bells not only with me, but with people all over the country. A nation sat transfixed as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified to an alleged sexual assault 36 years ago at the hands of Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Afterward, we were treated to his caustic denial of those charges and a show of—what appeared to many—his overweening sense of white male entitlement.
Kavanaugh’s self-serving evasiveness about his behavior as an adolescent stood out, as well as his high-handed assertion of grievance. But what I found equally irritating was the servile praise heaped on him by one half of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a President who not only supported him, but publicly mocked his accuser. The praise of his backers (enablers?) was tempered only by their outrage that anyone might dare question such an obvious model of male, Christian virtue:
He’s smart. He’s got integrity. Everybody loves him. How could anyone who went to Yale do the kinds of things Kavanaugh was accused of doing?
The whole raft of accusations against him has struck his supporters as self-evidently preposterous—an attempt to take down “a good man.”
So, being my usual diplomatic self, I spouted off on social media—not because I suspected my indignation would necessarily change anyone’s mind, but because (per uzhe) I just couldn’t keep my big fat mouth shut.
I should have seen it coming; it almost inevitably does after I’ve dipped my toe in the political waters. And this time was no different: “You’re supposed to be a Christian minister. You shouldn’t be politicizing this situation.”
The subtext is pretty easy to read: “You should be talking about love and sin and hell and stuff—not sticking your nose into politics. Mind your own ecclesiastical business, and leave the complicated political stuff to smart people like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.”
So, I said, “You think because I’m a pastor I don’t have anything to say about this? Jesus was all about politics. He made a living (and spectacular death) out of insisting that God has a pretty big stake in who we protect and who we leave vulnerable in our politics.”
Somewhere I seem to remember a time when Jesus found himself in front of a group of angry males, self-appointed Judean morality hall-monitors, ready to stone a woman accused of adultery (John 8:2–11). This was a woman who’d been abused by a patriarchal system—a point demonstrated by the fact that they caught her in the act of adultery. One detail that is notably absent: The man with whom she gets “caught in the act” isn’t publicly shamed by the rectitude police, only the woman is—underlining the inequities of a patriarchal system that holds women accountable, but not men.
When asked by the self-righteousness brigade whether or not they should stone her, Jesus offers the now-famous line: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v.7).
The woman’s accusers, knowing that they’ve been theologically outmaneuvered by a Galilean peasant, walk away one by one. Looking up, Jesus says to the woman, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (v. 10).
She replies, “No one, sir.” To which Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (v.11).
Someone might be tempted to object that the whole interchange is about sexual immorality (specifically, hers). But the problem with this argument is that in his role as a prophet, Jesus was more concerned with the systemic religious and political sin that allowed men to commit violence against women…just because they could. Which is to say, I don’t think personal morality is what Jesus believes it at stake here. In the end, Jesus found whatever personal sin she may have had of much less consequence than the corporate sin the powerbrokers were about to commit.
In short, a woman is publicly shamed by powerful men who see her not as a human being, but as a prop to express their moral outrage, while simultaneously protecting the man’s reputation. But Jesus stands up for her against them. In other words, this story is inherently political.
It appears fairly clear that if Jesus had been on the Senate Judiciary Committee he would have been predisposed to taking the side of Dr. Ford against powerful men—especially because in this case, the sin wasn’t sexual immorality but sexual assault.
So, of course I’m politicizing sexual assault; I’m trying to live like Jesus.
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