Believe Women. Expect More of Our Boys. Shelve Pride.

Two major narratives have emerged from the Christine Blasey Ford-Brett Kavanaugh hearings last Thursday (among many others.) They are this:

  • That Dr. Ford is credible and has clearly been hurt, but that she can’t have been hurt by Kavanaugh
  • And, that Kavanaugh was just another 17 year old boy, and we shouldn’t hold him accountable for things his younger self did almost 40 years ago.

Besides being two contradictory positions to hold simultaneously (how can he both have not done it, and also have been doing it in a “boys will be boys” manner?), these two talking points highlight some very disturbing ideas for how we conceive of how men and women are perceived in our culture still, despite the great forward advances made in women’s liberation and the feminist and #MeToo movements. Namely, we again see that men are believed and excused, while women are disbelieved and subject to their story being told for them anytime they challenge the patriarchal narrative at work in American culture.

#BelieveHer

Let’s start with Dr. Ford. Last week, she sat before Congress and the entire country, and told her story. She did not equivocate. She did not stutter, or stammer, or misremember, or come across as duplicitous or manipulative. She did not have anything to gain by exposing herself to the public in this way, but she did have a lot to lose.

And yet, she carried on, and she told her story, a story that received plaudits across the political divide. Both Republicans and Democrats praised her bravery and her honesty, lamenting what she has been through.

And yet, despite this bipartisan praise, despite the almost unanimous credulity afforded her, in the end, a political talking point won. Instead of belief in her story leading to action against the perpetrator of her assault, she was met with the response that she must have “misremembered,” that her memory failed her, that she could not accurately recall the boy who attacked her. Every part of her story, the pundits said, was believable – except the part where she named Brett Kavanaugh as her abuser.

This absurdly on-script example of mansplaining is almost too much to believe. This is the kind of thing you read only in SJW writings about patriarchy, right? These kind of blatant examples of willful disbelief of a woman are more example than reality, we think. But yet, here we are, with scores of Republican congressmen, and cable news talking heads, and everyday Americans, telling Dr. Ford that her story – her experience – is wrong, and that this is how it should be told instead.

This is exactly what the #MeToo movement, and feminism in general, has been trying to tell the world for decades. Consistently, women, especially abused women, have their stories dictated to them, and are told how to act, what reality actually is, and that they are wrong, in order to protect men. For too long, this is a major reason why millions of the abused haven’t come forward with their stories, because too often, when they do, they are told they are wrong, that they misremembered, that they must be mistaken, or that making an accusation will only make things worse.

It’s probably a sign of the cultural moment we’re in, when the patriarchal structures of society are finally being identified by people across the political and ideological spectrum, and real efforts to dismantle them are becoming part of the mainstream conversation, that this situation of abusive gaslighting has been so public and pronounced. What is happening, and our response to it, is simple: you cannot say Dr. Ford is believable and credible, that her story is true, and yet deny it’s central detail. You either believe her, or you don’t. You must decide which it is, and you must act accordingly.

Expect More of Our Boys

On the Kavanaugh side, even those who declare his innocence in the face of Dr. Ford’s testimony have latched onto this idea that this was just an example of “boys will be boys” behavior by a 17 year old. Consequently, they claim, even if he did do it, he really shouldn’t be punished for it all these years later.

This is highly problematic, on a number of levels. This concept of “Boys will be boys,” that teenage and college age men can get drunk and commit terrible acts and have it excused as somehow part of their nature as male human beings, is a really terrible standard to set for our boys. I know, as the father of a boy, that I expect so much more from him. I know he will mess up as a teenager and young man, that he will likely drink and make some bad decisions. I also expect him to generally do the right thing. I know that I, and his mother and his stepmother and his stepfather, will work all through his life to instill a strong set of values, centered around respect for others and for self, values we hope will ring strongly in his head when he is 17 and tempted to do something stupid. I also know, and expect, that if he makes bad decisions, he should be punished, not for punishments sake, but for his own growth, and for the benefits accrued to society through fair consequences administrated fairly and equitably to all people.

The evidence points to the fact that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Blasey Ford in 1982 at a party. He has never been held accountable for his actions. Further, he has repeatedly lied and dissembled, casting doubts on Dr. Ford and effectively gaslighting her. He has been given the benefit of the doubt time and time again, and he has never had any impediment to his climb up the rungs of power and prestige.

I’m sure that Kavanaugh is no longer the person he was at 17 years ago. I don’t doubt he’s a good father, and husband, and basketball coach, and a strong legal mind. But, he was never held to account for his actions. The appointment to a Supreme Court seat, after these revelations, would be a reward to him, a reward for his continued lying and dissembling.

But, it would also be a message to boys everywhere, that “boys will be boys” and they, too, can get away with acts of wrong, as long they are consistent enough in their lies and discrete enough that it can be swept under the rug for years and years. It is a message that, once again, these actions will not be taken seriously by our society, that the accumulation of power by men is more important than the right to a life free from abuse and assault by for women.

Further, it’s a message to women everywhere, that again, they don’t matter, that their stories are unbelievable, and unimportant. That no matter the advances made for women over the last decades, in the end, it means nothing practically.

Sin of Pride

Writing as a Christian and a theologian, this also strikes me as a moment of severe collective sin, a sin of pride that has continued to plague human society for centuries. We have elevated the rights and needs of men over and above those of women. We have built idols to the powerful men who run our society, excusing their behavior in almost all instances. We show through our actions as a society, especially if this confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh moves forward, that our own pride – pride in our own ability to set the rules of the game, pride in our ability to play God, pride in our ability to elevate some over others – has again overridden any sense of morality at work in our collective activity.

This sin of pride obscures our reliance on God. It tells Brett Kavanaugh, and all others like him, they are entitled to the honor they are receiving, the position they are holding, the power they are wielding. It tells them that they are powerful because they deserve it more than others, that they are in fact God, and thus accountability doesn’t apply to them. H. Reinhold Neibuhr captures this so well, when he writes, “Every one who stands is inclined to imagine that he stands by divine right…It is the man who stands, who has achieved, who is honored and approved by his fellowmen who mistakes the relative achievements and approvals of history for a final and ultimate approval.”

Inordinate self-regard – pride – is the source of this moment. It is pride that tells us that we know better than Dr. Ford what happened to her. It is pride that tells men like Brett Kavanaugh that they don’t have to face the consequences of their actions. We are all complicit, as long as we each continue to downplay the power of patriarchy and mysogony in our society. This pride will be our downfall, as we arrogate more power to ourselves and refuse to acknowledge our limitations finitude.

We have to expect more of our boys. We have to believe women. We have to. We have to.

Advertisements

We Must Do Better

The bankruptcy of popular Christianity in America is on full display. The plight of immigrant children, ripped from their parents and housed in cages in camps and warehouses, is heartbreaking, and a new national low in the Trump era. This, we tell ourselves, is not what the self-crowned greatest country in the world does to anyone, much less refugees.

Amy-MissingChildrenPerhaps worst of all, to those of us who identify as Christian and care about the future of the faith, is Attorney General Jeff Sessions defending the policy as “biblical,” by citing the much misused and maligned chapter 13 from Romans, a set of verses often seized upon by those in power to justify whatever immoral and evil actions they are taking at the time. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of evangelical loud mouth and hyper moralizer Mike Huckabee, repeated the claim. And one only has to glance quickly at Facebook or Twitter to see self-proclaimed conservative Christians claiming that they care about children and families, but laws are laws and must always be enforced, no matter the outcome. All of this, after almost two years of full-throated evangelical support for every action of Trump, and almost 40 years of co-option of the Christian mantle by the Republican Party.

Christianity has to be better than this. It simply has to be about more than moralizing and conservative politics. But, even more crucially, it has to be seen as something worthy of loyalty, something life giving, something that has outcomes that are full of love and compassion, not cruelty.

This is the call of all religion, and the reason it is dying in the world today. Too much of religion in this world – whether it be Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or anything else – presents a face to the world that is small, and cruel, and intolerant. Millions of people across the globe no longer see religion as something worthy of their time, because it so often doesn’t seem like something relevant to this world, in 2018.35750760_10211566573669719_8473202165488287744_o

In the case of Christianity, it so often seems concerned with a salvation mechanism formulated in a pre-scientific, pre-rational age, something that just doesn’t make sense to people anymore. It rejects a broader and broader swathe of people everyday. It seems stifling and deadening and angry.

Christianity doesn’t just exist to work as personal fire insurance, in which you save yourself and God take the rest. It has to be more than that if it is going to be worth anything at all.

A belief in God has to serve as more than that of an anxiety-inducing apprehension of a condemnatory old man in the sky. Christianity should point us towards the things God is, which is love and mercy and compassion. Everything else Christianity does – communion, baptism, theology, ethics, orthodoxy, the church – must direct people to life, to love, and to care for others.

For too many Christians here, their faith is nothing but a personal salvation machine, a set of rules that each individual is responsible for following. If they don’t, that’s on them, and them alone, and they deserve whatever consequences God deems appropriate. God, in this conception of faith, is cruel and capricious.

But faith is not this. Faith is about knowing and desiring God, knowing and desiring love. It’s an attitude, one that should transform us. Love should always be recognizable as love. If it takes squinting and convoluted reasoning to justify your actions as some form of love, then you are doing faith all wrong.

This is why the child separation policy in America is so anti-Christian. It is a policy conceived in cruelty and fear. It places following the rules and bowing to authority over love and mercy and compassion. Any human law is never more important than actual human beings. God’s justice for the oppressed and the downtrodden always take precedence.

The first Epistle of John states, unequivocally, that “God is love,” and that “love drives out all fear.” Fear and despair are not the fruits of love. They are the fruits of evil. This policy of separation and internment produces fear. It goes against God, and it goes against humanity. It is evil. Those who formulated it, who enforce it, and who defend it, are practicing evil. They are putting loyalty to the arbitrary idea of “America” before God, and before their fellow human beings. It must be ignored and replaced. We must, as Christians and as people, do better.

“They Could Hear Their Children Screaming for Them From the Next Room”

If you can measure the moral fiber of a nation by how it treats children and the vulnerable, then its easy to see that the United States under Donald Trump has shed any moral leadership it once carried.

35065632_1691544297632463_5572430109022879744_o
Jesus Christ, ripped from Mary’s arms and thrown in a cage.

News and images coming out of Border Patrol detention facilities over the last few weeks show heartbreaking images of parents, searching for a better life than the violence of drug gangs who feed American addictions, being forcibly separated from children as young as just a few months old. We see pictures of small children locked in cages inside warehouses, sleeping on hard floors and not being allowed sunlight and space to move.

This, put simply, is highly immoral. What we as a nation are doing to these people and these children is evil and goes against human nature, not to mention, against God.

And, lest we be fooled that these actions are “inevitable” or “necessary,” remember that, prior to recently, we did not do this. Under Donald Trump, the Border Patrol has been empowered to change policy to ensure these kinds of inhumane actions are taken as some sort of sick, soulless deterrent in order to maintain some xenophobic and racist war against the growing reality of a more black and brown America.

Dara Lind at Vox explains:

Typically, people apprehended crossing into the US are held in immigration detention and sent before an immigration judge to see if they will be deported as unauthorized immigrants.

But migrants who’ve been referred for criminal prosecution get sent to a federal jail and brought before a federal judge a few weeks later to see if they’ll get prison time. That’s where the separation happens — because you can’t be kept with your children in federal jail…

First-time border crossers don’t usually do prison time. After a few weeks in jail awaiting trial, they’re usually brought before a judge in mass assembly-line prosecutions (according to Lomi Kriel of the Houston Chronicle, one courtroom in McAllen, Texas, has been hearing 1,000 cases a day in recent weeks) and sentenced, within minutes, to time served — as long as they plead guilty. “

Again, this is a conscious choice we are making, to separate children from their parents and house them like animals. And, our Border Patrol is doing it in the most immoral and cruelest ways possible. Lind notes that agents lie to families to get them to hand over their children, assuring the parents they are being taken to a bath or to answer a few questions, and then never being brought back. Can you even imagine? Being a parent, having your child taken from you?

Newsweek reports that, in the past, the Border Patrol has even be accused of physically and sexually assaulting child immigrants who enter their care. This treatment is being meted out to children feeling countries like Nicarauga and Honduras, which have some of the highest rates of murder in the world, and Mexico, which has been wracked by intense violence between drug gangs.

Even some asylum seekers, fleeing violence in Central America, and presenting themselves at border crossings – not, it should be understood, illegally crossing, but instead giving themselves up legally to border agents in the hope they will be given relief from the violence of their home countries – even these people are being separated from their children and criminally prosecuted. Prosecuted, jailed, and families destroyed, all because they want a better, more stable, less violent life in a nation they have been told is the greatest on the planet, but which is proving itself to be anything but. This is not only despicable and cruel, it violates both American and international law that protects refugees.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal got the opportunity to meet with some of the asylum seeking mothers who had been separated from children. This is what she encountered:

I met with 174 women, in three different pods. I went from one pod to the next. The vast majority were Spanish speaking, but there was a group of Chinese speakers and some others. We had a Spanish interpreter. The women would all answer at once sometimes. I did a lot of “raise your hand” questions. “How many are asylum seekers?” The majority lifted up their hands.

Thirty to 40 percent of these women came with children who had been forcibly taken away from them. None got a chance to say goodbye to their children—they were forcibly taken away. One said she was deceived, because they were in detention together. Then the CBP officers told her she was going out to get her photograph taken. When she came back, she was put in a different room, and she never got to see the child again. Some of them said they could hear their children screaming for them in the next room. The children ranged anywhere from one to teenagers.

One of the mothers told me DHS officers threatened to take away her 6-year-old daughter, right in front of them, and her daughter started screaming. She was separated from her daughter on the second day of custody and hasn’t had contact in over a week. But in some ways, she was one of the lucky ones, because her daughter was placed with family in Los Angeles.

Another woman came from Guatemala with her children, 8 and 12. Her husband was in prison for raping a 12-year-old child, and he was coming out. She was afraid her children would be raped either by him or some of his fellow gang members. She had been separated from her two children, she didn’t know where they were.

Another woman came fleeing gang violence, she had a 14-year-old child killed nine months ago. Another child in a wheelchair, paralyzed in a gang shooting. So she came with her third child, just to get one of them to safety.

Another woman came with her two sons, 11 and 16—for whatever reason, her older son is going to be reunited with his father in Virginia, but the younger son is staying in custody, which is crazy.

This is government by cruelty at its peak. This is the form of governing wished for and chosen by the conservative movement in America, a form of government that institutionalizes cruel and inhumane treatment of the least and the last. Donald Trump is the embodiment of the pure conservative Id, cruel and malicious and heartless, and anything but Christian, fed a steady diet of Fox News and culture war anger and racist fear mongering against everyone different, even babies and children who had nothing more than the bad luck to be born on the wrong side of an invisible, arbitrary line.

The Bible is unequivocal about how we are to treat the stranger and the immigrant. Exodus says, “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” And Jesus himself, in the Gospel of Matthew, tells his disciples, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Jesus himself was an immigrant and a refugee, fleeing violence in his home country by going to Egypt with his parents. Even the Egyptians were not so cruel as to separate the baby Jesus from his mother. Do we really want to be on the side of Herod?

Our moral obligation is clear: we are to treat immigrants as we would treat ourselves, because they are human beings, worthy of all the dignity, respect, and love we can muster. What we are doing, as a nation, is far from that. What we are doing to these families is cruel, inhumane, immoral, and goes against God. We are failing, as a nation and as human beings. May we wake up from this nightmare we have become soon.