Over the last 48 hours, as the allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh increased, I wrestled with what to do with the space afforded me here once a month. I vacillated on whether I had the desire, and then the requisite knowledge, to cogently comment on the issue. What I realized is that the privilege I enjoy as a man (whether I want it or not) means that issues of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and rape are largely seen and experienced as women’s issues. As a man, I do not inherently have the same visceral response to the scandal surrounding the Supreme Court nominee as most women do, especially those who are survivors of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. In short, addressing the topic du jour presents as an option to me in ways that would seem a fait accompli for those of the affected group.1
Before I relate this topic to the responsibilities of a church, some quick notes about the genesis of the matter. What I find frustrating about the rush to confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh is that an investigation is mutually exclusive from the Republican goal of filling the seat before the midterm elections. The only way that is true is if you believe that an investigation will uncover information that would disqualify Judge Kavanaugh.
If those who support Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination believe (as many of them say) that these accusations are baseless, then it stands to reason that they would welcome an investigation that will exonerate their candidate beyond a shadow of a doubt. Such an investigation could be done and a vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation completed before November. Conversely, it is not mutually exclusive that Democrats can see the political advantage of raising these claims and also care about the real trauma these women experienced and the survivors’ desire to address that trauma at this important moment.2 Although this won’t happen, it seems to make sense that Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination process should be postponed until these claims can be investigated. A full inquiry not only will bring us closer to the truth of the matter, but it also protects the Judge should he be confirmed.3
If I have learned anything over the past few years, it is that we do not leave our lives, our feelings, our concerns, and by connection, our politics at the door of the church. In this instance, it means that there will be some people, mostly women, coming to church this weekend thinking about their experiences of sexual violence.4 They will come to the house of God this weekend, seeking a place of comfort, support, and refuge. They will come hoping to hear something or have an interaction that will help get them through this moment, when their fears of sharing their pain were vicariously realized in seeing the reaction to the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.
How great would it be if churches used this societal moment as an opportunity to affirm women in general and survivors of sexual violence in particular? This is why it has been so disappointing to see some Christian leaders leap to Judge Kavanaugh’s defense based on other priorities. We have an opportunity to let women know that there is a place where they can share their pain and find brothers and sisters who are willing to listen and do all we can to help in the healing process. This societal moment also affords us an opportunity for self-examination — a chance to determine whether we have been in any way complicit in silencing women and compounding their pain. It would be a wonderful and beautiful thing if the church could show that we care not only for people’s spiritual development but also for the physical, emotional, and psychological harms that people have experienced in their lives. Regardless of our individual politics this cultural moment gives us a chance to better live out the mission of the church and be a sanctuary for women who are survivors of sexual trauma.
Notes & References:
1. I parallel this with my feelings about race. If some event related to race relations in this country took place in the last 48 hours I would definitely be commenting on it in this space. Obviously issues of race are important to me because of my racial identity. In the same way, I should be willing to comment about and advocate for the issues of other oppressed groups despite the fact that I cannot center my own experience among them.
2. One of the most frustrating responses from those seeking to defend Judge Kavanaugh is the argument that posits that it is somehow disqualifying that these women only chose now to share their experiences. First, it demeans the reality of how difficult it can be to publicize experiences of sexual violence. Second, it is absolutely reasonable that a sexual violence survivor can decide to bear their burden alone until they realize that the perpetrator of their trauma is lying about his character and is using those lies to achieve a position where he could harm other people.
3. If a full investigation does not go forth, there will be problems if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed. Regardless of what the Senate Judiciary Committee does, some entity will continue to investigate these claims. And if there is any truth to them, or if it is found that Kavanaugh has lied in his defense of these claims, we could then be dealing with his impeachment while sitting on the highest court in the country, which would be even more embarrassing than withdrawing his nomination now.
4. This is just an assumption based on the statistics. If 1 out of every 6 women is the survivor of an attempted or completed rape, then at any church of a decent size there will be several survivors of sexual violence in the pews, whether we know it or not.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines
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