There’s been a lot of discussion of sexual assault the past few weeks. Unfortunately, as it relates to a Supreme Court nomination, the subject has been treated as a political issue, as we all too predictably retreat to our partisan corners. Such a stance does everyone a disservice, and we must do better.
Upholding the Worth of All Persons and the Sacredness of Creation – two of the Enduring Principles in Community of Christ – we must reject attitudes that treat physical and sexual violence as trivial or inevitable.
This is not to say that we must dispense with any investigative, judicial or criminal processes and presume guilt any time any allegation is raised. Rather, it is to say that we must dispense with the idea that issues of power, consent and bodily autonomy are to be treated lightly.
I have listened, horrified, as commentators have suggested that sexual assault is “no big deal” or “inevitable” because “that’s how men are.” Such a world view holds that all men are predators, incapable of restraint and not responsible for their actions; while women are relegated to the category of prey, who may “get away” if they are lucky, but whose abuse is the “natural order” of things (it also ignores that men, too, can be victims of sexual assault). We must reject such harmful ideas, that demean us all.
Upholding the Worth of All Persons means declaring that ALL PERSONS deserve to live free from fear, violence and abuse. We are called to reject any worldview that justifies the mistreatment of any group or class of persons as naturally or divinely ordained.
We need also remember that this is not simply an intellectual exercise for many around us. In the past two weeks, I have talked with a number of survivors who have felt re-traumatized by the debate. Who were brought back to a place of shame and guilt, fear and condemnation hearing others pass judgment on what victims “should” have done during or after an assault. We must remember that comments we may intend as “helpful advice” are often received as judgement. And, as in all things, it is the impact rather than the intent that matters most.
So, what can we do? We can listen. We can comfort. And no matter our opinions about any particular event/accusation, we must challenge ideas that demean or dehumanize. But most of all, we can put forward an ideal for relationships that upholds the Worth of All Persons and the Sacredness of Creation.
For several days, I have found myself singing “Sacred the Body” from our hymnal. It says, in part, “Love respects persons, bodies, and boundaries./ Love does not batter, neglect, or abuse./ Love touches gently, never coercing./ Love leaves the other the power to choose.”
I am not suggesting a hymn can rewrite the sexual ethic of our culture. But I am suggesting it’s long past time that we talk openly about what our sexual ethics actually ARE. Perhaps if we teach ourselves – and our children – that these principles are to guide our interactions, that this is the standard to which we must hold ourselves and others, we can combat attitudes that demean, dehumanize, and, ultimately, defend violence and abuse.
And while we have an official (and longer-than-hymn) version here, I’d say this hymn is a good place to start.
THAT is a conversation, a labor, a mission worthy of the body of Christ.