Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gender Violence, Human Rights and Clergy Sexual Misconduct

A Nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished. No matter how brave the warriors or how powerful the weapons.
--Cheyenne Indian proverb

Gender Violence, Human Rights and Clergy Sexual Misconduct

Human rights in the last few decades has provided a significant framework for global women’s movements while advancing women’s rights as human rights. One of the primary issues impacting women regardless of their country’s gross national product or labels that designate countries as developed or developing is gender based violence. Globally, gender based violence appears to be the primary cause of most violent attacks on women. As a result, gender violence has achieved global visibility due to its pervasive nature. According to Charlotte Bunch, a significant number of women worldwide are routinely subjected to “torture, starvation, terrorism, humiliation, mutilation and murder.” Grave human rights violations against women continue unabated. Unfortunately, many of these violations are often condoned and sanctioned by legal systems and government policies. Gender based violence restricts women’s contributions and development in various ways including the familial, societal and economically. Gender violence often leads to the disintegration of families, medical problems, inability to fulfill employment obligations and even loss of life. Women’s abilities to live full and productive lives are restricted by gender violence. In retrospect, male violence against women and children has been a focus of feminist research and activists in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe for over four decades with more recent growing concern in developing nations.

The crime of clergy sexual misconduct is just beginning to be acknowledged in developing countries and appears not to have surfaced on women’s agendas around the world. While most industrialized nations have established public policy to begin to address many forms of gender violence and to provide support services and interventions for the victims and perpetrators, clergy sexual misconduct has not yet demanded such systematic attention and services. Thus, in most countries around the world, clergy sexual misconduct has not yet been perceived as a social problem. Furthermore, it has been noticeably absent from the UN’s definition of gender violence as seen below:

"Gender violence refers to any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. Violence against women shall be understood to encompass but not be limited to: physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family and in the community, including battering, sexual abuse of female children, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence, violence related to exploitation, sexual harassment and intimidation at work in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the State."

Clergy Sexual Misconduct in the United States
Until recently, little attention has been paid to clergy sexual misconduct and few statistics exist. The few that are available are oftentimes generated from denominational records which tend to be suspect and are often under reported. Findings generated in a study published, in 1992, revealed that the majority of denominations do not yet have any written policies and procedures, nor written materials addressing clergy sexual misconduct. By 1995, a number of experts had emerged identifying clergy sexual misconduct as a serious social problem.

Investigations of the Catholic Church sex scandals have resulted in a rather gloomy prognosis for the Catholic Church and the vocation of the priesthood. Father Norman Rotert, a priest of forty-two years fore casted the following pessimistic prognosis:
“The paternalistic attitudes, the increasing consciousness of women, the lack of appreciation for the value of celibacy, the large percentage of gay priests, the pedophilia crisis, all have so impacted our vocation recruitment efforts that I see no possibility of salvaging the priesthood as we know it today.”

It appears, that many, if not most religious institutions until fairly recently have acted with complicity and condoned clergy sexual misconduct by ignoring, denying and withholding information about the misconduct of its clergy. Overwhelmingly, religious systems as currently structured perpetuate the potential for such abuses of power against women and children. Thus, male privilege and power greatly impact the safety of women and children and compromise their quality of life. As a result critics were highly incensed by the church’s leadership reactions in the face of the scandal.

Thus, the rhetoric of contemporary social problems illustrates the fundamental importance of placing the interests of women and children in the forefront of clergy sexual misconduct. In the case of clergy misconduct, such a shift of emphasis can only partially undermine theological positions naming the problem as the sin of the individual but the behavior of social systems organized around patriarchy and dominance. The behavior exhibited by the clergy and many of the excuses articulated bears a strong resemblance to domestic violence and child abuse. The similarities include:
• In earlier years the behavior was not perceived to be abnormal or criminal conduct
• The perpetrators of violence against women and children are predominately males and the victims predominantly females and children.
• Males represent a disproportionate number of individuals that commit acts of violence
• Males violence against women and children appears to bear a correlation with their beliefs in women’s and children’s inferiority
• Males violent behavior manifests a cluster of behaviors directed against women and children that include rape, wife abuse, incest, pornography, and global sex trafficking (to name a few)
• Differences in power and privilege among men and women are often acted out in ways deemed detrimental to the well being of women and children.

Hence, gender violence is a significant barrier to social and economic development. Its existence produces an unsafe and hostile environment that is counterproductive to achieving a quality of life for women and children. Likewise, clergy sexual misconduct creates an unsafe and hostile environment for women and children seeking the solace of faith communities. Until we recognize this truth we cannot address this growing problem with individuals that come into faith communities looking for answers to questions of ultimacy (How can my life count for something?)and intimacy (How can I have meaningful connections with others?), nor can we offer the safety they should expect.

Come Back Queens

(This image reminds me that spring follows summer like joy cometh in the morning. Once again Chicago weather has betrayed me. It has gone from temperatures in the 70s to snow outside my window! Lord, save me from the cold! lol)

Strands of a song came to me today, "Something inside so strong - I know that I can make it. Something inside so bold - I know that I can make it." I remember other black women teaching me this song when I did not know it and then my singing it. These women and I were from the National Black Women's Health Project. Our mantra was, "Black and Female - I Know the Reality." The reality was that many of us we were "sick and tired of being sick and tired" and that many of us had suffered from being strong black women taking on life, often by ourselves and that some of us had been deeply wounded in the process of trying to get grown and happy in America. We were reminded by Lillie Allen that we all started out loving, zestful human beings who had lost our way in the maze of negative images and stereotypes heaped upon us. We learned and were reminded by hearing our stories that society had systematically imposed all kinds of -isms that assailed us from all sides, sometimes all at once. But together we could hold each other and love each other into wellness and release the traumas that our bodies held that were making us sick and killing some of us, while many of us died. Billye Avery told us her story. So we learned to tell our stories and spoke our truths amidst tears with babies sleeping in back rooms while hands and arms held us and reminded us that they we were good enough just as we were and that we deserved happiness and that we deserved the best that life could offer. And these hands and words helped many of us to walk through the terror of our lives to get to the other side of the joy waiting for us. These circles of sisters made all the difference for some of us. I know they did for me and my daughters (and I hope for my son). These circles did not cost anything other than our time and our commitment to ourselves.

We were Come Back Queens! Many of us came back from the brink of despair and disaster. Women talked about abusive relationships - of intrusive procedures that sterilized some and took liberties with our bodies. We talked of children born of rapes and loveless relationships and love gone bad! We talked about the staying power of big mama's love or deceased parents who we regretted not hearing the words and not saying them, "I love you." We talked about dying loves and death a lot. We talked and cried about weak women, ourselves and others and powerful women, ourselves and others. We laughed until we cried and we cried until we laughed. And many of us got to the other side of poor choices and seemingly no choices, of life gone bad, and we took back our lives, and we healed. Many of us went on to do meaningful things with our lives and to teach other women (our daughters and friends) how to vomit up their lives into the loving arms of sisters that were not afraid of the messiness or disgusted with the mess that we had become when we gave away our lives and our power. They let us cry and flail so that we might reclaim our power and know that we could survive the nightmares and terrors and speak the unspeakable and that the ghosts could be put to rest. And when needed we could confront the walking wounded still in our lives - still betraying us and our children's innocence and still living the lies we had believed that they would never do it again and no they did not touch our daughters and sons in secret ways and in sacred places.

We are the Come Back Queens that stepped onto the ships to save our people as they were being taken away. I am personally tired of the argument about who took us (Africans who sold them or whites who stole them). We know no Africans owned those ships. But like Pearl Cleage, I would have liked to have been one of the ones to have turned back the ships - to have swam out and garnered the strength to shout, "jump while you can before it is too late and the water too deep and wounds fatal. I would have liked to have climbed onto those ships with spears and shields demanding my brothers and sisters and burning the ship rather than seeing it sail off never to see my kin again.

But Pearl, we cannot go back and turn those ships around. We cannot prevent the carnage of the Middle Passage. But we can now step down off the auction blocks. We can stop killing each other. We can choose who will touch our bodies and whose children we will birth. We can choose to whom we shake what mama gave us. We can choose choose not to separate our sexuality and spirituality. We can take off our shackles and chains my sisters for we are the Come Back Queens!

We came back when we were not even supposed to survive. We were brought here from diverse tribes and languages and customs and we survived not knowing what had happened to us or to our loved ones who we never saw again. We were brought here grieving that we were torn from and generations later we have made lives for ourselves in a strange land that has become ours. We have learned to sing our songs in a strange land that is now our own. It is flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones. Yet, our songs have become strange and the land familiar. How have we come to this point? A point where internalized oppression might accomplish what racism and slavery were never able to accomplish. Slavery never anniliated or defeated us. But is it possible that our internalized oppression can take us out?

Last night I went to the DuSable Museum to hear author, Tom Burrell talk about his latest book, Are You Brainwashed? The Marketing of Black Inferiority 21st Century Style. Go to It is not a new theme. It is very old and one that each generation of blacks grapples with as the evidence that we are loosing the battle The growing materialism of our people in the face of too little saving and investing demonstrate that we are loosing the battle. I could launch the familiar litany of indicators that we are loosing the battle. Instead, Remember! Lest we forget in the madness and in the distractions that we are the Come Back Queens.

We made a way out of no way! We gathered our senses and rallied, we loved our way through trauma and drama even when it did not look like and feel like love. It was in our DNA and we were acting on instinctive loving that allowed us to survive and begin to thrive.

Let us tell that story! Let us rejoice and be glad for this day. One more day above ground to get it right. One more day above ground to create and build communities of healing and liberation!

Question - What in your life have you come back from that you have not even acknowledged yourself? Gently name that memory and thank Spirit that you survived and promise yourself to love and allow yourself to be loved and celebrate your life today with one other somebody that appreciates you!

Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah