Friday, October 24, 2014

War, Rape and the Spirit of the Lord

I believe that God does not lead us into war, and I believe that God does not condone rape as a weapon of war. I find that faith is challenging at times, especially this week.

As a seminary student, I have been immersed in the book of Judges this week, and I have been swallowed by despair. 
The story of Gibeah’s Crime found in chapter 19 verse 22 of Judges is the most brutal story of rape in the Bible. A man only identified as a Levite from Ephraim and his concubine were traveling and stayed in a town called Gibeah. While staying there, the men of the city wanted to rape the Levite, so the Levite seized his concubine and gave her to them instead. So they brutally gang raped her and let her go. She died at the doorstep of where they had stayed. The Levite brought her back home where he cut her up and sent her body parts to each of the territories of Israel to declare war against the Benjaminites.

The type of sexual violence in conflict is not ancient history.

In South Sudan, a civil war has been going on between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and opposition forces. SPLM, the dominant party in Sudan has split into three causing a divide among ethnic and regional fault lines. At least 10,000 people have died. 

Yesterday we learned that rape is being used as weapon of war in Sudan. U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zaineb Hawa Bangura says that the people there are living in a U.N. compound in Bentiu City in Unity State among unimaginable living conditions.

“The women when they go out to get firewood, etc. have to go through several checkpoints where you have the SPLA [Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army] and in the course of that they are raped continuously.  And, the men do not get out of the camp because the men have to make a choice.  ‘If I go out, I get killed.  So, I rather send my wife, my daughter or my mother out because the most they can do is rape her.  She will come back alive.’  So men have to make that difficult decision of either being killed or female members of the family being raped," said Bangura.

In Judges, the men of the town wanted to rape the Levite in order to take his man hood away from him; to lower his status to that of a woman.  He gave them his “woman” instead. Her death was a message to the Levite and the Israelites.

“So, by doing some of the worst atrocities against women, you are sending messages to the men.  It is a way of punishing them.  So, women have become victims of the conflict as a way of actually destroying communities and families.  Survivors and health care workers told me heartbreaking stories of rape, gang rape, abduction, sexual slavery and forced marriage ... I was astonished in the extent in which both parties seem to have declared war on their own people," Bangura said.

I suspect the stories in the Bible have been interpreted to give “permission” to continue with the violence. We must end the barbaric treatment of others. The wars must stop.

I have struggled these past seven weeks in the Old Testament, trying to come up with the answers to my own questions. This week in Judges, it is a common phrase “and the spirit of the lord came upon (insert battle leader here).” In reading Judges and other commentaries I have come to my understanding of the foundation of the Old Testament. 

My conclusion is this: God is always with us, among our doings and among our sufferings.  No matter how many times we turn our back on God, God will still offer us grace.  God’s spirit may be upon us, but it doesn't mean that we are then God like, we are still human. It does not mean that God approves of our actions and leads us in war. It means that God is with us when we declare war and God is with us when we are victims of violence. God is with us when a woman is raped and God is with us when we offer grace….so please, offer grace.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ebola and Racism

I have only walked in white shoes.  They may be a little dirty, but they will never be black.

Forty-nine years ago the “separate but equal” laws were found unconstitutional in an attempt to move beyond racism.  I want to know when we are finally going to embrace one another? When are we going to accept one another? When are we going to love one another? When are we going to be human? Yet, in 50 years the United States has not "moved beyond" racism but deepened and broadened it.

Unless and until white Americans like myself realize this is a faith struggle and a justice struggle for all of us, we will continue to fail.

My faith guides my actions on a daily basis as I encounter others each day. Do you use your Bible to justify slavery or do you use your Bible to say “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) We are all human beings that need one another for companionship and to care for one another, yet we let fear divide us. 

I get it, there are still people alive who drank from the white only water fountain and used the white only bathroom. And we live in an us versus them country; conservatives verses liberals, men verses women, the rich verses the poor. We need to to end an exclusivist America and begin to work together.

It is exhausting living in this morally bankrupt country, but I bet it sure is nice for those who are blissfully unaware of the issues. Especially for those who believe that racism is the thing of the past.

Racism rolls on its lethal way, however as happened to Thomas Eric Duncan.

On Wednesday, October 8th, Duncan, the first Ebola patient in the U.S. died. Despite having a 103 degree temperature, despite telling the nurse he’d been in Africa, despite severe pain, he was tested for everything else but Ebola. He was prescribed antibiotics, told to take Tylenol and then sent home. It wasn't until his condition worsened and he was taken by ambulance back to the hospital, that he was treated properly.

Duncan’s nephew, Joseph Weeks said that the care was “either incompetence or negligence.” He wants to know why all the white Ebola patients in the U.S. survived “and the one black man died.”

John Wiley Price the Dallas county commissioner agrees, “It is historical what has happened in this community,” said Mr. Price, who is black. “If a person who looks like me shows up without any insurance, they don’t get the same treatment.”

The Reverend Jessie Jackson wrote in his blog last Tuesday, “Duncan has a foreign accent, black skin, and no health insurance. From a theological perspective, Thomas Eric Duncan is one of our brothers described by Jesus as the ‘least of these.’ What role did his lack of privilege play in the treatment he received? He is being treated as a criminal rather than as a patient.

The fact is there are many health care issues beyond this one that many white people of privilege are probably not aware of because they believe that treatment is readily available to everyone. And white people of privilege only know what they experience to be true.

For this to really change white Christians like myself need not only to believe the scriptures like Galatians 3:28 but also act as though we believe them.

Friday, October 3, 2014

LGBT Youth: The New Face of Homelessness

As the sister of a gay man, and a religious leader, I ask you to please pick up your Bible and read it from your heart.

When you read the Bible from your heart, you will come to know how wrong it is to persecute gay people just for being who they are.  

Matthew 5:11-12 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

It is heartbreaking how the persecution of gay youth drives them into homelessness. 

About ten years ago I bought my husband a lifetime subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine for $100. Yesterday, for the first time in ten years he asked me to read an article. The article, The Forsaken was a story of the rapidly rising number of LGBT homeless youth.

“I don’t know what we could have done for God to have given us a fag as a child,” her mother said before hanging up. 

I have sat next to the pain of being LGBT.  My oldest brother, who was 19 when I was born, was half-way out of the closet. He was blessed that he could tell his family and close friends, but he didn't want to be completely out because of how he would be treated.  He did want kids, so he and I became very close because I was his substitute child.  As I grew up, I got to know him on a sister level. He so wanted to love and be loved in a way I couldn't love him. And it was heartbreaking to see him not be able to find that love.  Before he died, he said he wasn't afraid to die; that he was alright with God, but he made me promise that he would not die alone. That I could do; and he definitely did not.

Why is it, that there are many gay Christians or LGBT people who have faith that God loves them and believe that God made them in his image, but there are many straight Christians that absolutely fear the possibility that God loves everyone?

Because of the new marriage equality laws and campaigns that state “it does get better” it makes it seem easier for youth to step out. The sad reality is that when LGBT youth come out of the closet, they are not always welcomed with open arms.  
Five percent of America’s youth are homeless 
and of that five percent, forty percent are LGBT. All of the five stories featured in The Forsaken 
were stories of youth who were banished from 
their own families in the name of their religion.

“LGBT advocacy groups do not want to talk about religion,” says Mitchell Gold, founder of Faith in America. “One, they don’t want to come across as anti-religion. And two, they just aren't familiar with it. But the number one hurdle to LGBT equality is religious-based bigotry. The face of the gay rights movement shouldn't be what I call '40-year-old well moisturized couples.' The face of the gay rights movement should be a 15-year-old kid that’s been thrown out of his house and taught that he’s a sinner.” 

The truth is I do not have a Bible verse or specific scripture passage that can solve the answer of homosexuality being a sin because the Bible simply does not address it. I can tell you that the verses that have been cherry picked to prove it is a sin have been cherry picked for a reason.  If you read the scripture verses collectively and study the context and history of which it is written, you will understand it is about something else entirely.

It’s Not Eve’s Fault

Eve was blamed for causing humanity to get kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and women and even young girls have been being blamed for actions that are not their fault ever since.

That is what originally happened when fourteen-year-old Cherice Moralez was raped by her teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold.  Rambold was originally given a shockingly light sentence for raping this student in his care, only 31 days.

Judge Baugh defended his light sentencing with a statement that Cherice Moralez was “a troubled youth” that looked and acted “older than her chronological age;” And that she was just “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. Despite Judge Baugh’s justifications, according to Montana state law, Rambold must serve a minimum of two years.Judge Baugh was later suspended for one month without pay of his last seven months on the bench before his retirement.

And last Friday, Rambold was resentenced to 15 years with 5 years suspended for the rape of Moralez.

Faith voices should be lifted in defense of young women who have been raped, but instead carry a theological legacy of victim blaming, especially blaming women. In some churches today, the doctrine of sin leads to inherent guilt and shame and to blame the victim, especially women and girls. As a woman religious leader and a mother, I can tell you honestly that sin in the rape of a young girl by her teacher, and the original failure of the justice system, was entirely by the teacher and by a heartless judge.   Human beings sin, it is true, and the story of Adam and Eve is really about that, but we have to be clear in our schools, our homes, our churches, where to rightly place the blame and it was not with Cherice Moralez.

Early Christian theologian, Augustine introduced original sin as the blame of Eve because Eve corrupted Adam.  He viewed sex as evil and that sex was the work of the devil with women being the devil’s agents.  He said that Eve as representing women was a temptress that leads men astray. And unfortunately, some of Augustine’s views about women still hold true.

The bible in certain religions is used to blame victims. When a woman is being beaten by her husband she is often reminded that disobedience to her husband is sinful. When children are told that they are to honor thy father and mother and respect their elders, they often blame themselves in cases of sexual abuse.

When society often doesn’t believe the victim or blames the victim, it makes it difficult for people to get help and the abuse to stop. In the case of Cherice Morales, her struggles within herself ended in her suicide before the first trial of her rapist was even completed. Her mother, Auliea Hanlon stated that once the news of the assault became public, Cherice was “ostracized and bullied and that her mood became even darker.”

A small amount of justice has been done, though it comes too late for Cherice. In this particular story the societal acceptance to blame the victim was not tolerated. Hanlon was alerted to the abuse by one of Cherice’s peers at a church counseling group. The case sparked protests by activists calling for resignation of the judge. Sheena Rice, the protest organizer said, “Judges should be protecting our most vulnerable children…not enabling rapists by placing blame on the victims.” Judge Baugh tried to apologize but in the same statement defended his remarks by saying it is “horrible enough as given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.” Marian Bradley, president of the Montana National Organization for Women said “such language and lenient sentences for sex crimes discourage victims of sexual violence from coming forward.”

The state of Montana has spoken: victim blaming has to stop. It is time for the church to be the leader in this fight.  The church itself needs to be transparent in its own abuse and then learn how to become an example to society.