Friday, February 15, 2019

Stephanie Krehbiel on Religious Groups Facing Abuse Revelations: "Godly Men, Be Quiet"

I have written here in the past about Stephanie Krehbiel's important commentary on abuse in religious communities. If you click her name in the tags below this posting, the string of other posts in which I've featured or mentioned her will pop up. Stephanie is a scholar with a background in American studies and gender and sexuality studies. She's executive director and co-founder of Into Account, a group that provides resources and advocates for survivors of abuse as they seek accountability.

Today, I'd like to point you to an article Stephanie has recently published on the Into Account blog site entitled, "Godly men, be quiet." Though it doesn't specifically mention the abuse revelations now roiling the Southern Baptist world or the ongoing Catholic discussion — or the parallel discussion in the Mennonite communities in which Stephanie's own roots lie — it clearly fits with the context of those revelations and discussions. Because the article's focus so neatly parallels important discussions that we've been carrying on here in recent days about the connection between abuse and male-dominant religious structures which exclude and demean women, I want to bring it to your attention.

Stephanie writes,

The vast majority of church leaders have absolutely no business trying to be leaders in the movement to end sexual abuse. Part of how church leaders mess up — particularly in strongly patriarchal traditions invested in male headship (and let's get real, for all the change that's happened, that's still most of Christianity) — is in assuming that they do. 
Their business is not to lead; it is to follow. Not for a designated period of penance. Not as part of a healing ritual that they can subsequently advertise. Not as a finite disciplinary sentence. ... 
Patriarchal Christian masculinity is a powerful drug. It makes many church men believe that the world desperately needs their perspective on everything. It makes their followers believe that asking such men to step aside from leadership is somehow tantamount to cruelty. God is always calling these men to lead someone or something, even when what they know about that thing may be approximately two cents less than nothing. Particularly in the evangelical world, the spiritual quality that seems to most define men like this is their ability to imagine that they hear God in the voice of their own ambition. 
When it comes to confronting sexual abuse, powerful church men have a pattern, and the pattern transcends denominations. First, after years and years of ignoring, enabling, hiding, and minimizing sexual abuse, they're forced to notice that sexual abuse is too prevalent to be conveniently ignored anymore. Stories start to surface in their communities that can't be covered. Survivors start to confront them more publicly, and in greater numbers. Mainstream media coverage blows their cover. So they act, and immediately, they try to lead. They organize symposiums and summits on sexual abuse. They speak with sober authority when the media calls. They assemble study groups and task forces  and they hand-pick people who will submit to their leadership and tell them what they want to hear.


Let me be as clear as I can: I am not asking men in church leadership positions to do nothing about sexual abuse. I’m asking them to devote themselves to the task of following people who have less social power than they do. That is not doing nothing. That is a lifetime's worth of action. 
The rest of us — knowing that power never yields without a fight, knowing that we may well wait the rest of our lives for so-called godly men to get a clue, and still be disappointed — can choose to trust only the people who have earned our trust. We can choose to accept leadership only from people who have proven their compassion and expertise. And just as we shouldn't demand unearned trust from others, we don't have to extend it. There’s nothing spiritually virtuous about refusing to question authority.

Also connected: in her article featuring Cardinal Séan O'Malley entitled "Why Does the Catholic Church Keep Failing on Sexual Abuse?," Emma Green quotes O'Malley to say that the Catholic church is disorganized and bureaucratically inefficient. Green reports that he tells her,

"Most people think that the Church is highly centralized," O’Malley said. In reality, "the Holy See has a small and not terribly efficient bureaucracy to oversee over a billion Catholics." That structure "makes it very difficult for the Holy See to have the kind of impact in all these different jurisdictions that they would like to."

It should be noted that this is the same excuse people are now offering to defend Southern Baptist churches in face of reports of horrendous covered-over abuse — that the SBC is loosely organized, lacks a centralized authority, and so on and so on.

But in both church groups, let a church leader or congregation make a statement proposing ordination of women or acceptance and respect of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ people, and watch how quickly the supposedly "loose" and "disorganized" church structures act.

This is a con. Don't believe that they cannot act. They act with alacrity when they want to do so. 

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