When “Me Too” means “You Too.”

I’ll start with a TRIGGER WARNING. I will be discussing sexual violence and coercion in this post.

 

 

 

 

This blog post is spurred by the recent “Me Too” posts on social media. The campaign is meant to give women an opportunity to come into the light about being victims – and survivors – of sexual violence. The idea is to highlight the widespread nature of crimes committed against women.

But, there is an implicit invitation in these stories. The invitation is for abusers to come forward and name themselves as perpetrators in these crimes. Too often women suffer this pain in silence, because there is a very real and justified fear that naming the men that assaulted them will result in blame and shame against the victim of the violence.

So, I am issuing my own invitation: I demand that we take responsibility for our own actions. I demand that we discuss – openly, painfully – our behaviors as men. How have we been complicit or active participants in this culture of sexual violence? Why did we think that it was okay? How can we ensure that our sons – or the many other young men in our life – don’t continue this awful and destructive cycle?

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was in a long-term relationship with a very nice young lady. We met through a relative and attended the same church. I made a decision to go to the same college.

She made it clear to me, at the beginning of our relationship, that she intended to abstain from sex until she married. I told her that I respected her decision, and that we would abstain together.

I lied.

It wasn’t an intentional lie. I didn’t have nefarious motives or a detailed plan to make her have sex with me. I just changed my mind by degrees.

First, I decided that I would be the one to marry her – a decision that was sincere, and that we discussed – and that I would honor her decision to abstain.

Next, I decided that we didn’t need to wait. After all, if we were going to get married eventually, why not just start the sex now? I was sure that, in the eyes of God, it would be alright.

So, I began to push. I pushed verbally, slowly making most conversations about sex, trying to convince her that it would be great for us to do it before marriage. I pushed physically, never forcing myself on her completely, but always trying to move our physical relationship just a bit further. I touched her in ways that she wasn’t comfortable with. I always took the “no” seriously,  never trying again right away. But, I never took the “no” as permanent either.

Eventually, we broke up. I couldn’t wait, and she wouldn’t compromise her principles. For years, I convinced myself that it was her fault, that she was being unreasonable, that my desire for sex was natural and her abstinence was just puritanical religious brainwashing.

However, that  year and a half of my life has taken on a new meaning for me in the last few years.

I realized that what really happened in our relationship was that I decided I had more right to her body than she did. I decided that I knew better than she did what was best for her relationship with herself, and her relationship with me.

I never forced, but I coerced. I used emotional manipulation to obtain sex.

I committed a form of sexual assault.

 

It’s both freeing and shameful to type those words. I grew up with the idea that sexual assault dealt exclusively with forcing intercourse. Whether explicitly or implicitly, I was taught a concept of sexual assault that didn’t include coercion, manipulation, or failure to gain affirmative consent.

I knew that uninvited groping was inappropriate, but I always assumed that it was mostly innocent – as long as I respected the “no” that came after.

I knew that “no means no”, but I also thought that the lack of a “no” meant “yes.”

What I now think of as “coercion”, I used to think of as “persuasion”, part of the process of any relationship with a woman.

I thought of women as conquests to be won, and sex with a woman as the “final battle”.

And, I don’t know whether my behaviors as a teenager and a pre-marital young man are more damning of me or of the culture that I grew up in, because I wasn’t abnormal in my attitudes. I look at myself back then, and I see a rape waiting to happen – because I didn’t understand that sexual violence was far, far more than just physically forcing a woman to have intercourse with you.

Every time that I touched or groped a woman without waiting or asking for consent, I was committing sexual violence.

Every time that I waited until a woman was drunk to try and gain her affections – even if those affections were never more than making out – I was committing sexual violence.

I wonder if any women out there think of me as their “me too” experience.

 

I don’t know how exactly I came by those attitudes and behaviors.

Perhaps it was the culture at large that made me think that I knew better than the women I interacted with what they wanted to do with their bodies.

Perhaps it was a poor interpretation of Scripture that led me to think of women as nothing more than receptacles for my penis.

More likely, it was a combination of factors.

But, it stops with me.

Several weeks ago, I began explaining sex to my “tweenage” son in multiple short installments. My first discussion was just a quick rundown of what is meant by the word “sex.” What is the purpose of sex? When is it okay to have sex?

As I talked to him, I realized that the most important thing that I could say was this:

“Son, people can only have sex if both of them agree to it. That goes for any kind of sexual touching. If they don’t say yes, it means no. And, we call unwanted touching ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault.'”

We talked about situations in which sexual touching is never okay: when someone is underage, when someone can’t say no.

He didn’t seem shocked or confused by this conversation, because I have been teaching him for his whole life about bodily autonomy and consent. You can say no to any kind of touching, even if it’s a hug or good-natured tickling from a family member. You don’t have to hold my hand, unless it’s for safety. When you say “no” to any kind of affection, we will stop.

We have to teach our sons that women are individuals who make decisions for their own bodies – but we have to start by teaching them that they also have bodily autonomy. This way, when our boys become young men, they understand both sides of a sexual assault.

Women aren’t just victims; men are perpetrators. Women aren’t just sexually assaulted; men sexually assault them.

Jackson Katz says this best, and I believe that I will close with his quote:

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how  many  men and boys impregnated teenage girls.”

“So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. [It] shifts the focus off of men and boys onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them… Men aren’t even a part of it!”

It needs to stop with us, men. Because, “Me Too” is also an accusation of “You Too.”

 

Final Note: I understand that sexual violence is also perpetrated against men. It is not my intention to ignore or minimize this. I choose to talk about assaults against women because it happens at a much higher rate than it does to men.

 

 

 

 

 

Sinners In The Hands of An Angry Gunman

To say that I’m horrified this morning is like saying that… actually, I can’t think of a good simile. I’m horrified. I’m sick to my stomach. I’m counting up the casualties – both dead and wounded – in my head, and I’m boggled.

I’m a combat veteran.

While I slept last night, a lone man with a stack of rifles killed and wounded more people than most individual units in combat will lose in a year. In the course of minutes, one man killed or wounded the equivalent of a battalion of soldiers.

As of this writing, over 50 people have died as a result of last night’s shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Over 400 are wounded.

To lose almost 500 people to wounds in a day is unthinkable.

To put this in perspective: the casualties at Utah Beach in WWII numbered 197.

The number killed during the entire Tet Offensive was 543 (over 2500 were wounded.)

I shouldn’t see casualty figures from a country music concert that are comparable to a day or a week in combat.

That’s what I’m seeing today.

We are being held hostage in this country by a series of “lone gunmen,” who are being aided and abetted by both “2nd Amendment” organizations and citizens who would rather fall on their sword than admit that we have a gun problem.

Let me say that again, in case you didn’t hear me in the back.

We have a gun problem.

I am not holding every single gun owner in the United States responsible for our gun epidemic. Many people in my family own firearms. Many of my friends own and carry firearms. I am personally trained to operate several different types of firearms – though I choose not to own one now.

But, if your first response to the suggestion that we have a gun problem is to become defensive, you might be one of those who would rather watch our country go down in a hail of small arms fire than admit that we need to fix this.

As a Christian, I have been raised with the belief that we are all sinners, that there is something in us that is fundamentally flawed or broken. I have been raised to believe that our desire to do evil will always war with our desire to do good.

I’m not sure that I believe that now, but I have a question for those Christians who do believe that.

Why trust a bunch of sinners with deadly weapons?

Our nation, our culture, is driven by unholy rage and irrational fear – qualities that are not the Fruit of the Spirit or the “good fruit” that Jesus talked about, but we have allowed a nation full of angry and fearful people nearly unlimited access to firearms.

By and large, Christians are silent.

We’ll vote for an immoral candidate based solely on their stance on abortion or gay marriage. But, we won’t lift a finger to aid the victims of gun violence. All we have to give them are our thoughts and prayers.

Our thoughts and prayers are worthless.

Our condolences are empty.

Our cries to God to save us are unheard.

Until we decide to place our faith in something besides guns, we will be a nation under siege, held hostage by a series of angry gunmen.

We have chosen to live by the sword. We will continue to die by it.

But, there’s Good News.

We can change.

We can demand action by our elected officials.

We can expend our energies spreading a message of peace, a message of love, a message of justice.

We can repent.

 

 

Learning to Love Who We Hate

I hate Donald Trump.

That’s not hard for me to say, and I don’t even feel bad for saying it. I hate Donald Trump. I hate what he stands for. I hate the things that he says. I hate the things that he does. I hate the people that he puts into power. I hate looking at his face. I hate hearing his voice.

To me, he is exactly what I was taught Anti-Christ would be. He’s a power-hungry dictator, who basks in the mindless worship and adulation of his followers. He’s a corrupt man, who has made millions by mistreating and oppressing his workers. He’s a sexual predator, who brags openly about groping, objectifying, and forcing himself on women. He’s a charlatan, who uses the name of Christ to bring Christians – people who should know better – into his fold.

But, why do I hate him so much?

The world is filled with dictators, corrupt businessmen, predators, and charlatans. The Church Universal is filled with wolves in sheep’s clothing, men who spread hatred and falsehoods from pulpits.

I don’t hate all of them. I fought against foreign insurgents, who were supposedly in service to a brutal dictator. But, I didn’t hate them or the dictator himself.

I have met with and counseled people who have committed sexual crimes against women – against children – and I didn’t hate them.

I have known megalomaniacs and narcissists, people whose entire world consisted of their own desires, and I didn’t hate them.

What is it about the 45th President of the United States that makes him so different?

It has taken me almost a year to figure it all out, to put it into words.

I hate Donald Trump because he is my enemy.

As a former soldier, I should know what enemies are, and I should be familiar with having enemies. But, I never considered those insurgents or that dictator to be my enemies. They were men and women in service to a cause that they saw as right, just as I was. They were my foes out of necessity, but I never really saw them as enemies.

Donald Trump hates me. He hates people that I love. He hates ideals that I have dedicated my life to. He is doing everything that he can to hurt people who are already hurting: to ensure that sick people stay sick, poor people stay poor, and imprisoned people remain imprisoned. The Good News that I have dedicated myself to preaching, the uplifting of the poor and oppressed, the freedom of the captives, stands in opposition to his goals and actions.

He is the Captor, the Oppressor, the Accuser, the Adversary.

He is my enemy.

Jesus is very clear about enemies.

I once self-righteously preached about love for enemies, because I had yet to meet an enemy that I really hated. Intellectually, I knew that this was a hard teaching, but it wasn’t hard for me.

My discipleship has suffered mightily during the reign of Trump, because I have not been able to fulfill this basic command of Jesus: 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)

How the hell am I supposed to love Donald Trump? How am I supposed to love the Confederate-flag-waving racists and swastika-wearing neo-Nazis? How am I supposed to love the wealthy politicians whose every vote is a big “f**k you” to the poor? How am I supposed to have any kind of good feeling about these monstrous people?

I don’t have to feel anything.

Loving your enemies has nothing to do with feeling a certain way about them. Loving your enemies doesn’t mean letting them harm others without interference.

Loving your enemies doesn’t mean passively accepting the evil that they do.

I can love Donald Trump best by protecting his soul from the evil that his corrupt and twisted mind would have him do. I can love Donald Trump by protecting his victims.

I don’t have to send him Christmas cards or say nice things about him. I don’t even have to pray that God blesses him.

I do have to make sure that the revulsion that I feel when I think of him doesn’t turn into a desire for vengeance against his person. I have to make sure that I don’t wish the harm that he does to others on him.

I don’t have to accept who he is or what he does.

I just have to find a way to make my love stronger than what I feel.

I don’t know how, but I don’t think that following Jesus requires a perfect understanding. I think that following Jesus requires a willingness to learn more each day.

“Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly before God.”