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By Ken Russell in All Sorts
the writer shares a dream of the kind of church that could never abuse women, where there are no assumptions of sexual entitlement and the path of silence is not the one chesen.Uncomfortable for many brought up in an atmosphere of 'polite' sexual ethics, few of us have surely not avoided in recent months the media's preoccupation with the fall from grace of some of the most rich and famous figures of the entertainment world.
The name of Harvey Weinstein is one that, in the words of President Roosevelt will "live in infamy." One of the most powerful figures in Hollywood has been exposed as an habitual sexual predator, preying on a succession of much younger women, all of whom were dependant on his powerful influence to prosper their careers in the movie industry. We know only too well the sordid details in the still-unfolding story.
But Weinstein is not alone. And his case has unleashed a torrent of similar allegations from women whose experiences paralleled those of the Weinstein victims. Powerful men like House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey and Fox presenter "the Spin Stops Here" Bill O'Reilly have been brought low as once-silent women, and men, have found the courage to speak up and tell their stories. And of course, these are only the latest crop of sexual exploiters. For decades the media has covered the lurid descriptions of the sexual assaults of British celebrities Jimmy Savile, Garry Glitter, Rolf Harris, men who have used their fame and status to ingratiate themselves with successions of impressionable kids, putty in their hands at first, and then relying on various rewards and the fear of exposure to guarantee the continuing silence of their young victims. And it's worth noting that each of these famous names had close associates with an intimate knowledge of their life and work, and who must have suspected the seamier side - but chose the easier path of silence than risk the exposure of the famous one who paid them handsomely and by continued association ensured their own secure status.
And of deepest regret, the Church has not been exempt from its own abusers. Priests and pastors have preyed on vulnerable youth in their care, running roughshod over ordination vows and codes of conduct that should have guaranteed pastoral safety. The Catholic Church alone has paid out huge huge sums of money to hush long-silent complainants on every continent, and the tide seems not about to turn. Early next year even greater notoriety seems guaranteed to an already stained catalogue of scandals when 76 year old Cardinal George Pell goes to trial in Melbourne facing historic sex charges. Pell is one of the most senior cardinals in the Vatican hierarchy, and it is said he carries the credibility of the Pope himself on his shoulders, the Holy Father having vowed to stamp out sexual abuse among the priesthood. It is said the prosecution will present hundreds of witnesses to events going back 30 years involving the younger Father Pell.
It is all very well to analyse the more sensational instances of sexual abuse on the current scene, but do we in the Church have insights with the potential to turn the male dominated culture that feeds the Harvey Weinsteins of this world away from the assumptions of sexual entitlement at the heart of the rape culture?
I have been reading a brief article by American Methodist minister, Roger Wolsey enititled "Theological Violence toward the Divine Feminine." He says It occurs to me that there is a direct correlation with men’s violence toward women with the theologies purveyed and adopted many men – a theology that commits violence against the feminine divine – to the point of relegating it to invisibility, obscurity, and outright non-existence. Note: many women subscribe to such misogynist theologies – as unwitting victims and purveyors of their own internalized oppression.
It should be obvious that if a major swath of society embrace no feminine aspect of God, then this leads to a minimizing of the status and role of women in the world – and their essential worth. Such results include glass ceilings, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace; in domestic home life; and in religion.
Wolsey clearly believes that until the Church puts women in their rightful place in theology, and thus in worship and in practice, it is in no position to exercise leadership in a world desperately anxious to free itself from unhelpful notions of a subordinate feminine role. Again, he says Christianity of most every stripe is waning in the Western nations. This is largely due to many people mistakenly thinking that conservative evangelicalism or fundamentalism are the only forms of Christianity out there (many have never heard of progressive Christianity) — that is, they reject the notion of a magical, specifically male, god who lives in the sky who we should fear and who punishes us to hell if we don’t believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is what saves people’s souls.
Put in those terms the stakes are high, and those of us struggling to fashion an ever more inclusive theology need to redouble our efforts lest the church decline further into irrelevance.
Finally, let me share a dream of the kind of church that could never abide the abuse of women. It is the consenting church, a church that so respects and reveres its women that neither "consent", nor "constraint" is the overriding issue. A church in which trust and mutual respect is of such an order that all the senses are safely given free reign, without fear, and all members, women and men, give themselves freely, to touch, to hug, to laugh, to cry, to share each others joy and pain without reserve. It is not pie in the sky. It is the only kind of church warm and honest and open enough to be the transforming community that Jesus pre-empted, and which the world so desperately needs.