Who gets to make the decision?

I tend to try to not wade into political matters in my blog (at least, not very deeply), but this post is definitely going to get deep. I know some of you will not be happy that on a blog identified as a “preacher kid’s weblog” I’m getting into what many see as a political issue rather than a religious one–but I believe it fits both categories.

And so what is that issue? It’s one that’s been a hot-button issue for at least 20 years…and seems to be getting even hotter today: abortion.

Let me state up front that I am supportive of a woman’s right to a medically safe abortion–although I would prefer that abortion became more rare.

Over the years since Roe v. Wade legalized that right, there have been movements that have chipped away at it, making it more difficult…more expensive…more humiliating for women who have chosen to go that route. In some cases there is only one clinic in a state where women can go. In other cases, women are required to go through a waiting period before they can have the procedure, creating both additional expense and frustration. And in yet other cases, women have been required to go to court before they could terminate the pregnancy.

One of the frustrations for me as I have watched this process is that those on both sides of the issue have tended to act as though the decision to have an abortion is an easy one…and that it is a black-and-white issue. No, it isn’t.

There are many factors that play into a woman’s decision to have an abortion. Criminalizing it or making it less available aren’t going to bring the rates down. If we really want to make abortion more rare, we would be better off by:

  • ensuring better access to birth control for women
  • providing comprehensive sexuality education that includes medically accurate information about abstinence and contraception
  • requiring insurance coverage of family planning services
  • providing access to emergency contraception
  • providing access to education / training that will help young women have the means to provide for themselves
  • funding programs that curb domestic violence and sexual abuse
  • encouraging / requiring parental leave
  • providing and funding services for disabled children
  • making child care a priority

Until we are willing to look at better ways to lower the abortion rate, the decision to have one should, in my opinion, be dealt with by the woman, her significant other (when appropriate), her doctor, and (if desired) her spiritual advisor. Not those who don’t know what’s led to that decision…but who would easily condemn her as a murderer for it.

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Why?

It seems like almost every time I turn around, I see a news story that someone who has been virulently opposed to the LGBTQ community has (1) acknowledged that they are indeed members of that community and/or (2) been charged or found guilty of charges that would undercut the “purity” of their opposition.

And I can’t help but wonder why.

What are they so afraid of?

I mean, I can understand opposition to understanding the diversity of human sexuality and gender if you have spent your whole life being taught that there are only two genders and only one permissible combination of sexual contact.

But what is it that causes some individuals to lash out so much? Is it fear of having to let go of something that has been a foundational understanding? When we do that, it does feel like the ground shifts underneath us…and we have to revisit and re-evaluate our previous understandings.

Or is it sometimes a fear of being true to themselves? of acknowledging that perhaps they are part of the community they seem to despise so much…that is so hated and marginalized?

I don’t know. Only they do.

But the one thought that comes to mind is this statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (8:32). Yes, it’s in response to some who didn’t believe who he was…but it’s a true and important statement as we try to live our lives authentically: “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 

Only when we are true to ourselves can we live a life of joy.

Do not erase…

For some reason, we humans seem to want to make the world in our image. We want it to be ordered and fixed the way we want it to be–and we seem to be willing to do almost anything to make it that way.

But science shows us that there is an infinite variety and diversity.

And for those of us who call ourselves Christians, our sacred book of scripture talks about the process of creation–that God created this wonderful diversity, including the diversity of human beings who are made in God’s image.

We don’t understand the reasons for all that diversity in creation…and maybe there isn’t any real reason. Maybe God just enjoys creating that variety!

If that is the case, then why do we keep thinking that we need to erase everything and everyone that doesn’t fit into our nice neat boxes? Why can’t we just delight in the varieties in our wonderful world?

The current administration is considering a policy that would effectively erase the identity of transgender individuals:

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” reads the memo, according to the Times. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

But that ignores what we have been learning about the science of gender identity and sexual orientation…and insists that doctors ignore what is in the best interests of their patients simply because a government policy (created by individuals who have had a habit of ignoring scientific evidence that they don’t like) decrees that something doesn’t exist.

Transgender people do exist. They are our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sometimes parents, friends…. They have the same hopes, desires, dreams, fears as the rest of us–and they do not deserve for their identity to be erased by the government.

Where is our compassion?

I just can’t be silent.

I don’t care where you stand on the allegations made by Dr. Ford towards Judge Kavanaugh…whether you believe her or him…or whether you aren’t sure who to believe.

But if you listened to her testimony, it’s obvious that something traumatic happened to her so many years ago–something that is seared into her memory. And she is not alone.

Many, many people have shared stories since her testimony–stories that in many cases have never been shared with anyone else. Some of these stories go back even more decades than Dr. Ford’s testimony.

And in each of these cases, the individuals have re-lived some of that original trauma. Memories, pain, anguish have been triggered for these folks as well as for some who have chosen–for a variety of valid reasons–not to share the details of their own experiences.

And what has happened?

They have been disbelieved…questioned…and, even worse, laughed at and mocked by the president. Not just him, but those who were at the “rally” where he mocked her cheered and joined in the laughter. WHERE IS OUR COMPASSION?

How many of those who were cheering and laughing have family members who have experienced sexual assault? Would they still be laughing and cheering if it were their daughter/mother/sister/grandmother/aunt who was being mocked?

And what about the children who were there? What did they learn? That it’s okay to laugh at sexual assault? That it’s a joke? That women’s voices don’t count? That women can’t be believed at all, but men can always be believed?

I’m just sick today. I cannot believe the level of cruelty that has been unleashed in our country.

And so I ask again, WHERE IS OUR COMPASSION?

#MeToo

Trigger warning…

 

We’ve heard a number of people talk about memories being triggered by something someone says…or a smell…or a place.

I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never experienced a sexual assault–but last night a memory came to mind that let me know just how close I came. I don’t know what triggered the memory; maybe it’s all the stories I’ve been hearing/seeing lately about strangers and friends who have experienced assault. Maybe it’s all the discussion around the allegations related to Judge Kavanaugh. I don’t know.

But here’s my memory.

First of all, you need to understand that I was one of those incredibly naïve young women in the 1960s. I had a lot of friends, but I didn’t date much in high school. Instead, there was a group of us who hung out together.

When I went away to college, I was still very naïve. My college was a church one, which meant there was no drinking. In fact, it was conservative enough that there was no dancing either. But we had a lot of other coed activities–safe activities.

I don’t remember all of the specifics of the situation. I don’t remember the date or the event, but I do know that we had had some kind of end-of-school activity. At the end of it, one of my classmates–let’s call him “X”–asked me to go for a walk. He was someone I’d been friends with for that year…and I’d had a bit of a crush on him. So I was thrilled he’d asked me.

We walked over to the football stadium. Our campus was small enough (and in a small town) so we walked just about everywhere. We sat on the bleachers, just snuggled together–him with his arm around me. We didn’t say much or do much of anything else–just looked at the stars.

I’m not sure how long we sat there, but it couldn’t have been a long time, because I had to be back at my dorm at a specific time. X is the one who said that it was time to leave.

As we were walking back to the dorm, he started talking. Again, I don’t remember the specific words he used, but I do remember that what he was telling me was that he had planned on raping me when he asked me to go with him. He changed his mind–I don’t know why. I had had no idea that I was in that kind of danger from him.

The one thing I do remember him telling me was to not be so trusting…that I might not be so fortunate in another situation.

I never told anyone. Not until now.

As I look back at that naïve young woman, I wonder… I think I was so surprised and shocked that I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. Had he followed through on his original plan, what would I have done? I don’t know…but probably nothing. I would have thought that I had done something wrong…would have been scared of what my parents (and my church) would have thought. I doubt that I would have filed charges. I think I would have probably tried to forget it…as I forgot the rest of the experience until now.

Do I remember his name? Oh yeah. Do I remember what he looked like? Oh yeah. Do I remember the weather? Oh yeah. Do I remember other details? Not specifically.

So do I believe women who make allegations but who don’t remember all the details? Oh yeah. I was fortunate in that X–for whatever reason–changed his mind. Many others were not as fortunate.

#MeToo…but who?

I’ve been reading and watching the news this last week and it’s gotten me to thinking…

While I am aware that men can (and have been) sexually harassed and abused, these thoughts are going to relate to women–primarily because I am a woman.

There have been lots of questions swirling around the allegations made, and I don’t want to get into the politics of them. What I do want to do is just simply share some thoughts and concerns they’ve triggered.

Some women remember very clearly every detail of the experiences. Others remember only bits and pieces–sometimes because of the trauma, other times because of other choices they made leading up to those experiences.

Why don’t women report when they’ve had these experiences? I can think of a few of the many reasons:

  • For those whose experiences go back decades, they lived at a time when anything sexual just wasn’t talked about.
  • They may have been afraid.
  • They may have “learned” that it was their fault.
  • They may have seen how other women were attacked and disbelieved and simply didn’t want to go through that themselves.

When women did come forward, the legal focus often fell on them.

  • What were they wearing?
  • Why were they in that place at that time?
  • Were they drinking?
  • How did they know for sure it was assault?

And on and on.

All the concern seemed to be for the man. What was this allegation going to do to his future?

But what about her? What about her future?

She was “damaged goods.” If she told a potential partner what she had experienced, what was going to be his reaction? 

Somehow she wasn’t seen as a “real” person. What the assault did to her didn’t seem to matter. What was important was what the allegation would do to her attacker’s future.

Have things changed? Not really.

We still tend to focus on the impact the allegation would have on the person accused–and don’t seem to worry about the impact the experience has had on the victim. 

We still find all kinds of reasons not to believe the accuser…or to find ways to make it her fault, either for the experience or for waiting so long to come forward.

I wonder what would happen if we saw every woman as a “real” person–as a mother, daughter, grandmother, sister… Would we react differently? Would we be more willing to truly listen without judgment? to consider the impact these experiences have had on them?

Would it change what we teach our sons? Would we finally put to rest the idea that “boys will be boys” who have the “right to make mistakes” as they’re learning how to be men, mistakes that impact significantly the young women they violate? 

There are so many stories out there. They differ in details, in the amount that women remember. But they are there.

It’s time for us to listen.