Every Sunday during Lent, we will be taking time to wrestle with our place in the culture of sexual violence within our society. While this is, unfortunately, one of many sub-cultures of a broader culture of violence in our society, we have chosen to name this one during Lent because it is not necessarily an evil that we have named before at ubc. I’ll be the first to admit that this is difficult, but we will face this difficulty together.
The litany included in this post is taken from a liturgy in protest of sexual violence that you can find here, and the women who put that together are putting out more material and resources here. This group is also hosting a series of liturgies on Baylor’s campus over the next month. The next service will be “A Space for Anger” on Tuesday, March 15th, at 8pm in Elliston Chapel.
Posted below is something I read during church on February 28. It is the second of several pieces we will encounter in our liturgy over the next few weeks You can read the first piece here and the second piece here. If you have any questions or concerns about anything you see here, please email me at Jamie@ubcwaco.org.
This is the third week of Lent, and we are continuing our journey through reckoning with our place within a culture marred by sexual violence. If you haven’t been around for the past couple of weeks, we began the first week by acknowledging that we do in fact have a problem, and last week we voiced a prayer together in the voice of survivors of sexual violence. Throughout both weeks, we have been trying to create space for the Spirit to shape our imaginations regarding how we might engage problems that seem much bigger than we can take on. The transcripts of what I read for the past two weeks are now posted on the ubc blog under the title “The Mirror in the Wilderness,” and I would encourage you to go read those again, or for the first time.
In the first week, I suggested that one aspect of living within this culture that we might call sin is the tendency for many of us to—whether we mean to or not—distance ourselves from stories we hear—that is, unless we or someone we love are affected by sexual violence, we have a tendency to not consider it to be our problem. And since this does not seem to mirror what Jesus would do, this impulse is something we should seek to combat.
I’d like to suggest another point of self-reflection this week. Without saying that we are all in fact guilty of this, it seems reasonable to suggest that many of us could be at some point: our culture has a tendency to allow cause-and-effect thinking to drive the way we engage people when they recount the stories of their experiences of violence to us. More directly, we have a tendency to suggest—or at least to think— that if a person had not chosen to wear a particular kind of clothing, or had made different choices about where they spent their time socially, or had not chosen to consume this or that beverage, they might not have found themselves in such a harmful situation.
This impulse is not only unhelpful, because should-haves do not undo tragedy; it is also harmful, silencing, and alienating. But in and through all these things, it is a lie. It is a lie because there is no choice a person can make that would make them deserve sexual violence, yet this is precisely what is heard when one suggests that any choice made by the person who experienced sexual violence led to this experience. And with this, it communicates that the person who was the aggressor in sexual violence did something reasonable. Which is also a lie, as this is never the case. Further, it is a lie because people are subjected to sexual violence even when they in fact do what this flawed sense of cause and effect says they should. Finally, perhaps it is often a lie because it is a statement of self-preservation masquerading as advice or care—in my experience, when rationalizing words roll off my tongue in place of mutual lament, it is me trying to tell myself that this won’t happen to me or anyone I love. That it’s easily preventable. This is a lie.
These words are empty. These words help no one.
I do not think it is a stretch to call this impulse sinful, in that it disregards the needs of a person who is hurting, it aids in clouding our vision of what is truly evil, it does not champion the truth, and it places our own need to be comfortable over all of these things. As we continue to seek the Spirit’s guidance in being formed into people who are more like Jesus over the next few weeks, let’s keep this in mind.
We will now participate in a litany of commitment that is a part of the Liturgy in Protest of Sexual Violence that we have been using the past few weeks. This won’t be the only time we read this commitment during Lent, because it is ultimately a lot to live into, but try your best to hold these words in your mind and discern what areas of this commitment you might need help with. I’ll read the light print, you may respond with the bold.
As a community of faith we will not forget those who are hurting. We will listen carefully. We understand there are those among us who suffer in silence. And so...
We will not further silence our neighbor
with platitudes or should-haves.
We commit to hold their pain gently.
We know we must continue to challenge the power dynamics in our world that make abuse prevalent, even when these dynamics and systems benefit us.
We will not worship ideas or institutions.
We will love God and love our neighbor above all else.
We struggle to understand how the world can be so broken, but we will not let this deter us from seeking justice.
We will not cease praying for your Kingdom come.
We commit ourselves to the journey ahead.
Our friends will walk alone no longer.