Whatever happened to basic human decency?

The Longview News-Journal recently published a guest editorial that attempted to take on the thorny issue of sexual violence under the title “Whatever happened to self discipline?”

Go read it, if you have the stomach. However, survivors of sexual violence may wish to pass.

Whatever happened to self-discipline? That’s certainly a valid question to ask of any man who presumes to force himself upon a woman. Unfortunately, the author takes the completely wrong-headed approach of asking that question of the “women … whose breasts [are] almost literally hanging out of their shirts or dresses.”

Let me be clear: implying that a victim of sexual violence deserved it because of what they may or may not have been wearing is absolutely wrong. A culture of victim blaming creates a tremendous disincentive to report the crime, and compounds the psychological trauma that accompanies a physical assault. We must do better than this!

The author deals heavily in generalizations and personal anecdotes:

“I knew intuitively what social science now teaches: Men are turned on sexually by what they see. Women are turned on by what they feel.”

This is an insidious cultural lie, because it gives the rapist an out; he couldn’t help it, she was just so hot! But men are not animals; insinuating that they lose their minds at the slightest suggestion of female flesh is incredibly degrading. Whatever happened to self-discipline? This belief would have you think that men are incapable of it altogether. Meanwhile, what science actually says about the difference between male and female arousal is more complex.

Even worse:

“I made sure I didn’t dress provocatively, but that didn’t stop the advances of some men. I made sure I never was in a situation or place where I could be raped. A firm, “No,” was sufficient to stop the inappropriate behavior.”

Sadly, there is no such thing as a situation or place where rape can never occur, and statements like this once again lay blame for an assault at the victim’s feet. Obviously, if everyone just stayed away from the bad part of town, then we’ll have that pesky rape problem solved. How did we not think of this before? As for just saying “No,” well, that’s what Janese Talton-Jackson did. Twice. “No” did not save her.

The remainder of the op-ed is frankly rather rambling, with digressions on inappropriately-dressed receptionists, the Kardashians, and the author’s belief that women who dress provocatively are “missing something” in that they fail to “value themselves as they are.” Adele makes an appearance, too, as an example of how a lady should behave. The author concludes with another doozy:

“Is the rising incidence of sexual crimes, particularly toward children, due to increasing instances of undress in women that turn a man on sexually?”

Lord have mercy. How do you make the logical leap from adult female fashion to child abuse?

Rape is not about sex; sex is a consensual act. Rather, rape is about entitlement; a stronger party forcing their desires upon a weaker party, regardless of the weaker party’s wishes. Breaking down this sense of entitlement is the key to reducing (dare I dream eliminating?) rape.

Men are not entitled to women’s attention.

Men are not entitled to women’s time.

Men are not entitled to women’s bodies.

Men are not entitled to respond with violence when their advances are rebuffed.

Et cetera, ad infinitum.

Let us heap our scorn and shame on anyone who believes or acts otherwise, and regain our basic human decency towards those in our midst who have survived hell.



We were black, beyond the visible spectrum, beyond civilization. Our history was inferior because we were inferior, which is to say our bodies were inferior. And our inferior bodies could not possibly be accorded the same respect as those that built the West. Would it not be better, then, if our bodies were civilized, improved, and put to some legitimate Christian use?

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Letter to My Son”

We live in a culture that is testing the church’s credibility.

Fr. Bob Schelling, homily, July 5, 2015

Before you do anything else, go and read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Letter to My Son”. Block out some time in your schedule if you have to; it’s a long read. Do not look away. Do not put it down. Read it to the end.

I read it this morning, before I got up, and I was still turning it over in my mind when I arrived at church. I therefore owe our visiting priest an apology because the only thing I gleaned from his homily today was the above comment about the church’s credibility.

Now, the church in the United States is a very broad, very fragmented, and, sadly, very segregated institution. We already lack credibility in our collective inability to get along as “one body”. If the American church were to be summed up in one word, “schismatic” is as good as any. However, the more I hear from voices like Mr. Coates’, the more I realize that the white majority of the church has yet to meaningfully reckon with its role in the darkest pages of American history. Until such a reckoning occurs, the American church will remain fundamentally incredible.

One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, white American Christians have a tendency to wave our hands in dismissal of the Christians who argued and fought in support of chattel slavery. We say things like: “That’s ancient history.” “Our nation has moved past that.” “We’re more enlightened now.” “Why bring up such an ugly subject in polite company?”

Even less thought and conversation is given towards what our Christian forebears did to the Native Americans.

But it’s not ancient history; black people have been free for less time than they were enslaved. (And can you even count the years under Jim Crow as freedom?) America has not “moved past that”; we have buried the skeletons in the closet, but their blood continues to cry out from the ground for justice. If we’re more enlightened now, please explain to me why American Christians are more supportive of institutionalized torture than people who are not religious? We must bring up these ugly subjects because otherwise we will never move past them, and our children will suffer their consequences to the third and the fourth generation.

The reality is that America is a country that was conquered through the systematic massacre of its native peoples and built on the backs of slaves, and we, the enlightened white Christian majority who are so grateful that racism is a thing of the past – we have a black President now, you know – every day we reap the tangible and intangible benefits of the pernicious, white supremacist system that our forefathers constructed.

We do not have to concern ourselves about driving while black.

We do not have to concern ourselves about redlining.

We do not have to give our sons The Talk.

Until the majority of the church can figure out how to put our white privilege to appropriate use – until we’re even able to admit that we are privileged by the sole virtue of our whiteness – the American church will remain fundamentally incredible.

You do not have to look far in America to find a church proudly displaying the Stars and Stripes. For many of us in the white majority of the church, our identity as Americans is as strong stronger than our identity as Christians. We put our faith in our Second Amendment rights, drape our crosses and altars with red, white, and blue, and we preach American exceptionalism. How many of America’s churches didn’t incorporate patriotic music into their worship services this July 4th weekend? The ones that didn’t are probably all full of godless liberals, amiright?

Yet America is a violent country, born of a violent heritage. We have a higher violent death rate (10 per 100,000) than any other wealthy country. We don’t even have reliable records of how many people our police forces kill. (At least 1149 people were killed by police in the U.S. in 2014. By comparison, police in the U.K. have killed 27 people so far this century.) Our foreign policy has not evolved much from Theodore Roosevelt’s soft words and big sticks, except these days we don’t bother much with the soft words. Prince of Peace, we hardly knew ye. God bless America.

Until we unwrap ourselves from the blinding tangles of unexamined patriotism, the American church will remain fundamentally incredible.