Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Words of Little Significance

The Washington Post's Julie Zauzmer writes

The debate gripping the country, about whether Brett M. Kavanaugh should have a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, is at its heart a question of morality. Or rather, perhaps, many questions of morality: How should we as a nation treat women who tell us they have been sexually assaulted? How do we choose whom to believe when two people have different accounts? How should we weigh a person’s past when we consider his future? What behavior disqualifies a person for a high honor? What do we do when our ethics and our politics collide?

The questions call for not just senators and commentators to answer. These questions are also for the clergy.

Below, you’ll find a selection of excerpts from sermons preached this past weekend, in the days after Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and after his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, told the committee and the nation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. The next day, two women confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in an elevator, before he requested a new FBI background check on Kavanaugh. Across the country, pastors and priests and rabbis grappled in front of their congregations with the topics of sexual violence, public leadership, honesty and justice.

The excerpts are from five Protestant ministers, one each from the Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and Congregational Church (sibling to UCC); an Eastern Orthodox (in this case, Greek) Church priest; and one rabbi.

Five of the members of the clergy were generally, vaguel supportive of the Ford perspective and two of the Kavanaugh perspective. However- at least in the portions provided- only two mentioned either "Ford" or "Kavanaugh."

The Kavanaugh hearing presented two diametrically opposed pictures of what occurred in Montgomery County one evening 36 years ago. The woman said that she was sexually assaulted in a case of attempted rape. The man said: no way, no how, nothing like she described occurred.

But you will read nothing of that in the (admittedly abridged) portions of the sermons.  Even one of the two who mentioned the nearly unmentionable names states "I’m not here to tell you what I believe. I think I’m here to ask you to be open to listening."

People should not be patronized. We have been listening. Tens of millions of people watched at least part of these hearings. Many of us followed the controversy over highly inappropriate, consensual oral sex practiced by President Clinton. Some of us are old enough to catch on television the (Clarence) Thomas-(Anita) Hill hearing. Over the last few decades and especially over the past twelve months, people have been listening to allegations of sexual assault and coming to their own conclusions.

And there is a sizeable number of Americans who have already come to the conclusion which five of those seven religious leaders would not be happy about. In Mississippi on Tuesday

Trump imitated Ford during her testimony before the crowd, mocking her for not knowing the answer to questions such as how she got to the party.

“'I had one beer.' Well do you think it was… 'Nope. It was one beer.' Oh good. How did you get home? 'I don’t remember.' How did you get there? 'I don’t remember.' Where is the place? 'I don’t remember.' How many years ago was it? 'I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.'"

The crowd began to cheer and laugh, as the President continued imitating Ford recounting the night she says she was nearly raped.

"What neighborhood was it in? 'I don’t know.' Where’s the house? 'I don’t know. Upstairs. Downstairs. I don’t know. But I had one beer that’s the only thing I remember,'" Trump continued.

"These questions," reporter Zausner remarked "call for not just senators and commentators to answer. These questions are also for the clergy." At present, the primary, dominant, and most consequential question is whether Brett Kavanaugh has demonstrated the integrity necessary for a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court. On this matter, the men and women quoted chose to punt.

One of the Ten Commandments reads "thou shall not bear false witness."  One of the two individuals involved in this drama is lying. If ministers, priests and rabbis are unwilling to remind their congregations of this and identify the fabricator, they are not questions they are able to answer or even address.

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