The Church Must Condemn Sexual Assault

In Uncategorized by Anna Golladay

Every American should be appalled by Donald Trump’s recently unearthed —and sadly revealing—comments on his behavior toward women. Yet these comments do not just speak to the character of Mr. Trump, they reveal a grander injustice that our sisters, mothers, and daughters suffer each and every day.

This moment presents all of us, especially faith leaders, with an opportunity and an obligation to directly confront the aggression and marginalization that almost every woman experiences at some point in her life. The Access Hollywood tape ignited a national dialogue about the twin sins of sexual violence and misogyny, and we should seize the moment to preach, teach and bring people together.

Trump and his supporters have tried to dismiss his comments as “locker room talk.” Pat Robertson echoed this sentiment by saying the presidential candidate was just “trying to be macho.” This is precisely the problem. When we teach our sons that being a man means debasing women, we perpetuate a destructive rape culture for another generation.

When we refuse to condemn abusive behavior, we harm our communities and play a part in normalizing oppression. When we dismiss the stories of women who have been victimized, we make it harder for tomorrow’s victims to come forward to receive the help they need to heal. And for faith leaders, when we fail to call attention to violence, we fail in our pastoral responsibility to provide compassion.

Recently, I asked Christian women clergy to join me in condemning Trump’s abusive remarks; more than 1,200 faith leaders have responded by signing an open letter calling for a full offer of contrition by Mr. Trump that acknowledges the seriousness and depravity of his actions. But condemnation is not enough, and while an unlikely act of contrition would help move us forward, I believe we have an additional responsibility to preach and teach a different message.

For the women who signed our letter, the Trump tape was a call to action. The sin of misogyny has caused many of us to experience sexual assault, or sexually abusive language that threatened our safety, dignity and well-being, and for many Trump’s comments—and the actions they describe—left us unable to remain silent. Our opportunity is to use this moment to teach empathy, to walk in another’s shoes and help others do so as well.

We should use this moment to teach young men that it is by far more macho to stop a friend from echoing Trump’s words than to go along or emulate his behavior. But we should also use this moment to teach young girls to be strong and confident in a culture that objectifies and sexualizes them. And we should use this moment to teach all of us that to hear, understand and appreciate each other is a true measure of our Christian faith.

When we have the courage to be open, to listen and to understand, we give others the strength to speak and to share their experiences. This is how we sow empathy, and there is no stronger medicine to reverse the caustic rot that has gripped our civic discourse for the past several election cycles and eaten away at our collective humanity.

This election has shown me we are a country in need of healing, and in the days and weeks that precede Election Day, we will need to focus on moving past our differences and toward re-establishing the foundation of a cohesive society. Our houses of worship, and clergy of every denomination of every faith, must play an important role in providing welcoming spaces to begin those conversations, to give our congregations a place the courage to listen and the strength to speak.

While Trump’s language was certainly coarse and offensive, it was not just his lewdness that concerns me. It is his failure to understand the damage this culture inflicts through such words and actions—not only to the women he has forced to relive their own experiences of abuse and belittlement, but to our national character as well. We won’t make America great again by following a messenger of anger and hate. We keep America great by learning to share, to listen, and to come together.

Rev. Jennifer Butler is the founding Executive Director of Faith in Public Life and chair of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships. Before leading FPL Jennifer spent ten years working in the field of international human rights representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the United Nations and is an ordained minister. While mobilizing religious communities to address the AIDS pandemic and advocate for women’s rights she grew passionate about the need to counter religious extremism with a strong religious argument for human rights. Out of that experience she wrote Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized, which was published by University of Michigan Press. Her book calls for a progressive religious response to Religious Right efforts to take the culture wars global. Jennifer served in the Peace Corps from 1989 to 1991 in a Mayan village in Belize, Central America where she discovered she was at heart a community organizer. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, she also studied public policy and community organizing and graduated with a MSW from Rutgers University. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Jennifer and her husband Glenn together run Iona Conversations, a Christian spiritual community in downtown Washington DC. When not dreaming up ways to amplify a social justice faith voice, Jennifer loves camping, hiking and biking with her husband and son.

Originally published