As a person of faith, I believe that the world can be better than it is. That’s the hope that religion gives us – that we can transcend self-interest and care for those around us as we care for ourselves. It is from this perspective that I want to shift the paradigm as we talk about the alleged sexual assault committed by Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Let me be clear from the outset. I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth about being sexually assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh. I believe her because statistics tell us that fewer than 10% of people make false accusations about sexual assault. I also believe her because she willingly came forward, even though she was aware that she would likely suffer “annihilation.”
Not surprisingly, as soon as Dr. Ford’s identity became public, the story became about whether it was fair to hold Judge Kavanaugh accountable for something that he did as a teenager. Many excuses are being offered – that he was drunk, that it was a long time ago, that no one should be held accountable for something they did when they were seventeen. On one NPR call-in show, I heard two different women say that Judge Kavanaugh did not deserve to be held accountable for his actions because it was so long ago, and because he was just a kid in high school.
Dr. Ford didn’t get the choice to go ahead and live her life as if the assault had never happened. Judge Kavanaugh did. She has been living with the after-effects of the assault since high school. Now she is getting death threats and is having her story questioned in the harshest terms by news media and people all over the country. Knowing that this circus would ensue, she still chose to make her story public. That shows real moral courage. And yet, Judge Kavanaugh is getting sympathy from the public, and even from women.
When I imagine a better world, one that is guided by religious or moral values, here’s what I see. A person with moral courage who committed sexual assault would admit it and apologize to his victim. This isn’t pie in the sky thinking – Caitlin Flanagan wrote a piece for the Atlantic about a very similar situation where the boy who attempted to sexually assault her later apologized.
In this better world, young, privileged high school boys don’t get drunk and then assume that any girl nearby is theirs for the taking. Even drunk high school boys know better, because they have not been taught that women’s bodies exist for their pleasure. Rather, they’ve been taught by society, their faith communities, and their families that every human being is worthy of respect and dignity.
In this better world, girls in high school who are watching this spectacle unfold, just like I watched the hearings with Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, are getting a different message than I did. They are getting the message that what women say matters, that their bodies and their safety matter, and that we as a society won’t elevate someone who has committed sexual assault to a position of such importance.
Certainly the #MeToo movement has changed the conversation about sexual assault in this country. And thank goodness. But it hasn’t changed the underlying moral conclusion. Sexual assault has always been wrong. It is wrong for drunk high school boys; it is wrong for high-powered women in academia. Being held to a moral standard of “not sexually assaulting a person” is a pretty low bar.
My faith teaches me that I do not have to accept a broken world and that I have an obligation to work for a better one. It teaches me that when I do something wrong, I can confess (and not just to God, but to those I’ve harmed as well) and repent (i.e. do better). My faith also teaches me that people have a moral center, a conscience, a God-spark – whatever they call it – such that people know when they do something wrong. If a man who aspires to become a Supreme Court Justice doesn’t have such a moral center, then he definitely doesn’t deserve the job.
Rev. Marie Alford-Harkey is an MCC pastor and president of the Religious Institute. She lives with her wife, Rev. April Alford-Harkey, an Episcopal deacon, in Milford, CT. They share their home with April’s ministry dog Sandy, and cats Memphis and Emily Jane.
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