Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Standing, Rolling, Dancing, Singing, Praying, Preaching, Acting on the Side of Love

At our the preceding Ministry Days preceding the UU General Assembly, ableist language was used in worship to the extent that UUMA Board Member Josh Pawelek issued this response:

Clearly there is a problem with ableism in our public presentation. Public statements, music, stories and metaphors that perpetuate ableism have been hurtful to colleagues. As with any oppression, this ableism likely runs deeper than our public presentation. I remain grateful to all those who are willing to call it to our attention, and I am deeply sorry that such calling is still necessary. (The full response is here.)
The most prominent example of ableist language in our movement, however, is our social justice arm: Standing on the Side of Love.  And before you say, "It's just a metaphor," I invite you to watch this and read this by UU minister Theresa Soto.  The point here is not to convince you that ableist metaphors are a problem.  The point is that we often think, even if it is ableist, "Standing on the Side of Love" is a done deal and it would be too hard to change it.  I'd like to offer a different possibility.  I think we need to change this, and it's possible to change this.  The important part of the "Standing on the Side of Love" isn't the "Standing," it's that we're acting "on the Side of Love." 

Step 1: Start including our non-standing bodies in the message.  Without changing the name officially, widen the images and merchandise.  Start by offering "I Roll on the Side of Love" or "Rolling on the Side of Love" or "Sitting on the Side of Love" t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other items. Make it easy for people to get these items -- don't make them make their own.  Start making images that you share on your webpage with these words more and more frequently. 

Step 2: Offer more and more words as options -- we can dance, pray, sing, and act in lots of ways "on the Side of Love."  Start using all sorts of words more and more frequently until "standing" is just one word among many, used no more frequently than the others.  Do this on merchandise and images in particular.  Maybe ministers would like t-shirts that say "Preaching on the Side of Love" or "Serving on the Side of Love."  Maybe DREs would like "Teaching on the Side of Love" or "Growing on the Side of Love" or other ideas. 

Step 3: Drop "Standing" as the title of the organization in favor of "On the Side of Love" or "The Side of Love."  Start by using the shortened version on images and merchandise where no one verb will do.  Then as people get used to the new name, change URLs and official name and usage of the organization. 

I think it's time for us to recognize that while it's been a great campaign and done some really neat things, the title is ableist, and that is problematic.  Let's fix it, folks.  We're better than just throwing up our hands and saying, "Oh well." 

Monday, June 13, 2016

For Orlando and for Change

They died in the high schools, in the cafeterias and the libraries and the classrooms.
And we cried, and we wondered.
And we blamed gaming and outsiders.
And nothing changed.

They died in the universities and community colleges, in the classrooms and dorms.
And we bawled, and we yelled.
And we blamed reporting systems and foreigners.
And nothing changed.

And they died on the street corners lobbying, on the pavement and sidewalk.
And we keened, and we lobbied.
And we blamed politics and mental illness.
And nothing changed.

And they died in the movie theaters and restaurants and clinics, around tables and in cushioned seats.
And we sobbed, and we argued.
And we blamed gun culture and zealotry.
AND NOTHING CHANGED.

They died in the elementary schools, in the arms of the teachers.
And we wept, and we mourned.
And we blamed autism and parenting.
AND NOTHING CHANGED.

And they died in the churches, the mosques, and the temples, in worship and in song.
And we howled, and we prayed.
And we blamed white supremacy and religious bigotry.
AND NOTHING CHANGED.

And they died in the nightclubs, on dance floors and at bars.
And we wailed, and we raged.
And we blamed religious extremism and homophobia.
And will anything change?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Response to "On Outrage and Douchebags"

My dear colleague (and formerly my minister) Lynn Ungar has written a thoughtful piece about the Brock Tuner rape case on Patheos.  I appreciate her deep thinking and opportunity to look at the situation differently, but I have to respectfully disagree with her conclusions.

First, like Lynn Ungar, I want to see large changes in our prison industrial system.  I believe too many nonviolent offenders are given long sentences and this is to the detriment of our society.  I want to see people getting rehab, not jail time, for drug use.  But there are a few groups of people I'm willing to see get long prison sentences.  And one of those groups is rapists.  There are cases where I feel bad for a criminal who will have the rest of their life affected.  Brock Turner isn't one of them. 

I'm not a survivor of rape, but I've lived with the aftermath.  In 1995-6 as a graduate student at the University of Georgia, I lived with two other female students, one of whom I hadn't known before moving in together.  That student had been raped not long before we moved in together.  I didn't know intimately what my roommate was going through in the months that followed.  I just knew how I didn't get to know her because she was curled inside a protective shell.  I just knew how she would panic if I left a door or window unlocked.  I just knew how difficult it was for her to sleep without fear.

My roommate raped by John Alexander Scieszka, a serial rapist who had been previously incarcerated, released, and raped again.  He was the kind of rapist who would go out drinking, and then follow a woman home, climb in her window after she had gone to bed, and rape them. 

In an article about the cases, a former police sergeant who spent fifteen years investigating rapes said this:
Ingram said some rapists started out as Peeping Toms, or fed their clothes fetishes, stealing undergarments from clotheslines or homes before targeting victims. Others were simply opportunists.
   ''They were looking for open windows, unlocked doors, people moving around alone,'' he said. ''They were just looking for the opportunity to prey on someone.''

When I see the pictures of Brock Turner on social media, I see similarities between him and John Alexander Scieszka.  Where they are similar is that they both raped a woman, in both cases they went after an unconscious woman, and in both cases it was a woman they didn't previously know.  Brock Turner's rape is sometimes talked about as a "campus rape" which makes it sound like something similar to "date rape," but he didn't know the woman he raped, and he wasn't dating her.

And there are differences -- perhaps -- between Brock Turner and the serial rapist.  This may have been Brock Turner's first rape.  Quite possibly it was not.  And I believe Brock Turner didn't necessarily set out with rape on his mind, unlike John Alexander Scieszka.  Brock Turner is the kind of rapist, probably, who is a opportunity rapist.  He didn't set out to rape, but he saw the opportunity to rape, and he chose to rape.  But there's absolutely no reason to believe that if he was going to follow one girl out of a party, wait until she fell unconscious, and then rape her behind a dumpster, that he wouldn't do this again and again.  He was simply an opportunist, and he found "the opportunity to prey on someone."

There are occasions when consent might be murky.  When the woman is unconscious isn't one of them.  Brock Turner's rape wasn't a date rape, and it wasn't a case of a woman "changing her mind" and it wasn't a case of "he said/she said."  Let's remember that he was caught in the act of raping an unconscious woman.  There's no implied consent, no revoked consent, no question of consent when a woman is unconscious.  There's no sense of "she seemed to want it" or "she was asking for it" -- she was unable to want, unable to ask, unable to consent.  And Brock Tuner chose to violate her. 
 
Yes, our justice system needs reform.  And some people definitely get sentences they don't deserve, and that's the bigger part of the reform needed.  But surely part of what shows us that it needs reform is when a white affluent college athlete gets a lenient sentence for a heinous crime.  How long a sentence should a rapist get?  I think I'm willing to jail a rapist for at as long as it takes a woman who is raped to fall asleep with the light off, and for at least as long as it takes for her to go to bed without triple-checking the door locks.

Secondly, Lynn Ungar invites us to put ourselves in every part of the situation -- "What if I am also the perpetrator, the one who is willing to take what I want even if it causes suffering to others? What if I am the father, willing to make excuses for the causes as well as the people I love, wanting to protect what I care about even at the expense of those who are outside my circle?"

But not every person is willing to harm people, especially to the point of rape, to get something they want, particularly something as fleeting as sexual satisfaction.  (And not every parent is ready to excuse the heinous acts of a child out of the deep parental love they feel.  Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's father said to the New Yorker, "I wish he had never been born.")

Something that's important to remember, particularly as Brock Turner continues to deny that he is a rapist and blames alcohol and sexual promiscuity for his situation, is that not all people -- not all men, either -- are rapists.  Most people who get drunk don't rape unconscious women.  Most of us, when we find an unconscious woman, even if we were drunk would at best get her help and at worst ignore her.

In fact, while one in four women will be raped in her lifetime, it's not nearly one in four men doing the raping.  The 2002 study by Lisak and Miller found six percent of men admitted to rape, and almost two thirds of them were repeat offenders.  The odds are that Brock Turner would be one of them if he hadn't been caught.

I appreciate the thought of trying to put myself in Brock Turner's shoes, but the fact is I am not likely to wear those shoes, nor are the numerous men around me who are standing up for women and fighting the rape culture.  I'd rather hold up the idea that most men don't rape and fight the rape culture than the concept that we all have a little rapist inside.

Lastly, I too am sick and tired of the outrage, and also sick and tired of the outrageous.  And there are so many pieces of this story that are outrageous, but one of them is surely the lack of responsibility taken by Brock Turner himself, from the denial of his actions to the concept that what he should do to help society as recompense is talk to groups about "sexual promiscuity."  Yes, I believe in Brock Turner's inherent worth and dignity as a person.  I believe he is a child of God, if there is a God.  And I also believe he has to take some responsibility. 

Brock Turner is more than a "douchebag."  He is a rapist.