In thinking of the alleged crimes of SCOTUS Nominee Brett Kavanaugh, I find myself wrestling with a thorny issue: one that has been seen over and over again in the long list of sexual predators who have been revealed (or accused) in the recent past.
To begin with, let’s get one thing perfectly clear. Any sexual crime, no matter how seemingly minor it is (or was), nor how long ago, nor whom the aggressors (or victims) were, is precisely that: a crime. It must be treated as such. It is NOT something to be swept under the rug, nor hidden, nor ignored. Those who are the victims of such crimes – no matter how fragmentary and disjointed their memories seem to be – must be heard. They must be treated with respect, with compassion, with impartiality, and without prejudgment as to who they are, or how valid or invalid of a person (or victim) others may portray them to be.
Frankly, any victim of oppression must always be presumed to be telling the truth – until proven otherwise. Our first and foremost duty is to immediately see them, hear them, and protect them, They must be kept safe, and feel safe, from further aggression by either the original oppressor / abuser, or from the attacks of others.
And that leads me to my main point, which is a twofold concern.
First, even though we must presume they are truthful and accurate, not all accusations of sexual aggression are what they seem. Some unquantifiable (but small) percentage of cases will be found to be exaggerated, mistaken, or false. So, when and if an accusation is determined by an impartial judge to be false, or at least greatly exaggerated, how do we redeem the reputation and/or standing of the accused?
The problem with asking this question, is that all too often, we (or the accused) examines the evidence and judges the charges to be false on their own. The fact that some cases might be false is used as an excuse to dismiss any case.
Self-serving justice is not justice. We see this in Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s denials of wrongdoing. He feels he has done nothing wrong, and it is possible he is correct, but that is not something for him to decide – as any skilled Judge would presumably know. That he is seeking to undermine his accuser in advance of any inquiry investigation calls into question his fitness as a judge, let alone his fitness to sit on the Supreme Court.
On the other hand (and this is my main point) when such accusations surface, and are proven to be true, there must be a path to redemption. Dismissing the charges against Kavanaugh with facile excuses like “that’s normal for young men” or “it was no big deal” or “that was a long time ago” dismisses and ignores the years of pain, fear, and dysfunction his actions have inflicted upon his alleged victim. But, that also does not mean that we should put a permanent asterisk of “sexual predator or “sexual abuser” next to his name.
And frankly, the Bible is very clear that those in power cannot be allowed to escape justice for any crimes they may have committed, particularly sexual crimes.
But how does someone accused of such crimes redeem themselves? How do they atone for what they’ve done? How, when long ago accusations surface, do we ensure that they are also fairly heard; and, when judged to be guilty, atone for what they’ve done in a way that does not cause further trauma for their victims, or trauma to others who may have been victims of similar crimes themselves?
The #MeToo movement has accomplished many good things, making it possible for women to feel empowered (and safe) enough to give voice to the terror that has been visited upon them, both in the present and in the past. Because of #MeToo, many often powerful men who had long escaped responsibility for what they had done (or were doing) have now experienced at least some level judgment and justice for their crimes. But, there are many more who have yet to do so: I am confident their turn will come.
And yet, we have not defined the path by which those who have been abusers can find redemption for their sins. Our faith demands that there be a way to achieve such redemption. Yet, I am not sure there is a good answer, certainly not an easy one: at best it will be a very complex, slow and often painful process for the guilty, and perhaps for their victims as well.
What I do know is that seeking a rapid resolution, or not having patience, or not allowing the wheels of justice to move in the often ponderous way that they must; will not allow either justice or redemption to be achieved. What I do know is that there must be compassion, patience, and love, if healing is to occur for all involved.
In the end, I have no answers other than that which our faith teaches is essential: to ensure that Love is present and active for all in every step of the journey; and to remember that sometimes Love means being very tough, especially on those who will not admit to themselves or to others that they have harmed others.
– Pastor Allen
Copyright (c) 2018, Allen Vander Meulen III.
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