Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sexual harassment and the women of "me too"

Sexual harassment and the women of "me too" 
by Greg Doudna

This is from the ACPasadenareunion site and is used by permission of Gregory Doudna.  Besides being an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, he is the author of the excellent book published in 2006,  "Showdown at Big Sandy: Youthful Creativity Confronts Bureaucratic Inertia at an Unconventional Bible College in East Texas"

Before our eyes there is a sea change, a threshold, seemingly a quantum level, a tipping or turning point in America, on sexual harassment, with powerful men falling right and left, with a new reality that behavior formerly often considered a joke but which caused real pain to women, no longer beyond the reach of accountability. Is this what a national repentance looks like?

In retrospect, how would WCG history and our own AC experience have been different if the unspeakable allegation concerning HWA had been known?

"Unspeakable" because it is literally unspoken, like the family secret that is never named, including in my own book "Showdown at Big Sandy", even though I knew of it and believed it was true. I have never heard it even mentioned on this forum, perhaps for similar reasons as why I simply could not bring myself to do so when I wrote my book. When I first heard the allegation long ago I felt like throwing up, a feellng which lasted for days. That it was apparently true seemed indicated on a number of grounds brought out in past issues of Ambassador Report, with a long track record of consistently highly accurate reporting. Yet I could not bring myself to name it, it was so sickening to me.

There is a European tradition that politicians can have mistresses or infidelities and no one cares so long as they are competent at their job. That is not what the current issues in America, the "me-too" stories coming out like a tsunami, seem to be about. It is rather about issues of abuses of power, and nonconsensual violation of body.

In late 1973, just as the dissident outbreak of Shreveport and then the larger regional directors of 1974 was breaking, I among a thousand others heard GTA in a sermon at Big Sandy say that there had been an early allegation of adultery against his father, HWA, back in the early days in Oregon. GTA did not say the allegation was true. In fact everyone hearing it would have assumed it was not true, a false allegation, in GTA's telling, though to the best of my memory GTA did not directly say it was false either, even though that was the default assumption. But what was that all about? I had never heard of such an allegation before regarding HWA. Barely two or three months later, Ronald Dart (resident deputy chancellor at Big Sandy) in a sermon or a student forum (I forget which it was but I was present and wrote in real-time notes the exact wording), said with emphasis: that in all of the criticisms of HWA that were being voiced by dissidents one thing that was not being raised or questioned was the content of HWA's character. "His (HWA's) character is as pure as the driven snow" said Mr. Dart with great rhetorical impact and force. I interpret that as that by early 1974 Mr. Dart had literally not yet heard the allegation.

Yet the allegation did later become known, based on GTA's telling a few people and the word was out, GTA having learned it firsthand confidentially from the victim. The allegation was never denied by HWA or the victim, and as reported by Ambassador Report, both the victim and her husband had been receiving church payments for decades, even though not employed. As the story was being voiced privately among people in contact with GTA but before it was yet publicly reported or known to church members, I remember a co-worker letter of HWA in which HWA spoke of some undefined supreme, master stroke of Satan, some utterly devastating master blow against the church which may be coming which would exceed anything the members could imagine. I wondered what was that all about? Of course HWA spoke in hyperbole in nearly every co-worker letter, so it was easy to read and dismiss that as more of the same, i.e. nothing specific. But in retrospect that comes across in a different light, like a man fearing a horrible skeleton becoming exposed. The spectre of how effective that master attack of Satan (as HWA put it) would be in HWA's telling--how many brethren HWA believed would fall away as a result--reads like a fear of the effect of a devastating, true allegation.

That is past history now. But what should--should--have been the proper response, when this allegation became known? What should ministers and members do, if it occurred today? Should HWA have been forced to resign? But, the way it was set up, HWA alone decided who should be forced to resign at his level, and everyone else should trust in God who was responsible for guiding HWA in his decisions, and God had not led HWA to decide that HWA should resign. This was believed to be God's government in operation.

I cannot imagine that I, or my father before me in Akron, Ohio, would have come into the church in the first place with a leader credibly having the nature of the allegation against HWA. It would have changed everything for me, or my father. But, when the allegation did become known, it did not change everything, in fact, outwardly and seemingly, it changed not much of anything. How could people like Meredith and other old-timers with similar mindsets, for example, still have continued to uphold HWA without addressing that? Did they think the allegation was actually fabricated? Did they think that it was irrelevant?

Toward the end of my time at AC and afterward, I discovered and read what to me were riveting writings of John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite theologian, books like "The Original Revolution", "Nevertheless", and "The Politics of Jesus". Yoder argued with great intelligence, insight, and humility the anabaptist case for Jesus as a "revolutionary pacifist", who was nonviolently upsetting the political order, that the point of Jesus was changing history by means of the church being a witness and an example in history of doing things in better ways, demonstrating more peaceful social relations internally, witnessing against war, civil disobedience like refusing to pay war taxes, standing for the poor of the world, living the sermon on the mount, returning good for evil, proclaiming Jesus's message of a biblical Jubilee of economic relations, the followers of Jesus being the mechanism for at some point bringing about the possibility of the kingdom of God on earth. It was enormously inspiring to me, my transition stage to Quakers. It was so inspiring--something real about the Gospel and the sermon on the mount read in ways I had not heard before, and the history of anabaptists, that I thought: this is real, this is so different from the barrenness of wcg spiritual culture (despite some genuinely good people). The anabaptists of the 1600s had talked the talk and walked the walk, suffering martyrdoms in large numbers for nonviolent attempts to live out the sermon on the mount of Jesus. I learned some of the anabaptists had even been sabbatarians. Anabaptists, the forerunners of today's Amish and Mennonites, Hutterites and Church of the Brethren, pacifist honorable peoples all, at the time were the radical left wing of the Protestant Reformation, hounded and killed and massacred at the behest of Reformers like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, all for having shockingly subversive views of equality of human beings and rejection of authority of nobles and priests and state apparatuses of such.

I applied to the Associated Mennonite Biblical Studies seminary in Goshen, Indiana, in order to study under Yoder, with a vision in my mind of truly living for God in a way that I had not found at AC. My application was rejected on the grounds that I had not completed my undergraduate degree at AC, which in any case was considered skeptically due to the lack of accreditation issue. I went on to find my roots and home among the Friends (Quakers), which were my ancestral roots which anabaptists from Germany were not. I spoke several times to Yoder personally, including at conferences where I would see him.

But in later years Mennonites have grappled with a wrenching and distressing problem involving much collective soul-searching: all the time of Yoder's brilliance at making the anabaptist case for the pacifist Jesus to the wider world, and inspiring a generation of committed pacifist Christian activists in the name of a literal interpretation of the ethics of the sermon on the mount, Yoder had been a serial assaulter of women. Not in a full-rape sense, but in repeated unwanted and disturbing physical interactions, unwanted graphic language, serially over many years despite many behind-the-scenes pleadings and appeals from administrators to stop. Meanwhile, the stories of women piled up. Eventually Yoder was disciplined and fired, but still the reasons were covered up until the point came when they no longer were covered up. Yoder died in 1997. Today, the Mennonites--good people, honest people--have sought to come to terms with Yoder's legacy, find out why this could have gone on so long, what kind of cultural changes and institutional mechanisms can protect women going forward. This is a drama I was spared by having been turned down for study for the ministry at the seminary at Goshen, Ind., where Yoder had taught.

The Mennonites had this discussion, hard as it was for those involved. It was wide-ranging, participatory, thoughtful, the women were listened to, there was repentance and there were outcomes. Have the WCG or any of the lettered successor Church of God groups had this discussion? No. Is there any mechanism by which such a discussion could even occur? It is hard to imagine. Are Church of God people better off for this "see no evil, hear no evil" practice toward iconic founder figures?  

Does the Bible matter?

This is from the ACPasadenareunion site and is used by permission of Gregory Doudna.  Besides being an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, he is the author of the excellent book published in 2006,  "Showdown at Big Sandy: Youthful Creativity Confronts Bureaucratic Inertia at an Unconventional Bible College in East Texas"

Does the Bible matter 
AC was based on an interpretation of the Bible. Post-AC this continues for many in various forms, while some reinterpret and others repudiate, the Bible as a basis for moral or social authority. Some find spiritual solace and meaning in passages of the Bible, others find such talk "triggering". Everyone here, no less than the first Christians, are atheists--in the classical sense of not believing in the Greek and Roman gods. No one here suffers existential angst or distress wondering whether Zeus maybe really exists and what if he will be wrathful in the afterlife for our lack of belief in him. But, Yahweh and Christ are live issues to many. 
70% of Americans self-identify as Christian. 25% of Americans are evangelical Christians (versus 15% mainstream Protestant and 20% Catholic). Evangelicals--a quarter of America--are the main voter base of the Republican Party and responsible for the Trump Presidency and several recent presidencies, for better or worse, domestically and for the world. Polls show evangelical Christian self-identification correlates with increased support for state torture (Pew Research Center). 65% of evangelical Christians reject the existence of macro-evolution as a scientific fact. This is compared to 30% of all Americans and ca. <1 and="" biochemists.="" biologists="" geologists="" nbsp="" of="" s="" span="" the="" world="">
We know cult-like thinking and how it operated, in our own past bubble experience. America, right now, is a bigger version of cult thinking. But this time it is not a church whose only barrier to exit are social and psychological ties.  
Unlike the old WCG, this modern cult environment is based on war worldwide. The cost of just the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone, none of which involved defense of territorial United States, begun by a President who believed God had guided him to do so, is calculated at $4.4 trillion (Brown U. study, just published). These wars have killed 250,000 in direct killings, half of which are civilians, and displaced 7.8 million people from their homes. American Special Operations forces are active in 130 nations, 70% of the world's nations. American combat operations are ongoing in at least a dozen nations right now.   
The WCG did not exercise civil power. But imagine Gerald Waterhouse, Roderick Meredith, or HWA or GTA types in control of the world's biggest military power in history, guided by the Word of God, the foundation of knowledge. Imagine? Maybe we don't have to imagine. Is it already here? 
I wonder if there are lessons that can be learned from our AC/WCG experience which could shed insight on actual causes and solutions to issues of war and peace, as distinguished from the bromides in the Plain Truth magazine and invocation of supernatural or extraterrestrial interventions.