Ever since the tape of Donald Trump and Billy Bush surfaced on Oct 7, the media has been saturated with news about sexual assault. Like many other women, I have often felt jangled during the past ten days. But I have also felt a strange elation. At last we’re talking openly about the prevalence of sexual assault. At last a powerful man has to face consequences. At last women can speak their truth and be heard on social media.
Have you felt emboldened to speak out? Many of us have stories to tell because, let’s face it, when a person grows up in a female body in a misogynist culture, she’s bound to experience assault — whether it’s unwanted words, looks, touching — or it escalates to physical violence.
The assault that ruined my life — the one I wrote a book about — includes horrific details that make my story unusual: two strangers and two guns and multiple victims over five hours. But besides those details, my story is unusual because we victims testified in court and one of the rapists was convicted. In other words, we got justice!
I’ve come to see that my experience of justice is one thing that underlies my strange elation. The possibility of justice is thrilling. Justice is restorative. Justice makes God smile. Justice is an antidote to assault because it rebalances the scales of worth.
After my assault, I felt ruined. My worth had been stripped away and my future derailed. But why? Why should an assault affect a person’s sense of worthiness? It’s not even logical. Why should a victim suffer a stain from someone else’s action?
But I know why it did in my case. My complicating factor was that I was raised in a conservative religious subculture, and inundated with specific messages about what women were worth. I believed those messages — that women were worth less than men — and that women needed to be sexually pure or they would displease God. When I was raped (and secretly knew I wasn’t entirely pure) I understood that the rape was a punishment from God. That’s how I put it together. That’s how my faith increased my suffering.
I am still a person of faith, but of a re-invented faith. Because when belief causes intolerable suffering, a person has to let go of something. What could I let go of? That became my question and my quest. I couldn’t let go of my belief in God. I needed God. I loved God. Besides, it wasn’t God who stained me, put me in a double-bind and abandoned me. It was a specific belief system that did that. It was the church, at least the one that told me how little females were worth.
Over a period of years, I formed a new faith, and found a new church. My God-given intelligence and God-given desire for God drove me to do that. I discovered that God is not just a punishment-dispensing machine for ruined girls. I discovered that God loves justice and mercy, and that God created all humans with dignity and worth. Eventually I was even able to flaunt the rules I’d learned about what women are good for. I entered forbidden waters and became a Presbyterian pastor. I’ve been in ordained ministry for decades.
There are many flavors of Christianity, and as a progressive, I feel little connection to the evangelical world. Still, I notice what evangelicals say and don’t say, mainly because it gets the lion’s share of media attention — the evangelical faith is what people picture when they hear the word “Christian.”
So another part of my “strange elation” this past week has come from watching evangelical leaders abandon Trump. No surprise that it’s the women leading the way there. Many evangelical men are hold-outs of support for this admitted abuser of women. Apparently, in the evangelical world, women still have their place, which allows them to have their “pussy” groped when it suits a powerful man, especially one who has money or celebrity, or the illusion of these.
Perhaps this debacle will prove to be a turning point, not only for the election, but also for how women see themselves. Perhaps we will all tell our stories and push back. Perhaps we won’t feel ruined by sexual assault any longer. That’s my hope. Because it’s beyond ridiculous that women should feel ruined by what men brag about doing to them. We are all worth more than that. Thank God that church leaders are finally speaking up! Our faith in God should help us measure our worth, rather than measure our ruin.