Monday, 8 December 2014

Ridding world of sexual violence a slow journey

Violence against women is neither unusual nor uncommon in Canadian society.

People may have been surprised by the disclosure of accusations against CBC host Gian Ghomeshi. Certainly the people who jumped to his defence and then retracted their statements was surprising

One of the lessons I learned long ago was that sexual harassment, rape and violence happen more than we care to admit, even in the church.

Some would say especially in the church.

I recall living in a small town in New Brunswick when the town drunk showed up at the manse door one winter evening. We thought that a cup of coffee would help sober him up. Things were fine until he started taking off his pants in the middle of the kitchen in front of my then wife, while making inappropriate comments towards her. I reached around to the phone and called the RCMP, who arrived shortly afterward and took the gentleman away, along with taking his keys.

If my wife of the day had been alone I am not sure what would have happened.

I know of women in ministry who have been sexually assaulted by members of their congregation.

I know of male ministers who have taken inappropriate liberties with women in their congregation.

My point is that violence against women is neither unusual nor uncommon.

That’s why, although I cringe at the public conversation in Canada these days, I know that violence against women had to be talked about and our attitudes have to change.

I am required, as a condition of employment in the United Church, to attend regular training around issues of sexual harassment and gender awareness. I have to do it to keep my credentials as a pastor. There are no exceptions.

That’s why I uget it when people like members of parliament, police officers or anyone in a position of public trust has to be treated with what may appear as harshness when accused of misconduct or even criminal activity.

After Mr. Trudeau removed two MP’s from his caucus after accusations from other Mps over sexual harassment, I understood why. There was really no option. The matter had to be responded to, and with some sense of recognition that this was and is a serious matter.

Time will tell if the complaints are valid, but in my experience, no one reports sexual assault or unwanted attention easily or willingly. Unfortunately it is a very painful and emotionally searing process, even with the support of partners or family.

There are those who suggest that rape and sexual assault are both described and condoned in Christian scripture. That is true. I have found it helpful to recognize that the rape stories in scripture are not intended as normative but as persuasive. The writes took what was normal in their culture and used the images to turn against their listeners, largely disobedient men. It was not, in any way, intended to normalize or make acceptable sexual assault or rape. Any implication of that is simply an inappropriate reading of scripture.

I would like to envision a world where all are treated with respect and there is no justification for hurting or abusing another. We do need to have zero tolerance for sexual assault and all such behaviour which hurts or diminishes another. It’s a long, slow journey, but one which has to happen. But on this 25th anniversary of our most horrible attack on women, the Montreal Massacre, I have to hold out hope. Even if it’s just one candle that I hold myself.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County