Monday, January 15, 2018

Tarana's Box and Tawana's Curse: Sexual Harassment's Reverse Tsunami

There is a line from a well-known hip-hop artist from one of his songs in the '80s that popped in my head as I began writing this: "One after another/Another to the next..."

Celebrities of the masculine gender seem to be, like dominoes lined up in an intricate pattern, falling with every passing day due to the societal issue du jour:

Sexual harassment, abuse, and other improprieties.

The recent rash of men being accused of one or more of the following is spreading with the speed and effect of a coast-to-coast pandemic with no apparent panacea in sight. This is a hot button topic unlike any other. It has a seemingly eternal shelf life and shows no end in sight.

This issue is not news. This has been a challenge for our American experience. From human trafficking of young girls to white collar back-room trysts, the misadventures of sex have been an unshakeable bugaboo. But we need to be clear about what motivates the perpetrators of these personal-space violations. When you break it all down...

It's not a gender thing...although gender is a major factor these days. I would say that it's easy to paint women as the only victims of sexual harassment. But before you try to rake me over the coals, how do you explain Terry Crews and his experience of being sexually harassed? Although men are typically accused of sexually harassing women - and clearly more often than women - it would be unwise and ill-advised to suggest that the door doesn't swing both ways. Women are subject to being accused as the victimizer as well as men. The former doesn't get as much press as the latter - and there are gender-based reasons behind that - but nonetheless there is still press. Here is proof. So neither gender has a unilateral claim of victimhood.

It's not a political thing...although the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill and previous residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC have unsolved mysteries and untold (or yet-to-be-told) accounts of unwelcome sexual advances or transgressions carried out by political figures that were unwelcome or uninvited by their victims. The list stretches back to the early days of our democracy/republic. Some people may still remember the name Robert Packwood, who resigned after 29 (yes, 29) women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment and assault. He denied it until he was later busted out because he was keeping diaries of his exploits. Even during the last decade with such names as Herman Cain, Anthony Weiner, Al Franken, and John Conyers, this issue has traveled in almost true tennis-match style from one side of the aisle in Capitol Hill to the other. But to state that politics is responsible - even with the current President, Donald Trump, being the ostensible poster child of these escapades - would be, well, irresponsible.

Hollywood's public enemy #1...
It's not a race thing...although race is and always will play a major role. The slavery experience of African Americans in this country taught us very well that, no matter how some try to downplay or dismiss it, African Americans have been victimized in sexual ways for the better part of 400 years. The ripple effects of that victim experience are still being felt, the result of a trickle-down process that has manifested intra-racially. In other words, these behaviors practiced and modeled by some of Caucasian descent have likely rubbed off on some of African descent. (For reference, see Thomas, Clarence.) And before you jump on the bandwagon to suggest that this is only the domain of rich and successful white men, I submit to you Bill Cosby, Russell Simmons, and Tavis Smiley.

It's not an economic thing...although this unwanted behavior has made a veritable living out of making women feel as though they were escaping the Matrix for the first time. Inappropriately requested favors or tasks, inappropriate opportunities for advancement, and inappropriate paraphernalia are just a snippet of the work environment women have to endure for upwards of 40 hours a week. The concept of quid pro quoin the arena of workplace sexual harassment didn't just pop up out of nowhere.

It's not even a religious thing...although the scandal involving Catholic priests accused of molesting young boys leaves an unfortunate smear across all religions. Interestingly, the term scapegoat has its origin in a religious context, yet it's convenient to point the finger at the deity they are targeting. But it's much larger than that, so leave Jesus out of it. Or Buddha. Or Allah. Heck, add the Dalai Lama for that matter.

In a world where sex intersects with everything - politics, entertainment, sports, journalism, religion, etc. - there is sure to be some level of sexual impropriety that surreptitiously travels and lingers in the dark for decades. But we need to be clear about the string that runs through the beads. There is one common denominator and it shouldn't be hard to miss. When it comes to sexual harassment and abuse...

It's a power thing.

And power is often juxtaposed with morality. Very few have been able to demonstrate power and exhibit morality simultaneously and honorably. Usually what we have is this dynamic: power increases as morality decreases, and vice versa...and I'm speaking purely from a humanistic standpoint. And power implies influence.

And for those journalists (Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose) who have interviewed - and in some cases grilled - those who were accused of sexual harassment, the situation becomes even more awkward. Seeing that this subject matter has crossover appeal into sports (NFL Network's Marshall Faulk, Ike Taylor, Donovan McNabb et al), entertainment (Harvey Weinstein), the halls of justice (Alex Kosinski), cuisine (Marco Batali), the arts (James Levine), the allegations and the subsequent fallout needs a program to keep track. I just happen to have one here...

"Say it isn't so, Tavis"...and it sounds like he is...
There is still a slippery slope embedded in this whole narrative. It's one that many fear to tread because they don't want to come off as insensitive, viewed as blaming the victim, or just being on the wrong side of history. But this is a slope that exists nonetheless. The victim is not always a victim. And that is truly a matter of perspective because the more connected the victim is to the ones who typically have power, the less victimized they tend to be.

That last sentence may seem rather oxymoronic or maybe even paradoxical. It most certainly should not be generalized or applied with a broad stroke to minimize any abused person's harrowing experience. So to illustrate this, let me submit two names, names of Black women who preceded this apparent tsunami of sexual harassment, but serve as touch points to possibly bring this national narrative to its reluctant knees. One coined a term that loomed prescient in a regretful moment of lost opportunity. The other remains a cautionary, proverbial tale to those now celebrating this necessary yet groundbreaking chapter in history. One is getting a relative sliver of publicity; the other dwells in an inglorious infamy.

And even though women in our country are finding a voice where they often and unfortunately had none, there are still victims. And the ones to whom I refer are not powerful, rich, white men. And I also am not highlighting those who may still suffer from some form of sexual misconduct, generally speaking. There are victims that routinely get lost in the shuffle of women's rights and feminist activism, victims of an unforgiving caste system that has sung a "what-about-us" refrain for centuries, and these two women are microcosms of the whole issue.

Tarana Burke and Tawana Brawley.

If you are not familiar with these names, here are the Cliff Notes versions:

Tarana is a social activist who was solely responsible for the brainchild of the #MeToo movement. As the story goes, she had been working with sexual harassment survivors for years until she listened to one young girl sharing her painful account of being abused by her mother's boyfriend. Tarana recounted that she could not bring herself to whisper "me too", being a survivor herself. 10 years later after she began the movement that gained little to no traction, Alyssa Milano, the actress, set off a tidal wave of social activity by hijacking importing Tarana's #MeToo slogan as a hashtag on social media.

The resultant Internet and non-Internet traffic led to a crescendo initiated by Time magazine's Person of the Year edition for 2017, lauding the women (mostly rich, white and famous) who were considered the "silence breakers". All the while, Tarana was basically reduced to a footnote in the story, buried some 2000 words into the article. The original "silence breaker" trudged along with a worthwhile grass-roots movement that did not see the light of day until powerful, rich, or famous White females celebrities came from the shadows and spoke out.

Alyssa, if you're going to throw up the fist, it would help to have Tarana next to you...
Tawana was only 15 at the time she was found in a plastic bag on a New York street with her body covered with racial slurs and dog excrement. As the story goes, she was raped by four white men (one with a badge) who left her violated and disheveled. The Black community came out in droves to speak out against this heinous hate the point that Tawana was a prominent figure in the Public Enemy video, "Fight The Power", which was directed by Spike the point that Al Sharpton turned himself into a national figure in the fight for civil rights after deciding to support and represent her.

Once the dust settled, a grand jury chalked up her story as an elaborate hoax and the prosecutor successfully sued her for defamation. Now in her 40s, Tawana operates in obscurity, no longer in New York, working as a licensed nurse under an alias, and living now as a pariah of sorts. All the while, she refuses to speak about the circumstances behind what occurred that fateful night or her unfortunate coal-raking experience by the judicial system who concluded she made it all up. Last time she spoke up was 10 years ago - ironically the birth year of the original "Me Too" movement - and at that time she still maintained her story was true.

But let's look at the obvious similarities...besides the fact that their names share the same spelling, save one letter, and their initials are TB. Both are Black. Both are women. And in a society that tends to find ways to devalue women on general principle, arguably Black women have it the worst. Yes, women are as a whole are potential targets of sexual violence or harassment. Black women, sadly, seem to be sporting a larger bulls-eye than other women. That is simply because Black women have always had a larger mountain to climb. Sexual harassment is just one cliff for Black women to scale on the way to Abraham Lincoln's chin on Mount Rushmore.

Gabrielle Union, the well-known actress who just so happens to be Black, summed it up better than I ever could:
I think the floodgates have opened up for white women. I don't think it's a coincidence whose pain had been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now.
Power and pain go hand in hand in a cause-and-effect manner. And when Black women are the subject of systemic powerlessness, marginalization, and subjugation, power becomes a team sport. It's not just White men, but a number of White women who sign as free agents on the squad that has the most pull and experienced the least pain...or find another, more disadvantaged victim onto whom to transfer their pain.

Tawana Brawley circa 1988
As I said before, the victim is not always a victim. The more connected the victim is to the powerful, the less victimized they tend to be. To borrow from Cris Carter, former football pro, you need to have a fall guy. And it may be the perception that, since Black women don't have far to fall anyway, they are better positioned to shoulder the pain.

Gabrielle didn't stop there. She added this nugget of reality:
If those people (famous white women) hadn't been Hollywood royalty. If they hadn't been approachable. If they hadn't been people who have had access to parts and roles and true inclusion in Hollywood, would we have believed?
Which is the crux of the matter. When it comes to sexual harassment, abuse, and improprieties, credibility is always relative. American slavery taught us that. The Emmett Tills and "strange fruit" of our country's historical past are deceased adjunct professors in this field. And the burden of credibility exclusively fell upon the victim. Until now. At least for rich and famous White women, of course.

For Black women, the struggle to be taken seriously and believable continues. I mean, it took 10 years for someone to take Tarana's "me too" and Me Too advocacy seriously. What if someone powerful heard her cry when she was the actual victim? Or perhaps when she uttered that slogan for the first time? What if she was a rich, famous White woman instead...would Hollywood have rallied around it even quicker than they did?

Or what about Tawana's purported ruse? What if this was a 16-year-old White girl who alleged the same things at the hands of a bunch of Black men? Would she have been taken more seriously and suspects been manufactured out of thin air? Or is it even the least disturbing that an underage minor who happened to be a Black girl was mercilessly put through law enforcement and judicial machinations that ultimately dismissed her rape allegations as not credible? What if what she alleged was actually true?

It could just be me, but I think Gabrielle is only getting started.
This is the box that has been opened and the curse we now bear as a country. There is no going backwards now...except that the White and powerful could (and most likely will try to) potentially leave Black women behind once again, deeming them the exception and not part of the class action suit brought into the national consciousness by the "silence breakers". It would not be wise for them to try to reverse a tsunami by isolating a segment of the population that is hurting exceedingly worse than those who are now finding voice to their pain.

Not to mention the notion that the professed "silence breakers" are likely complicit in keeping the plight of their sexually harassed "sistas" silent...just like the traditional feminist power structure has historically done and continues to do. Just because you are a victim today doesn't mean you stay a victim an hour later. It just depends upon where you fall on the sexual harassment spectrum. And Black women are offstage right, prepared to make their entrance into the spotlight, primed to show their pain in ways never before witnessed by this country.

The Taranas of our world struggle to fight against having their voices shuttled back to the sidelines, when it was their lone voice in the wilderness that cried out like John the Baptist in an unpopular atmosphere. The Tawanas continue to either suffer in silence or have their voices muted either by circumstance, fear, apathy, misfortune, or numbness from historical or systemic forces. And the Gabrielles are learning to be the contemporary prophets and truth-tellers for Black women (and all women for that matter) at the risk of sacrificing their careers, connections, and, dare I say, Blackness at whichever altar this country finds sacred this month.

Jim Rome, the sports talk radio icon, frequently says that sex is undefeated in the history of the world. I beg to differ. Sex has never been undefeated and is even further under .500 now. Sex is now losing more than it can count to infinity. And sex is losing big time in the court of public opinion...and stands to lose even more soon for at least one good reason. It is simply because of hurt, angry, overlooked, abused, harassed, played, and dismissed Black women...who were once a somewhat untapped resource, yet now becoming a proven indomitable and indefatigable American force to be reckoned with.

Just ask Roy Moore.

Monday, December 11, 2017

QOTM - December 11, 2017

Always remember, your focus determines your reality.
-George Lucas, filmmaker/creator of Star Wars

Saturday, December 9, 2017

What "The Church" Produced: Bully For Us

These are the days in which I lament how much times are and are not changing.

Times in the Lord's church change for various reasons. But unfortunately what has not changed in the past century or thereabouts is the way in which preachers and leaders often end up in camps or tribes...somewhat like the Hatfields and McCoys, but with a lot less blood. Or maybe the contention between the Huguenots and French Catholics is a more appropriate comparison. Or maybe the Crips and the Bloods. The bottom line is this: church leaders know how to "set-trip" with the best of them.

And in these contemporary times, this family feud has found a new square circle: the Internet, naturally and unfortunately. Specifically, these bouts take place on the more well-known media avenues of Facebook and YouTube. Whether in word or video, sides get chosen, 'bows get thrown, and saints and the society-at-large watch or get caught up in the madness. Even they are susceptible to participating in the so-called "friendly fire". Well at least it's packaged as friendly.

One specific camp seemingly promotes the concept of sound doctrine. To preface what I'm going to say next, I'm all in favor of sound doctrine. I believe in having a teaching that is sound in quality. Biblical soundness has direct reference primarily to that which is healthy, such as a broken bone being properly set back into place so as to allow the body to heal itself and become one again. The implication is that the doctrine or teaching offered has the ability to provide a holistic quality of life for the child of God: spiritual health which then allows for health in other vital life areas.

The McCoys could not make it to this portrait setting...for obvious reasons.
Here is the problem: certain promoters of "sound" doctrine are typically known or notorious for breaking spiritual bones instead of solidifying them. Tactics such as thinly-veiled threats to "disfellowship", conferences offering regurgitated topics that are neither thought-provoking nor  hermeneutically responsible, and an overall attitude of elitism and smugness that can make an English aristocrat look like he came from the 'hood.

Those not residing in this camp colloquially refer to them with colorful names descriptive of infamous terrorist groups - the "Taliban", "Al-Qaeida", etc. - names that describe the otherwise toxic influence and activity that they demonstrate. It is and always will represent a form of bullying. Comply with what we say (based on our non-public interpretation of the Bible) or else get cut, get cut off, or worse...labeled a heretic. But this is just the tip of the iceberg here...

(I'll just add here that certain brethren not in the professed "sound doctrine" enclave are not exempt, as they participate in their own brand of name-calling, pejorative-slanging, and petty bickering with the "sound" doctrine camp. Referring to their spiritual siblings as the Taliban and Al-Qaeida, privately or publicly, does not do the body good...)

The spot gets hot when this and other camps show up at regional or national gatherings designated for preachers and leaders. This is when the prominent and not-so-prominent ministers come into town armed with their bark and their bite, ready to show fangs whether they get to speak from the dais or bump shoulders in the buffet line. And if there happens to be a "hot seat" portion of the program, the event has every potential to wonder if Jerry Springer has shown up to be the moderator.

Let me explain the "hot seat" phenomenon: a panel of preachers, who have already mounted the bully pulpit (some probably still smarting from being bumped from a "prime time" slot to the daytime one), are seated on the stage to field questions or pointed challenges from the audience based on their presentations. The goal is for each preacher to defend his position scripturally and, if need be, forcefully. 

Those in the audience - especially if they are from the "sound" doctrine camp - show up primed to contend for the faith verbally spar over and advance the causes they feel are worthy and relevant to the church at large: dangers of secularism, the concerns regarding worship movements/influences, ecumenism (promotion of religious and doctrinal unity with other religious groups), and so on.

This is not to say that these may not be worthy and relevant topics. The problem is when there are extreme approaches by camps that draw hard lines in the sand, leading ministers to look for a "reason to go". And the truth of the matter is this: "soundness" usually has very little to do with Scripture and has much to do with the following:
  • church imperialism: the need to invade the personal space of their leadership peers to insist and strong-arm others to be, act, worship, and serve like them;
  • abuse of "power": the air of arrogance that causes certain ministers to carry themselves as the last remaining or ultimate earthly authority of what is or is not sound;
  • ecclesiastical gang-bangin' or set-trippin'; my group of preachers (who think and preach/teach like I do) versus just-about-everyone-else (those who are "in error" and are on deck to be "ministry-shamed").
Recognize any of these people? I doubt you bumped into any of them at the last church workshop...
So with all this bullying going on, what can we do to discontinue this activity and discourage ecclesiastical cannibalism (Galatians 5.15)?

Call a spade a spade.
In other words, make the effort to be clear about what constitutes true sound doctrine. Some issues have been labeled doctrinal when they really are in the realm of expediency and matters of personal or congregational judgment (e.g., hand-clapping...yes, I said it). Yet some issues have been labeled non-doctrinal when they should in fact be classified as non-negotiable in doctrinal terms (women elders and preachers).

I may be opening up a can of worms here, and I also know that this issue cannot be resolved with one blog post. But the point I'm making here is that an issue can be discussed and debated with no end in sight. So being resolved to live and support what YOU personally believe and have studied based on proper hermeneutics is necessary. And don't be surprised if some don't or won't agree with you. It's par for the course.

Stop acting like rogue police officers.
The problem with some in the so-called "sound" doctrine camp is that they operate what they see as being under the law in their methodology, but in reality they present as above the law in behavior. Functionally, they are all letter and little to no spirit (or better said, little to no Spirit). It is as though 2 Timothy 2.25 ceases to exist. And what's worse is that in holding themselves to a standard they are not willing to live by, the inference becomes that we are facing a neo-Pharisaical spirit in our Kingdom ranks.

It's like the contemporary church version of the "blue line". If a church leader ends up on the wrong side of it, he should be prepared to be the target of ecclesiastical profiling. Or some verbal "sound" doctrine camp brutality. Or a line of "sound" brothers in riot gear and leather-bound billy clubs. Or even worse: be the subject of rogue "police" activity that is neither Scriptural nor Spirit-led...such as the "letter of withdrawal".

The fact is that these brothers have no God-given authoritative mandate to regulate others in this way. So if you find that you are a badge-toting member of this "police" union, the time to turn in your shield is way overdue. 

Redirect all that anger, sarcasm, pot-shot taking, name-calling, and emotional vomiting under the guise of preaching towards (y)our real enemy.
As Jermaine Jackson once sang, "Don't take it personal/Take the bitter with the sweet..." Most preaching done by this camp does not fall under the category of expository or exegetical. In fact, it is barely topical insomuch that the topic has the bare modicum of a Biblical focus. In other words, the Bible may be the starting point but not necessarily the end goal. And when one in this camp preaches to his base (read: his home congregation), dishing up red meat to the "sound" doctrine supporters usually amounts to very little, if any, progress outside the base. All the while, the devil himself checks off a box and moves on to his next conquest.

There is a healthy portion of scriptural passages that encourages a Christian to diagnose a conflict or situation with a brother or sister properly.  Sadly, most conflicts open up opportunities for the devil to damage Christian relationships and skew the way we view our spiritual siblings. By treating fellow workers of the Body as if they are our enemy, they actually turn themselves into a tool being used by the real enemy. These things ought not to be.

The devil already has enough to work with without having us help him out. So those in the "sound" doctrine camp need to check their wayward dispositions, verbal salvos, and emotional content at the door so cooler heads can truly prevail.

Those not in this camp are not safe. So if you engage in unhealthy, unproductive, and negative dialogue with the so-called "sound" doctrine camp, this next point is for you...

Stop enabling bad behavior.
In engaging in this type of dialogue, you are merely fanning the flames of the so-called "sound" doctrine rhetoric and vitriol. As the old saying goes, two wrongs don't make a right. Referring to them in terrorist language or taking part in what amounts to online catfights only emboldens the "sound" camp and riles up their base. The only difference here is that you are supplying names for them to target and use as fuel for their fire. Instead of fighting fire with fire, one would be better served to take a page (or several) from the book of Proverbs.

If one from the "sound" doctrine camp rages against you if you try to scripturally reason with them in a Christ-like spirit, use wise judgment to decide whether to respectfully dismiss him or challenge and reprove him. Note that person as one who rejects counsel and wisdom, which, by Biblical standards, is the classification of a fool. As one person aptly stated, " negligible issues we should just ignore fools, but in issues that matter, they must be dealt with so that credence will not be given to what they say."

In other words, let Proverbs 26.4-5 be your approach. I'll give you that one for free...

Learn how to touch and disagree. 
Quite a noticeable number of church leaders and ministers either have lost or have never developed the art of diplomacy. If the US State Department and all our ambassadors handled disagreements in the manner we often do in the church, we might be on the verge of World War 9 by now. The concept of tact is one that we would be well served to adopt in our spiritual relationships. 

Heck, Abraham had enough sense to do this with his own blood family when there was a disagreement. Paul and Barnabas apparently did not hold any severe grudges after their sharp contention over John Mark....otherwise, someone's name would've still been in the other person's mouth. 

What do we tend to do in similar situations? Turn an argument into a "battle royal" with tussles outside of the ring that move to the next local preachers' the next preachers' the the next edition of a "brotherhood" journal or the next preachers' "field trip", bringing the fight inside the foyer, or worse, inside of the worship service. And it shouldn't be any surprise when those in the world catch wind of how those church folk just can't seem to...well, be Christians.

If you don't know who this person is, you don't know your religious conservative debate history very well.
Once we learn how to agree to disagree under the influence of the Holy Spirit, at the same time avoid putting our business in the street, we will be much better off. And the collateral positive result will be the good pleasure of our Lord Himself. In unpleasantly disagreeing with each other, we get locked into our pleasure and forget about pleasing the Lord. The irony is this: we tell ourselves that what we are doing to please ourselves IS pleasing God. 

Question: Where have you read or heard when the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit EVER disagreed with each other, whether pleasantly or unpleasantly? Exactly.

Make sure to keep the main thing the main thing...but first figure out what the main thing really is.
With all of the lectureships crowding the annual calendar, one would think that much more is actually being accomplished. Quite the contrary. At times what we see is the redrawing of ministerial districts based on doctrinal, relational, and congregational shifts. When people find out about what a certain minister is about, and that minister shows up at a gathering of his peers, the conversations turn into sidebar questions concerning with whom he is affiliated. 

What ensues is what I'd like to refer to as "perceived damage control". In other words, this brother has been "damaged" by some outside influence, and we need to control that influence so the leaven doesn't leaven the whole lump. So in the end, it's not about the purpose for the assembly but the undercurrent that threatens the fabric of our brotherhood.

That seems to be a major problem for the Kingdom these days: we excel in majoring in the minors, except they are minors of our own making...manufactured for our own motives and desires, not God's.

What also complicates things is a concept that has become in a utilitarian sense a necessary "evil": autonomy. The only difference between this and, say, television, is that we really NEED autonomy. Yet at times we use autonomy to circumvent the issues of disunity and disharmony. We can stay holed up in our corner of the world and tip-toe around those with whom we have not sought healthy dialogue and civil debate. 

All this does is create a veneer of Kingdom fellowship, one as esoteric and paper thin as having the same naming convention on the outside of the church building...because we can't play fair long enough in our disagreements to deal with a more pressing issue. The issue clearly is our collective shortcomings in "maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace". Not surprisingly, we can easily quote this scripture without practicing it.

If we took the time to see how critically important the big picture (unity in the Spirit) really is for us, maybe then we will see ourselves in a manner that reflects 1 Corinthians 12.12-27.  We won't always agree - and by "agree", I refer to matters on a non-doctrinal basis - but we can at least put ourselves in position to affirmatively answer the Rodney King credo-like query, "Can we all just get along?"

Then those in the so-called "sound" doctrine camp will be more agreeable and less dogmatic, those not in their camp will be more conciliatory and less retaliatory, and the lion and the lamb will get to lay down together.

I mean, "we be brethren"...aren't we?

"Do Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 contradict? How can both verses be true?" Retrieved October 30, 2017, from