Friday, November 28, 2014


The Winter 2014 issue of the UU World emerged from the pile of paper and books next to my reading chair and -- holy cow! -- in it was an article about “sex offenders” by Kimberley French, who writes about these matters and other problems of tolerating those outside our moral guidelines.  I thought, “amazing!”  She was quite self-disclosive, telling about a friend who finally told her he was a listed sex-offender.  She had had no idea.  He was a nice guy.  She felt bad for him.  She just didn’t know what to do about it.  There are principles, but then there are practicalities.

Naturally enough, she looked to her congregation -- accepting, healing, guiding -- to know what to do about sex offenders.  Statistically she knew there had to be several there, unknown, unidentified.  Statistically she also knew that there must be about one-fifth of the females and a fewer number of the males who had been sexually abused, all sitting quietly in those pews.  Someone said all pedophiles should be thrown out of the congregation -- but unless they had a criminal record, how would you know who they were?  (The minister muttered, "Maybe we should just throw out all sinners.")  (What if it's the minister?)

In short, this nice woman knew a lot about the subject of "pedophiles" from reading respectable sources.  She knew all about the problem from A to B.  (You know that review of an actress who was said to run the gamut of emotions from A to B?)  Actually it was more like from M or N to O because only the middle of the spectrum was anything she knew existed.   The two ends were invisible.  On the "high" end, I’ll bet you five dollars I could listen to her talk for half an hour and spot a dozen sex-and-gender-related assumptions she was making.  For one thing, I think she severely underestimates how much the culture is guided by these assumptions.  (Like the “pinkifying” of the UU ministry which has turned clergy into counselors, made them comfy moms, wide-waisted assurers of big hugs.  Jesus loves you, oh, yes, She does. ) 

On the low end French seems not to understand that sexual abuse of children is often murderous violence -- I mean death -- nor how many children live out on the streets, barely alive, doing sexwork in order to eat, taking drugs in order to do sexwork.  Nowhere near the number of shelters needed exist and many of them are dangerous for kids.   Boys in particular are turned out of “nice” households with educated parents.  I mean kids whose main criminal tendency is defiance.  UU’s ought to be able to grasp that.

There IS discussion of clergy misconduct in French's article.  The Emerson Avenger, a blogger who has been holding up the issue for decades, is vindicated in terms of admitting it happens.  

All this is so much beyond buying a t-shirt.  So much a deformation of “love.”  It isn’t really even about sex, or about how moral, educated church people should react to it, even if they "stand on the side of love.”  It is about a world disorder that denies that human beings are even living creatures, that they matter at all, that they are anything but puppets or livestock.  What I'm saying is that when we consider sexual abuse, we think it's about sex, but it's really about being inhuman in an unforgiving world.  Sexual predation is a symptom.

This week I saw a bizarre movie that I wish I had not.  It’s called “The Act of Killing.”  Here’s the Netflix squib: “A 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, this film follows two former death squad leaders as they reenact atrocities they committed during a bloody era in Indonesia when more than a million people were slaughtered.”  As another critic more eloquently put it, the film starts out as a self-justification and glorification project by a little cluster of men who are as amoral as humans can get -- psychotically self-involved -- whose ambitious re-enactment starts with dreams of fame and fortune (as filtered through gangster B-movies from Hollywood and Bollywood-style dance routines) into a surrealism that leaves even the Big Star vomiting.  (Although, I suspect he was acting as much then as he was earlier.  He had only realized that his audience might want dramatic repentance.) 

Anwar Congo, well-dressed killer

These guys are the Laurel and Hardy of inhuman behavior and there’s little sex in it directly.  The sexual abuse comes from their worldview of entitlement.  There’s no pleasure, no sophistication, not even real power.  They are death squads with no black balaclavas over their heads, happy to be seen as the monsters they are because they don’t know monsters from a palm tree.   As long as they're famous, "the most", number one.  They predict that everyone will be blown away by how daring they are -- and they're right.  This movie is prize-winning, highly praised.  "A masterpiece!"  Intellectuals love to exploit the miserable, all their  academic, cynical rage and powerlessness coming out in mockery, excusing them from getting really involved.  It’s the equivalent of the old-fashioned freak show where deformed is paraded.

A scene in another more conventional movie showed a man solicited by a hustling kid.  The man was a law enforcer and pursued the kid to beat him up and bring him in.  A critic writing about the scene remarked that its power and meaning came from the inclusion of an older man standing nearby, leaning on a furled umbrella, calm and unmoving, witnessing.  An alert viewer of the movie could see through this unblinking man how stupid and excessive the behavior was.  

The only redeeming quality of this extravaganza of crocodilian immorality is that at the edges of some scenes there were quiet gray men who looked away, some with wet faces.  Otherwise, this film could make a racist of me.  You know, of course, that Indonesia is noted for sex tourism and child trafficking.  (Do you follow Nick Kristoff? )  This horrific stuff REALLY HAPPENED and America was involved.

Jack again:  “You can’t handle the truth.”  The truth is that child molesters are us.  The victims of child molesters are us.  Pogo:  “We have found the enemy and they are us.”  There is nothing protecting you from atrocities except chance.  The ground gapes beneath our feet.  Homeland Security cannot (will not) protect you.  On other people’s children we use predator drones.  On our own people we are more subtle.  Mostly we push people of color into poverty -- that will kill them soon enough. 

When smug UU’s throw up their hands over pedo-priests, I like to joke that UU clergy don’t bother with children.  The men look for rich women and the women cruise for power.  Children don’t normally have either.  Sex can’t compete with money and power.  When I entered the ministry, the curtain was swept back.  In fact, I’ve spoken before about how I attended a workshop that explained that the roots of domestic abuse are in the desire to control -- and recognized the signs in my own congregation.  And myself.  

A complaint about both Unitarian and Universalist strands of our historical theology is that we deny evil.  I think this is true.  Some of us have seen it, even opposed and bested it, but many people think that when they’ve found their church of choice, they’ve found safety.   Why else would they join? 

A grotesque Laurel and Hardy of horror

That's when the ridiculously thin edge of Evil finds its way in, wearing a hot pink cowboy hat.  It's on YouTube if you have the stomach for it.

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