The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judiciary body in the land. It is a life time appointment. There is no redo when appointing someone to it and the impact of its decisions are felt everyday by every American citizen. Who should be confirmed onto the court is of great import to every citizen and a question that has been at the forefront of the news because this particular confirmation has been attached to the historical dehumanization and marginalization of women in American society. The questions raised by the Kavanaugh Confirmation are deeply theological in that they ask about evil and redemption. They challenge us to think about both the victim and the victimizer and what is a holy and just response to both. These hearings ask us if civility is a common ethic. Can we as a society disagree without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same (Brown 2017)? If we cannot settle on how an accuser and the accused should be treated when such an important role is hanging in the balance I wonder what we are doing in our religious institutions to respond to community brokenness.
In order for a community to thrive, there must be an understanding of faithful community-building behavior. Faithful community-building behavior suggests that each member of the community concerns him-herself with the effect of her or his behavior on the good of the community (Flunder 2005). Community is really the coming together of a group of individuals who have learned to how to communicate honestly with each other and accepted the shared responsibility of common ethics. When the common ethic ground upon which this faithful community-building behavior is violated by any member or members of the community, acknowledgement and repentance are the path to wholeness within a community. Acknowledgement means there is ownership of the wrong doing and repentance means there is a change of mind and corresponding behavior on the part of those who have violated the ethical boundaries of the community. Acknowledgement and repentance happen by naming our objectionable deeds as wrongs, by grieving over the injuries inflicted, and by determining to mend our ways (Volf 2011).
With every seat at the table comes an expected and acceptable corresponding behavior, this means that those with power at the table are held to a high standard as they are trusted to set the norms for the entire community. Without this understanding of communal responsibility, ultimately a community is ruled by unrestrained egoism. People in power pridefully considering only their own interest, fracture and ultimately destroy a community. Dominant groups assert their will over others at all cost in order to achieve what is in their own self-interest. The danger is that they engage in every form of hypocritical reasoning to justify their advantages, and without any hesitation they will use force to maintain those advantages (West 2006). Far too much of this is being seen in our society today. Even if the accused is innocent, there is a certain remorse for the experience of the victim or for any who have been victimized that demands a civilized, justice based response grounded in the common good.
This repentance should lead us to the door of forgiveness. Not a cheap forgiveness that ignores the violation of community norms, but true forgiveness that frees the victim from the power of the victimizer and calls the victimizer to live forward as their highest self. The absence of forgiveness keeps us mired in shame. Shame breaks and weakens us, keeping us away from the wholeness that healing offers (hooks 2000). Forgiveness is not to displace responsibility nor is it to say that people who have violated community norms should be in positions of power, but it does call us to ask the question, what is just and redemptive for those who violate community norms? We should ask ourselves if they are also souls of sacred worth and how are we called to be present to their wholeness in the community. Do we have the ability to be attentive to the needs of victims and the brokenness of victimizers or does violating the ethics of community call for disposal of personhood?
Each week in our liturgies, we hold space for those who have been wounded, we wrestle with evil and redemption and ritualize good overcoming evil. How do we ritualize the tension in community when people violate our community-building behaviors?
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Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Brown, Brene. 2017. Braving the Wilderness. New York: Random House.
Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where The Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgram Press.
hooks, bell. 2000. all about love. New York: Harper Perennial.
Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.
West, Traci. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press.