Our nation is embroiled in a contentious political race, but this blog is not about politics. We’re involved in a much more critical discussion about topics that affect all of us, especially those who have a connection to Bethesda Workshops. I have struggled about if and what to write regarding recent circumstances, because I don’t want to be another divisive and vitriolic voice (though I admit my internal dialogue is quite severe in its language).
I have come to the conclusion, though, that silence is a worse commentary than controversy, especially for a ministry dedicated to sexual wholeness. Bethesda Workshops focuses specifically on sexual addiction and sexual abuse, and I know at least one of those issues is at play. I suspect the other likely is, too.
Daily, I interact with sexual abuse survivors and sex addicts, and both of those descriptions fit me personally. While I rarely am surprised anymore at these situations, I am routinely horrified. Often I am heartbroken at the pain I hear described by Bethesda Workshops’ participants or callers. Sometimes I am deeply triggered into my own. In recent days I am experiencing both reactions.
More than the words and acts themselves that are under discussion, I wish we would deepen our attention to consider the enormous systemic issues that undergird them. Ours is a pornified culture as various writers have described it. It is also a society that glorifies sexual violence in myriad forms. Perhaps worse, many tend to overlook it, excuse it, or even enable it by participating in the pornography and media that displays sexual aggression. Unless the violence results in overt, long-term physical harm – and happens to someone we personally care about – we make excuses for the perpetrator’s behavior. We even judge and blame the victims.
A huge part of this issue is about power. Despite giving lip service to gender equality, our culture – and especially the majority of our churches – endow men with more power than women. Sexually, an enduring attitude is that men “take” and women “give.” Powerful males – political figures, media stars, athletes, church leaders, business executives, and a host of other categories of men – too often are not held accountable for their sexual indiscretions.
If nothing else, many in this national conversation are finally drawing a line that enough is enough. Male athletes are insisting their locker room talk does not include bragging about sexual violence. Some prominent male Christian leaders are speaking against misogyny, while sadly, too many others continue to excuse it. I love that over 700 evangelical Christian women have signed a letter insisting that churches must denounce sexually abusive language and behavior toward women and the misogyny that fuels it. I add my name!
Most of the time, we ignore the thinking and attitudes that contribute to sexual violence. Ours is a culture of extreme objectification, especially of women. We ignore how objectifying women also harms men, and we are raising children who believe the mindset of objectification is normal. We dishonor sexuality by making it a commodity rather than a God-given, core component of human dignity.
By God’s design, I believe our sexuality is the characteristic most closely connected to our spirituality. The emotional connection, the vulnerability, the trust, the joy of sexual expression are deeply spiritual constructs. Further, I insist that our sexual attitudes and behavior illustrate our character. How can they not? One of the things I love most about my involvement with Bethesda Workshops is that the people who attend desire to become men and women of integrity regarding their sexual behavior.
Much more than politics, attitudes matter. Words matter. Actions matter. And responses to attitudes, words and actions matter, too.
Marnie C. Ferree