trauma and welcome

The recent Supreme Court nominee debate has brought so much discussion about sexual assault, abuse and intimidation…the violence of that experience, even in instances when that experience doesn’t include actual physical violence. 

There’s still trauma that is experienced. 

Depending upon the collection of experiences that a woman may have experienced, every successive encounter, as innocuous as it may seem, has the potential to cause trauma…

Has the potential to resurface trauma, so that the trauma is relived…

That’s one very real reason so many people choose to not report experiences of sexual violence and intimidation.

Imagine having to relive the trauma…and then to have your trauma outright dismissed or trivialized!

Then there’s the feeling that reporting the experience could damage your career potential.

You know…

She’s one of those “difficult” women. She’s independent. She’s intimidating.

Thoughts and whispers that give impressions, which lead to “legitimate” reasons for sidelining her.

No one can prove it. 

Patriarchal society has had years at glossing over sexism. The culture is proficient in it. So good, even some women get tricked…right?

There has to be a reason for it. She had to have done something. They wouldn’t simply pass her over because of gender-bias and then find some “legitimate” reason for giving the opportunity to someone else – even if only a “more agreeable” woman…

But those who #StayWoke recognize the game. #IfYouKnowYouKnow

So I’m considering all these  things and more, and start to wonder about their resonance within the Church.

Like, how would the Church respond in a similar situation? 

In the #MeToo culture, where do we think the Church really stands?

Like imagine this…

Imagine a female priest felt harassed and intimidated by a colleague.

You know…guy probably said something ignorant. Maybe he really crossed an unconscionable line. Maybe he unknowingly hit a trigger that he really didn’t mean to hit – and for which he’s sorry.

And you know our Society…

Heaven forbid someone think we are not “good people,” so he feels this extra need to make sure she understands how “not-sexist” he is. Yet, with every effort he fumbles around and says something else sexist.

Before you know it, the conversation thread is littered with offensive little tidbits that only make the situation worse.

So much so that this female priest requests the Canon to the Ordinary to “safeguard her” and help to prevent further sexual misconduct by directing the male priest to refrain from contacting her. 

But then, some time had passed and the guy still wanted to explain himself. It didn’t sit well with him that someone thought he was sexist. He had just marched in the Women’s March!

He’s uneasy…restless. So, he contacts the Canon to the Ordinary and asks if he could contact her. He still wants to explain himself. 

The Canon to the Ordinary says the male priest should go ahead and contact her again – even though the Canon to the Ordinary knows the female priest doesn’t want to hear from the guy.  The Canon to the Ordinary doesn’t even contact the female priest beforehand to see if her feelings have changed. Maybe she is ready to speak to him…?!?!

But, nah…

Just tell this guy to go ahead and contact her…despite her wishes.

Then…after the encounter, let’s imagine the Canon to the Ordinary being satisfied simply by hearing the word of the (accused) bully. He says things are on a better track with the female priest. And the Canon to the Ordinary never thinks to check with the female who felt bullied.

How would the Church respond?

Would we respond any better than the world has responded to the cries of #MeToo?

Now, I know the female priest could file a grievance with the Chain of Command. Of course, when the problem’s with the Chain of Command, that brings up an additional conundrum. Yet, there should at least be a policy manual for how she can get recourse. 

But, would the Church provide her with recourse?

Or would the Church give her the same answer that women are typically given in the world?

Now, some in counsel have challenged me on using a hypothetical woman in this case…

But, I was hesitant to use a real story. I know the costs associated with telling your story. I’m also aware of the extra costs that come when you allow your story to be used as a means for relational context.

Yet, I needed a story to set a reference nonetheless. So, I went with a hypothetical written on the basis of my own experience.

Earlier this year, I wrote of my experience at an “Anti-racism Clergy Day” in the Diocese. (See Here). 

At this anti-racism workshop, a white priest decided to move me from my seat…to move my coffee and laptop bag, and sit in my seat. He ignored those at the table who told him I was sitting there. He scoffed at me when I whimsically quipped that he had taken my seat.

At a break, I stood up as he was about to walk past me. I extended my hand to greet him and said: “I know you don’t know me. And I don’t know you. So, I would like to understand…what made you think it was ok to take my seat?” 

He told me it was no big deal and that I needed to get over it…that I was making an issue out of nothing.

But what gives you the right to determine what should bother me? I asked. Moreover, I’m telling you that it has offended me and you still can’t bring yourself to apologize…to even offer to give back the seat.

At that point, it was solved for me. He did not – and would not – recognize the colonialist implications of his position. Why pursue this any further?

But, it’s so intellectually stimulating…theologically stimulating. In my hopes for reconciliation in the Church Universal, it seems like there’s something there…a “pearl of great price” born from that irritation.

So I wrote about it…

Seeking nothing but the intellectual discourse that comes from engaging in dialogue with those of you who read and respond to my posts.

One response was for the Diocese to push the priest/bully upon me against my will. 

Out the blue, I receive an email from this priest. He wanted to clarify things. Yet, he’s also clear to make his displeasure known that I wrote about the incident. He “prefers these things not be handled in online forum.” I reminded him that I spoke to him, face to face, at the time of the incident. I assured him I wasn’t awaiting his apology, especially when he clearly doesn’t (want to) realize his offense. Similar emails ensued with more subtle digs from him. 

The email exchange became traumatic, and I ultimately requested that he not contact me any further. He immediately violated that request. I then emailed the Canon to the Ordinary, cc’ing this priest, and requested the Canon direct him to refrain from contacting me.

A few months later, just recently, this bully contacts me again…out the blue. Invites me to a lunch.

After some niceties, he brings up the issue and proceeds to explain how non-racist he is. We talk about his work in Africa. So, he’s so hurt that he could come off racist. Racism wasn’t his intention. It’s just his reaction. So, I have to understand how angry I seemed to him. It was the way I approached him that caused him to react as he had.

Not surprised. Just as I expected. Why I didn’t want to speak with him any further in the first place. Man its hard to exist in this Church

But I believe in reconciliation…I hope for reconciliation. I want reconciliation.

And my orthodoxy demands that I be under the authority of a Bishop…of a Diocese. 

So, I have been committed to having good relations in the Diocese of Central Florida.

How can I get this Diocese…this Bishop to see and care about the trauma and racialized abuse I – personally – am experiencing simply because the image of God in which I was created makes them uncomfortable.

I have two examples where this desire has worked and been fruitful.

I remember when another clergy brother was bothered by what I was saying about the murder of Mike Brown. Rather than write me off as “too polarizing,” he decided his love for the Gospel was greater than his dislike of my comments. So, he decided to reach out…to honestly state his problems with what he was reading while expressing a desire to understand. 

He didn’t try to change or silence me. He tried to change himself that he might hear me. As a result, he and I have legitimately and truly become friends. #ThanksBeToGod.

We talk about that whole ordeal in this episode of Racial Heresy.

In another instance, I have another clergy brother in the Diocese who made me cry by his expression of love for me in the midst of my trauma…preaching to his congregation this past Sunday that we need to love each other in such a way that when we hear something…see something, we need to say something. It was an incredibly hopeful moment, when a brother in Christ took the elements from the world – & my experience – lifted them up in discernment and returned them to the congregation as something holy, transformative and becoming of Beloved Community.

It’s because of these two relationships and one or two others, that I have remained hopeful for reconciliation…

So, I send the Canon to the Ordinary an email with the subject line: “The Traumatic Realities of My Life as a Priest in This Diocese…” He responds by defending how much of a friend/advocate he’s been to me. It’s the classic fragility response that Fr. Cayce and I discussed non Racial Heresy with Dr. Robin DiAngelo, who recently published her work on White Fragility

In response to my “unwarranted and misplaced” “personal attacks and disparagement” he says:

*** ******* contacted me to ask if I thought he could/should reach out to you again.  I said he should, although you had asked him pointedly not to. Please be assured he initiated it.  In our conversations earlier this summer and again before he initiated your meeting, I assured him that you had been a blessing to me in helping me to better understand the issues on a societal and personal level and how much I appreciate you. He later wrote to me to let me know he had contacted you, that you had gotten together and he thought things were on a better track.  I’m happy to hear your perspective about that. I thought that had settled it. I apologize for not calling you to follow up.   

Of course, emphasis is mine. But, clearly it is still as it was when Justice Roger B. Taney spoke: Negros (sic) “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  

Again, I ask you to imagine this…

Imagine a female priest felt harassed and intimidated by a colleague, so much so that she requested the Canon to the Ordinary to “safeguard her” by directing him to refrain from contacting her. But then, some time had passed and the guy still wanted to explain himself. So, he contacts the Canon to the Ordinary and the Canon to the Ordinary advises him to go ahead and contact her again – even though he knows she doesn’t want to hear from this priest, and without even the courtesy of touching base with her beforehand to see if her feelings have changed.

Then…after the encounter, imagine the Canon to the Ordinary being satisfied simply by hearing the word of the bully that things were on a better track, and never thought to check with the female who felt bullied.

Would that not – at least – qualify as a hostile work environment?

Now it is imperfect for sure…but, as a start we do have policies and procedures for “Safeguarding God’s Children” and “Safeguarding God’s People.” 

The House of Bishops recently accepted the reality of sexual harassment, gender-based violence, and the cultural stronghold of gender bias and inequity.

(Thanks be to God for the women who were brave enough to pay the costs. I have a lot to learn from them. I give thanks that by serving on Executive Council, I have chance to closely witness women of the same generation as I, who are continuing to push the Church in addressing “gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms as we understand these sins, which include, but are not limited to, sexual and gender harassment, sexual assault, physical, spiritual, and emotionally abusive behavior, and oppression based on gender.” I give thanks for the men who realize the hostility of this work environment, and the reality that such hostility is “not ok.”)

So…

How do we get the House of Bishops to accept the reality of racialized harassment, race-based violence and the cultural stronghold of racial bias and inequity?

How do we get “Safeguarding God’s Children” to include the idea that racial misconduct as unbecoming of Beloved Community as sexual misconduct is?

Now asking these questions is costly, for sure…

My family and friends hold me accountable to the costs. I give these postings deep prayer and consideration…I submit them to review in counsel, in order to continuously weigh the cost.

My mother submits this challenging line of inquiry: “…have you considered the repercussions?  Once you’ve called out the Canon to the Ordinary in your diocese, he will be even more on the defensive.  You risk further isolation.  What additional trauma will this mean for you and your family?  Is your family prepared to stand with you through what could be an even more challenging time than you’re presently experiencing?”

Yes…and I hope so, mom…

But, thus far – by God’s grace, and by His grace alone – they have stood with me thus far. We’ve been paying the cost for quite some time. And, recent incidents I’ve yet to write about have added to the list of clues that make it clear I won’t work in this Diocese. 

And, the cost isn’t just about me…

I’ve been clear that we need a #MeToo style movement for Black clergy & laity in the Church

After reaching out and appealing to every level of the Church for the past three+ years and finding no recourse…after finding that those at the highest levels are at a loss for what to say or do to help, I’ve realized the problem is so much bigger than me. After going as far as appealing to the most recent General Convention for a resolution that provides protection for clergy & laity who experience “blackballing” at the hands of those in power within the Church, and watching the teeth extracted from that resolution, by a House of Bishops who didn’t want to grant such recourse to People of Color, I too am almost at a loss.

So, as a Member of Executive Council, would I not be “part of the problem” if I don’t even try to provide others like me with a pathway for recourse…while I still have a position within the power structure?

There will be more trauma for sure. Just as there is always more trauma around the corner for people of Color in America. 

So, whether I call out the Diocese or not, my family will continue to face additional trauma at the hands of a society that doesn’t grant them agency to determine their own identity.

Isolation is a concern. And I wrestle with that. I see my therapist religiously for that. 

And that is why I write…why I podcast…why I create videos…why I do workshops and seminars: in effort to stay connected to the Church. In effort to remain hopeful that Becoming Beloved Community is something more than a slogan.

BTW – those last two links are my efforts to offset the costs and tend to my family…I’d love it if you check them out… Yes…click the links! LOL (#ShamelessPlug)

I know the pain of wanting Beloved Community and having it denied because you won’t conform to what those who don’t even know you think you should be. And I don’t want the Church to remain a place where what “they” think you should be and what God has called you to be are in conflict. Nevertheless, I understand the Society in which we live. I understand the shame and fragility.

And, yes…I need to forgive. I strive to forgive. But in these instances of racial abuse/violence, Blacks (& People of Color) are always asked to offer blanked forgiveness to the unrepentant…to those who do not desire to have relationship with the “you that is,” but with the “you that they want.”

Our Society has this idea that offended people need to absolve offender of wrongdoing. Forgiving before time has led folk to feel all is well and there’s no need to repent…which is a detriment to their spiritual journey.

Hence why Joseph has to bring his brothers to the point where they were willing to repent. He had already forgiven them. That’s why he still longed for relationship with them. But he didn’t absolve them until after they repented. And Joseph ushered them toward that repentance.

I know, to God, I must forgive so that I’m not held prisoner by evil. And by God’s grace I have, and am, doing that.

But I can’t (yet) see the reason to proclaim absolution for a people that refuse confession.

And yet I hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And so as our Lord said, I try to say as well: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And I give thanks for the lessons I am learning as a result of my experience in this Diocese. I give thanks for those in the Church who have been the source of those lessons.

And in thanksgiving for these raw elements given to me, I offer them in hopes that we as a Church might consecrate them and make Eucharist, thereby returning these elements to the world as loving, liberating and life-giving.

May the Lord bless us with strength and courage to become the Beloved Community we so desire to be!

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