I feel that most people expect that a religious organization would be, above all, honest. That would include being honest about what it taught, about what it expected, about its goals, about its finances, and – most of all – honest when it makes a mistake. If that’s been your expectation, there is no way around that you have been deeply disappointed – repeatedly. Like an unfaithful, addicted spouse religion has lied, cheated, stolen, and manipulated its way through history. Apologies, especially sincere apologies, are very rare indeed. What is the answer?
The answer isn’t the blame game, because there is more than enough blame to go around and everybody deserves their fair share – including those of us who looked the other way while we were lied to by those in positions of trust or authority. The answer is looking quite honestly at expectations and responsibilities – on all sides – and learning to live together in a different way. No longer can we look to religion as some sort of parent figure writ large that is going to take care of us and look our for our best interests. In truth, religion is full of wounded people on both sides of the altar. Perhaps the difference has been that those in the pews have traditionally been much more willing to admit their wounds while the professional clergy have spent much of their time trying to cover up theirs. If there is a greater or more toxic dishonesty I am not sure what it might be.
Here’s an interesting meme that has been going around (at right). Once you get over any knee-jerk reaction you might have, I think you will see it is true. In making pornography*, the participants are quite clear about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what their relationships to and with each other are. This is quite far removed from religion’s dishonesty about both human sexuality and sexual assault, wherein a priest often went to “tuck the children into bed” and then raped them. Pornography says, “we’re having sex,” while religion (in the very rare occasions it does take action) tries to convince us that it is defrocking a pedophile priest, bishop, and cardinal (Theodore McCarrick) for violating his vow of celibacy. This demonstrates that religion doesn’t understand the difference between consensual sex and rape, or pretends it doesn’t when it thinks it won’t play well. We need to hold our religion to the standard of truth – a standard endorsed by every major world religious or spiritual tradition.
With honesty comes vulnerability, and when our trust has been repeatedly violated it takes healing to be able to trust again. It is on that journey of healing we must embark, so that we can rebuild our institutions that they might deserve our trust.
*When I refer to pornography in this post, I am referring to productions made my consenting, non-coerced adults who are legally able to give their consent. In no way am I referring to anything involved with or related to human trafficking.