Thursday, June 14, 2012

Abuse of Power: The Family, the Church and the Cycle of Violence

Twitter feed from kicking my ass this morning. First, a survey about Bloomberg and the stop-and-frisk policy of the NYPD. (Sidebar: really, Mr. Mayor? Not racial profiling? NY Times article says 87% of those arrested were black and Latino. Gun violence remains a barrier to racial equality he says--I can't help but think wryly of Trayvon Martin at that remark. Was someone like George Zimmerman ever going to be stopped and frisked? Is it just me, or are the lines between public policy and fascism growing blurrier? It could just be me; I may have a critical misunderstsanding of fascism.) Then a link to about what it means to be black, not African American. But the ass kicker was about Creflo Dollar, domestic violence and black women in the black church.
I took this in Baltimore in '07. No idea what church, but I loved the look of the city.
So Creflo Dollar is this black megachurch pastor who was arrested for assaulting his 15-year-old daughter. I remember watching Creflo Dollar on television, or rather, watching my mother watch him. When I heard this news I was saddened but utterly unsurprised. The church seems so full of hatred, fear and vitriol wrapped in theology, that generally people are doomed to fall short of the exacting standards to which they hold themselves: adultery, pedophilia, closeted gay lifestyle, violence and abuse are just as common within the church as without. On top of which, the black church, while a sometimes pleasant, sometimes enigmatic memory in my upbringing, is generally a place I don't like to spend (mental or physical) time anymore--again, full of rhetoric (silent women, children without rights or needs, evil white folks and gays who burn in hell, etc.) that I find offensive, irrelevant or spiritually unsound. I was so nonplussed, I was content to pay the story no attention.
But then I read this story. title got me, When the Black Church Fails Women. The writer talks about the moment she knew she had to leave her church--for the day at least; maybe in search of a new worship home--was when she heard her pastor express his overwhelming support for Dollar. She catalogued every kind of defense you hear in these situations, about expressing forgiveness and not judging because "we weren't there" and whatnot. She's expressed herself really well here, and while I want to respond, I don't want to repeat her. It was so good, it forced me to pay attention.

Take a look at this police report. What set Dollar off was that after he denied his daughter what she wanted, he asked why are you crying and she said, "I don't want to talk right now." She said no. She said stop. She said leave me alone. She drew a boundary. And he lost his shit.
So have we talked about Alice Miller in this space? The Drama of the Gifted Child or For Your Own Good? I read this and I think about the injury this man must be walking around with if his teenage daughter draws a boundary by saying "not right now" to him, and it provokes him to choke his daughter, knock her to the ground, punch her and beat her with a shoe.

Adults who think it is in any way reasonable, respectful or appropriate to beat children are simply and desperately trying to rationalize the abuse that they suffered as children. Period.

Don't skip that part where his elder daughter wrote two reports, one that matched her father's testimony, and then recanted when the officer asked her about the discrepancy. Adults will always try to maintain the lie that allows them to live with themselves, rather than confronting the truth. They will control whoever they can to help them maintain that lie.
So to connect child abuse with theology: the writer asks,

Why I wonder are Black women so willing, so ready to co-sign theologies that literally support us getting our asses kicked in our own homes?
Why have we bought into the primary premise of white supremacy, that the most effective way to establish authority is through violence? Surely, this situation teaches us that the only thing that kind of parenting does is breed the kind of resentment and contempt that will have your children calling the cops on you at 1 in the morning.
Why is it so hard for us to take a stand against Black men and tell them that there is never a reason to put their hands on us in a violent fashion? Not when homicide is the top killer (after accidental death) of Black women and girls ages 15-24.*

So why do black women seem so content to bear up under abuse, abuse of our own bodies, of our children, in the church--the one place where we ought to be safe from it? Is it because we're "so sad and single" that we think we have to let ourselves be knocked around, that relationships where physical abuse are a matter of course are the best we can do? Is it because we refuse to look outside our own community, to date non-black men, because of some internal or external judgment we fear? Or is it because we've been spoon fed bad theology by men who feel the need to protect their power by preaching abuse as discipline?

Can I just come out in favor of forgiveness? Really. I believe that people should forgive each other for when and how we hurt each other. I am working REALLY hard at forgiving some key people in my life for when and how they've hurt me, and I am working hard at asking for forgiveness when I think I've erred. But a key component in this transaction (because no matter what people try to tell you, it moves several directions, not just one) is a mutual acknowledgment of pain.

I knew someone who said that forgiveness was like getting ready for bed: you brushed your teeth with forgiveness and you put on your forgiveness pjs and you did all the things you did to get ready for forgiveness assuming that when you were done you'd be ready to forgive. I know now she was wrong--not just because she couldn't do it. Forgiveness is hard. You can't just position yourself in the right spot with the right ritual and hope that it descends on you like the sandman. You have to live with the pain of being hurt, of having hurt. You have to want to forgive, and you have to want to be changed by the process of forgiving. That change is certainly going to hurt, and if you aren't game, then you're not talking about forgiveness, you're talking about something else.
So here's what I'm saying: I could judge Dollar up one side and down the other. I could call him a fucked-up, hierarchical, manipulative, moronic asshole without the ability to handle or express his feelings without resorting to violence. I could call him a misunderstood man of God. I might be telling the truth in both cases. But what he really is, is profoundly damaged, and in need of identifying that damage within himself. He is hurting so badly that he can't contain it, that he's raining his injury down on his children, to make his own experience easier to live with. He will never grow, he will never know better, he will never be better, until he can look--without flinching or lying or hedging or excusing-- at his own abusive nature and its roots.

Having said all of that, you can take that "we weren't there, we don't know what happened in that house" line, and shove it. There is nothing that excuses adults subjugating children by beating them. Nothing. When Dollar is able to own his damage and his behavior he can begin to talk about restoration; but we don't get to make excuses that validate this behavior. Because there are none. To use scripture, dogma or theology to defend or excuse beating or brutalizing others, especially those weaker than you, is: SPIRITUAL ABUSE. (For the record, this term needs to be a part of this conversation. This shit is real, and we have to name it so we can understand and dismantle it.)
His daughter has a different journey to make. If it was me, I would make it far, far away from him.

I like that this writer wants to tell the truth and shame the silent acquiescence in the black church, the insidious collusion of partner and family abuse that has become so prevalent in our community. I like that she wants to hold women responsible for what we will tolerate from our fathers, husbands and brothers in the name of God. I like, albeit with less hope, that she seems to want to change the church with her presence--but that's about me; right now I want to change the church, if at all, from the outside. I also like that she talks about all of us believing black girls when they say they've been the victims of violence and she connects it to the strength of our faith in the miracles of Christianity, the divine incarnation of Christ, the virgin birth, etc. "Jesus prioritized listening to women, even when his disciples said they were being a nuisance," she writes. I read this and I wonder, what is this war on women? Our bodies, our birth control: people of power are profoundly threatened that they would do us this way. Why? If Jesus really is our model, why are we making such a cock-up of it?

I believe men like Dollar need help, and it saddens me to say that the church does not help them, especially when it rallies around them blindly, making excuses about sparing rods and imperfection. To require a man not abuse his family is not to require perfection. I hope that he gets help, not (just) in group therapy in a church basement with punch and cookies, but the kind of help that forces him to look plainly, under a naked bulb in front of an unforgiving mirror, at the man he has become, and how he got that way. I hope his daughter gets justice; I don't know, but I think if Dollar winds up doing time for his crime, that this might be vengeance, not justice. Justice is if other women in the black church rally around her, help her to heal her wounds, and require of their black men a better standard for couples and families. I hope a church like that exists for her today, not someday, so that she knows she is not alone, so that she can seek and attain healing, cultivate compassion, and eventually be strong enough to forgive.

*I didn't know this. Damn.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Jessica, just researching for a seminar on use and abuse of power and google threw up your blog/article...really interesting and kind of deep! Well done, you have a great voice to share, I appreciate the time you put into this and the questions you raise and the way you balanced your have a great mind, keep it up. Tony