Neil Sedaka famously sang, “Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do” and he was right!
Teaching Political Science this week afforded me the chance to read perhaps the best breakup letter ever written.
Sadly, the letter spoke of being abused by the “other person” in the relationship. The writer of the letter felt that they did not come to this conclusion easily, having endured a long history of abuses, pleading with others to help put an end to it, but to no avail. Therefore, the writer said, they had no choice but to end the relationship and begin a new life.
Let me read part of it to you:
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…”
Think about it. The Declaration of Independence is by far, the best breakup letter ever written!
Thomas Jefferson laid out the Colonists grievances with King George, listing the many ways used his position of power as their king to abuse them.
If you have access to Youtube, I would encourage you to watch a dramatic reading of The Declaration of Independence done by a gathering of some of Hollywood’s finest actors.
Ironically, Hollywood actors also were reading off a list of abuses of by another person in power this week. At least a dozen of Hollywoods top female actors stepped forward to speak about suffering sexual harassment and abuse by the powerful film producer, Harvey Weinstein.
Like the Colonists, who had suffered, in Jefferson’s words “a long train of abuses and usurpations” these women, long-suffering in silence, finally had it with being abused. They and many others are starting to speak up about the sexual harassment they have experienced.
In support of the women who have had the courage to speak up about the sexual abuse and harassment they endured, Alyssa Milano, a mother of two children, and someone who had also faced sexual harassment, invited women on Facebook and Twitter, who like her had been abused to post the phrase – #MeToo.
Within 48 hours, close to 12 million women, young and old alike, began to join them by posting on their Facebook page the phrase: #MeToo.
Many of the women I know, including a number of my female high school students, were among those posting the – #MeToo. Maybe you were one of them?
How big of a problem is this in our society? Think about these numbers. One-in-Three women between the ages of 18-34 report being sexually harassed at work. (Cosmopolitan magazine survey).
Each year, according to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization – 321,500 women are victims of some form of sexual abuse each year. Females, ages 16-19, are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.
The numbers are painfully staggering and these are only the ones reported. Many women, young and old alike, do not report being sexually assaulted, raped, or sexually harassed because of the way we treat them if they do report it.
But let me make it a bit more personal for you. While I was writing my sermon, a mother of one of our female high school students posted about a freshman girl who is a friend of her daughter receiving a “sext” – a picture of a male genital. On the very same day, I learned that high school boys had made a “game” of grabbing girls on their butts, and then boasting about how many they had grabbed throughout the day. Ironically, as I was editing my sermon, the news was reporting that Fox News paid yet another major settlement, this one was for $32 million, because Bill O’Reilly had done similar things with a female reporter.
Let me make even more personal. Sexual harassment doesn’t just happen to girls in school, college Co-Ed’s, or women in the workplace, or Fox News. It happens to women in the church too.
How do I know? Because Staci was sexually harassed, twice, by male colleagues. In the one case, we ended up hiring a lawyer to deal with it. In the end, she lost her job, while the perpetrator kept his.
A few years ago, I was attending a meeting in Madison at Covenant Presbyterian Church. I stepped into the men’s room. On the wall was a poster of a handsome man, standing on top of an open field under a clear blue sky. The words on the poster read: “How can a man so pious at church on a Sunday be so violent at home on a Monday?”
These words have troubled me ever since. Do abusers really hide behind the mask of faith?
Speaking of the mask of faith, what does this have to do with our story of the anointing of David?
Like the Declaration of Independence, God, in God’s own way, breaks up with Saul, who has abused his authority and the people. So God instructs Samuel to anoint a new king.
Samuel goes out to the sons of Jesse, and when he sees the big and strong older sons, he thinks, surely one of them is to be the new king? Wrong. Samuel was, as we are told, not to look on the stature or outward appearance of a leader, for God sees people based on their heart and not outward appearance. Enter the young boy, David.
Ironically, it is David’s outward appearance that is commented – “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.”
So David is anointed the new king of Israel. We all know of his exploits. He grows in stature, becoming the legendary king of Israel.
And with that position, he gains power, and – women. He does have a wife, and lots of other women fill his concubine. But he wants more! After all, when you are a powerful man and a celebrity among the people, you think you can do anything to women that you want, and they will let you.
So he sees Bathsheba, the wife of his general Uriah the Hittite, bathing, and lusting after her, he brings her to his bedroom, and rapes her!
She is powerless to stop him, he is the king. To add insult to injury, he orders Uriah to the front of the battle, knowing he will be killed, and is. Now Bathsheba is all his, just like the other women he has had. (A side note, his daughter, Tamar is later raped by her half-brother)
It is an all-to-familiar story throughout history, and right up until today in our own society. Men in power, boasting that they can do what they want when they want and to any women they want, and nobody can stop them!
Here is something that is very frustrating to me as a follower of Jesus, who also teaches. A week ago Friday, I taught a sixth-grade class. We had an assembly where the principal talked with the all the sixth graders about bullying and harassment, and how neither is ever acceptable behavior. He discussed what actions they can take when they experience it or see it happening to another student. He promised them that we as the adults will work to make the school and community safe for them.
This past Monday, I attended an all-school-assembly at the high school. The principal addressed the student body about a growing number of racist and derogatory remarks taking place among the students. The message to the students: It is 2017, we need to stop it, by speaking up! No person needs to suffer in silence or shame! We need to make the school a safe place for all our students.
Initially, I felt good about both assemblies. Then I paid attention to our national leadership, what messages they are communicating and tweeting, and how it is treating people. I realized that while we are trying to model for and teach our youth about how to empathize with and care for one another as equals, our lessons are being countered every day by our, and yes, I am going to name him here, Donald Trump.
Our children and youth may hear what we are saying, but they are also responding to what the President is saying. And God is paying attention!
David, God’s anointed one, abused his position as the political leader of Israel. He sexual violated Bathsheba, and then arranged the murder of her husband. And God paid attention!
The prophet, Nathan, confronts the king, naming his abuses, and for it, David is punished by God for his abuses and sins against the people, especially women.
My brothers and sisters-in-Christ, as the Beloved of God, we are called to confront these injustices and abuses in the church, in school, in society, in our nation, including in the seat of power. As followers of Christ, we cannot remain silent about abuse of any kind.
Letting go of power and control over another is never easy. Power and position are still highly valued in our American society because of the financial and social rewards we have attached to them.
To find oneself in any other position is to be viewed as being weak, being a loser, and of no value. It is hard for us to become so vulnerable in the eyes of others who in turn might take advantage of and lord their will and power over us.
So we seek power wherever we can find it, to make ourselves feel valued, superior to or desired by others, and even in a distorted way, loved. This type of mindset often leads to abuse of the other people in our lives. And sexual abuse and harassment is all about power over another person, which is meant to demean them as a human being
Women are not objects. They too are sacred beings, created in the Divine Image of God, equal to men. To abuse, harass, violate or do violence to them in any form, is to do it to God. Our silence is a sin. Shaming the victims is a sin.
Friends, we must give up our self-centered needs for power over others. This begins with confessing our sins. The act of confession makes us vulnerable – not just before God, but before the person sitting next to you in the pew – and to our selves. And this act of confession is never easy but is vital if we are to come to life and learn to love as Christ commands us to love.
Confessing our brokenness is where true power lies and healing begins. To confess our weakness, our sin, our abuse or that we have been abused frees us from all the guilt and shame associated with domestic violence and abuse.
Confessing our pain and the pain we have caused others is to finally open ourselves up to the healing love of God, who welcomes and receives us for who we are.
To receive one another in such a state of vulnerability is to love the other as Jesus loved the other and loved us.
And it is in welcoming one another in our state of brokenness that we are at last free to embrace the covenanted relationship God created us as men and women to live in with each other.
It is 2017! It is time we, as disciples of Christ, speak up against abuse of any kind! Let’s break the silence and end the shame of sexual abuse, harassment, and rape.
When we leave worship today, as we go out into the world, let us have the courage to be the people God created us to be! May we never do violence or cause harm to the sacred image of God again!
Will you join me!