LGBTQ Magazine

Ruth Krall's Important Book Living on the Edge of the Edge: Paradoxical Violent Exclusion of LGBTQ People from Christian Communities That Cover Up Sexual Violence by Clergy

Posted on the 02 August 2017 by William Lindsey @wdlindsy
Ruth Krall's Important Book Living on the Edge of the Edge: Paradoxical Violent Exclusion of LGBTQ People from Christian Communities That Cover Up Sexual Violence by Clergy
I'd like to recommend a new book to you today: I don't only recommend this book; I highly recommend it. It will one day, I believe, be regarded as a classic summary of major themes of Christian thought at the turn of the 20th and 21st century. The book is Ruth Krall's Living on the Edge of the Edge: Letters to a Younger Colleague, which has just been published by Friesen Press. As its subtitle suggests, the book is a gathering of "letters" (emailed ones) that Ruth exchanged over a period of time with a younger colleague, Lisa Schirch (and so the book attributes authorship to Ruth with Lisa as a co-contributor). Ruth was Lisa's teacher at Goshen College, and has remained her mentor and colleague as both have worked in a number of significant peace-and-justice ministries over quite a few years — ministries reflecting their shared Mennonite roots.
I've posted about Ruth's work here in the past, and won't repeat my many paeans to it, since you can find and read my previous postings by clicking on her name in the labels below. Because everything in this book is stellar as far as I'm concerned, it's impossible for me to provide a neat summary of it — impossible to pick and choose between too many outstanding passages. The best thing I can do is to recommend that you buy a copy and read it for yourself. 
Ruth has been intently concerned for some time now with issues of sexual violence directed primarily towards women, with the cover-up of sexual violence directed to women and children within the various religious traditions of the world (a big bonus of this book is its wide focus on this kind of cover-up as distinctive of all religious traditions globally), with the "abuse crisis" in the Catholic church, the Mennonite community, and other Christian churches, with spiritual traditions found both within the world's religious traditions and outside them for healing violence and fostering the speaking of truth in love, and so on.
What I'd like to do in this brief, but very strong, recommendation of Living on the Edge of the Edge is to offer you a teaser, an excerpt that, in my view, relates in the most direct way possible to the question I raised in my previous posting entitled "A Family Story: When 'Pro-Life' Catholic Trump Voters Confront Sexual Abuse of Minors by a Priest — In Their Own Family Circle." That posting focused on one Trump-voting white Catholic family to which I am connected, which maintains that it is "pro-life" even as it supports a president who wants to rip healthcare coverage from millions of American citizens, and which considers itself better than the run-of-the-mill Catholic family — and certainly better than its own Catholic family members who are LGBTQ or who support and love LGBTQ people.
My posting notes that this very same family has been touched in a horrific way by the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church, since one of its  young family members was raped by her parish priest along with a number of other teenaged girls in the family's parish. And when this priest's sexual abuse of minors began to become public, instead of supporting the young abuse survivor who courageously spoke out about what the priest was doing, this better-than-the-rest Catholic family, who, in their minds, belong to a smaller, purer church that must exclude LGBTQ people and people who love LGBTQ people, as well as anyone who votes Democratic, attacked the young woman who spoke out, instead of supporting her.
My previous posting asks how the pieces of this puzzling story can be put together. It notes that I myself find it very hard to fit them together.
Here's a signpost passage from Ruth's book that helps me begin putting the pieces together. This is from a chapter of the book that deals with speaking truth about sexual violence in Christian churches. Ruth writes,
Let me state this paradox as clearly as I know how to do so. Today's (and yesterday's) institutional Christian churches often refuse to accept mutual, consenting, and loving sexual relationships between two same gender adults (refusing them full participating membership and a spiritual blessing on their relationships) even as the church hides, and therefore both enables and implicitly blesses, repeated events and acts of sexual violence and sexual harassment done by its clergy and religious leaders. 
In this situation, mutually loving and frequently covenanted same gender relationships which enrich and bless the lives of two individuals (and sometimes their children and extended families as well) are forbidden. In the name of the churches' sexual theologies and purity codes, they cannot be supported. Openly partnered gay men and lesbian women are all too frequently, therefore, force-marched into religious and spiritual exile from their cradle community of faith and family. 
On the other hand, inside this toxic religious institution forest, violent sexual relationships which destroy the lives of victims and perpetrators can be and often are supported inside institutional covenants of secrecy and lying. They are, therefore, implicitly blessed. The sexual perpetrators of violence are protected and remain a valued part of the community because the community refuses to be accountable to the whole for these individuals' episodes of sexual violence and sexual harassment done inside church agencies on the church's institutional watch. Survivors of these assaults are all too frequently left to fend for themselves with little to no experience of community compassion and help (Ruth Krall with Lisa Schirch, Living on the Edge of the Edge: Letters to a Younger Colleague [Victoria, BC, Canada: Friesen Press, 2017], p. 30).

This paradox: Ruth's right, isn't she? There's something paradoxical in the extreme about the position in which many Christians today have ended up, a place from which they simultaneously attack and condemn loving, covenanted same-sex couples and protect and implicitly bless church officials sexually assaulting minors or female members of congregations (who often experience sexual assault in the context of pastoral ministry). Loving, committed same-sex couples represent the direst threat possible to the sexual ethic of the churches.
Ministers assaulting minors and female congregants: well, not so much . . . . 
This is paradoxical. It's counterintuitive. It runs against the grain of the most basic gospel affirmations of the Christian churches. How did we get to this paradoxical place in which many Christians who profess to be the staunchest defenders of gospel values are defending what is, on the face of it, obviously directly counter to gospel values? 
Ruth's suggestion: Violent sexual relationships which destroy the lives of victims and perpetrators can be and often are supported inside institutional covenants of secrecy and lying. They are, therefore, implicitly blessed. The sexual perpetrators of violence are protected and remain a valued part of the community because the community refuses to be accountable to the whole for these individuals' episodes of sexual violence and sexual harassment done inside church agencies on the church's institutional watch.This seems to me intuitively correct and powerfully compelling. Read my last posting and the testimony it provides, and you'll find it hard, it seems to me, to arrive at any other conclusion than the one Ruth Krall offers us here. What's praiseworthy about Ruth is that she dares to speak these truths, when so much in the culture of the churches today conduces to secrecy and lying.Ruth has paid a high price for speaking the truth. But that price has yielded a book that will, as I say at the outset of this posing, one day be regarded as an important classic of Christian thought at this strange moment in Christian history — precisely because it speaks truths so many other Christian thinkers are unwilling to voice.

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