Two weeks ago, one of our fellow students at the Yale Divinity School decided that it was his civic right and duty to deface a public statement of support for survivors of sexual violence — including, but not limited to, Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez ’87, Julie Swetnick, Anita Hill and Fernanda Lopez Aguilar ’10. We believe that his actions are contrary to the obligation of a Christian witness to those who are silenced.
The day after the incident, the student in question issued an apology to the Divinity School community, while citing his support for free expression along with his desire to challenge a “monolithic perspective.”
We do not disagree that freedom of expression is fundamental to our civic lives together. However, we also believe that certain expressions perpetuate violence and deeply threaten our coexistence, expressions that do not deserve respect simply because they are possible. The real question, after all, is not whether one has the “right” to disbelieve survivors of sexual assault. Rather, it is whether such a position is in fact a good one and whether it furthers a vision of life together in which all experiences deserve to be taken seriously, all bodies deserve protection and all lives are worthy of care.
As Christians, we are not unfamiliar with all the ways in which the church has been and often continues to be an enemy of the Gospel, not least of which is the Christian right’s general support of the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 and the Trump administration. Yet we do not believe that such a legacy is reflective of that to which the Gospel of Christ calls us. Indeed, it is our solemn and sacred commitment to the witness of Christ that requires us to dismantle oppressive systems of power and their tools of violence — to dismantle them in our minds, homes, communities and institutions.
We are well aware, as well, that allies of the administration see the agenda of the left as oppressive. “In America we do not sacrifice individuals on the altar of collective guilt,” the editors of National Review declared triumphantly on Sunday following the Kavanaugh vote. Such reasoning is standard these days on the political right: equating moral judgments about the type of world we want to create with scapegoating, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, monolithic groupthink — anything that might stick. Indeed, Kavanaugh said as much in his testimony, accusing those who took the allegations seriously of trying to “destroy his good name,” even as he affirmed that sexual assault allegations “always deserve to be heard.”
It is not — and should not be — easy to make moral judgments. We are perennially at risk of judging in ways that cheapen the complexity of human experience, or end up furthering our own blindness rather than illuminating and rectifying injustice. But it is a risk that is worth taking and one that is inseparable from our calling to treat others’ experiences and pain as we would treat our own.
We believe that as people of faith, we are called to categorically reject every act of spiritual and physical desecration against souls, minds and bodies created in the image of a loving and liberating God. This is especially true for the most oppressed and vulnerable in our midst, including people of color, women, children, queer folks, immigrants, refugees, the disabled and survivors of sexual violence. For this reason, some expressions, even if freely performed, should not be beyond reproach and disgust. Along with many of our colleagues at the Divinity School who have come together to oppose these actions, we continue to pray and mobilize for the reconciliation of our world.
Paul Daniels is a third year in the M. Div program at the Yale Divinity School. Anna Hadfield is a second year in the M. Div program at the Yale Divinity School. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.