I’ve had two opportunities in two years to be a man’s dirty little secret. Both men were religious and both claimed to favor women’s rights, progressive values, and politics based on the teachings of the founders of their religions. And both were secretly full of shit and wanted me to be part of the sick game of having a secret lover to play with, to use and abuse, to walk away from.
My life is an open book. I really believe that God is my witness. I have no secrets. Every dark bit of my past has been discussed with at least one other human being. Even the secrets that aren’t really mine but more of a family legacy. Maybe not everyone needs to know everything but I let nothing trap me in the prison of shame and secrecy. Secrets are my enemy. Evil loves a bad secret. Active addiction loves secret keeping.
I’m a really good secret keeper. I’m the archive of family secrets. I can bluff and lie and distract and manipulate with the best of them. And there are things I know about people which I keep in confidence. Some situations require the preservation of anonymity. But I make a terrible secret to be kept. I am an open book. Maybe some pages are burned and ripped but they’re all there and I hide none of them. God knows what I’ve done and what has been done to me. I have a few select friends who (collectively) know every last little scrap, every page, every litter, every punctuation mark in my story.
I will keep your secret. But I won’t be your secret. And I won’t be a party to your secret.
The first time I dealt with this it wasn’t my problem. But now that I’ve had a second chance to be the secret I see it as my problem. How I am able to respond to these situations is my problem. There’s always the option of a public outing. Both of these men have rather public lives. One of them is attending seminary and the other writes for a large-ish online forum. Both care far more for their reputations, for how people see them, than they do for actually living justly in their own lives. But I am not vindictive and believe that revenge is the fastest way to become just like the person who committed the first wrong. Forgiveness is the way for me.
I’m relieved to feel that I have dodged these bullets. I have no desire to be involved in that kind of shame and sickness and suffering. But I also feel really angry that there are so many creepers and users, angry to have to dodge their bullets, angry to be in a position where I need to respond to this, angry to see God and faith and religion abused for man’s self-centered perversity.
We religious peoples, we have a problem with sexual relations, with sexism, with shame and secrets and scams. And it is our collective responsibility to address this. Failure to do so is utter hypocrisy and allows for a festering of evil and abuse in our midst, in our names, in God’s name.
It’s not faith if we are more concerned with keeping up a reputation then living rightly with the human beings closest to us. It’s not faith if we are dishonest about ourselves, our intentions, our values. It’s not faith if we keep secrets or harbor abusers and hypocrites, protecting them at the expense of the vulnerable and innocent.
We show the world an evil view of God when we do these things. I think God can forgive anything. But forgiveness and a free-pass with no accountability for abuse are different things. If this was all I saw of religion, people taking advantage of each other, lies and secrets, hypocrisy, shame and sexual abuse, scams and con-artists, I’d run as far and as fast as I could. We are actively driving people away from God when we allow or participate in these things.
I think that western religions have gone seriously wrong in how we understand human sexuality. We’ve been barking up the wrong tree for thousands of years. We’ve confused ancient patriarchal cultural norms for God’ intention.
I’m not much concerned with a literal interpretation of the creation story. That’s not the point. The point is that shame is the result of acting out and that hiding shame behind fig leaves (or closed doors or private Facebook messages) doesn’t work. We aren’t learning and we aren’t teaching that sexuality and spirituality are part and parcel of each other and how we are created.
Sexual abuse is spiritual abuse. Women’s rights are religious rights.
And we have failed the world. We fail our daughters and our sons both. We are not teaching the responsibilities that come with being a part of communities of faith. We are not teaching that we are brothers and sisters across faiths. We are not teaching that how we treat each other, both publicly and privately, ripples out into the world.
We are teaching women to carry secrets and shame that don’t belong to them. We are teaching men to worry about a reputation more than the rights of others or their own spiritual health. We are teaching a dangerous pride and arrogance while God commands humility and repentance.
I know full and well neither of these men has the ability to apologize, to understand the suffering they have caused, to do anything at all to make it better. I’m not holding my breath or waiting around. They come from very different backgrounds and religions. The common thread is faith in (I think) the same God and theologies that have failed them and me both.
All I can really address is my part in these situations and all I can do is speak up and keep talking. I do think we all have a responsibility to shut-down this behavior in our churches and mosques and to speak up when we are hurt by it our see it hurting others. So I will speak up. The burden of shame never belongs on the victim but always on the abuser. I won’t keep these secrets.