Trigger warnings: rape, and rape enabling
Some of the responses to Joe Paterno’s death were triggering for me. You know, the ones that basically say (albeit in much more eloquent terms), “Everyone, shut up about the rape victims and how they’re feeling! Joe Paterno was really good at winning football games! Can’t we just talk about that?”
As a rape victim, this was painful to hear, but not unexpected. As soon as I heard of his death (or rather, as soon as the media falsely reported his death a few hours before he actually died) I braced myself for an inevitable onslaught of Facebook statuses and secular news articles defending JoePa’s great legacy against those of us who have the audacity to place human life over a football career.
But, for some reason, be it naivety or delusion, I wasn’t expecting to hear this from any Christian sources.
I expected to see Christian articles that mourned the loss of a man, loved by God and his family and his players, but a man who made a terrible mistake. A man who became so disconnected from humanity that he put a greater priority on protecting the reputation of his school and his football team than on protecting young boys who were being raped.
For some reason, I expected more from Christians.
But when I read a column on a popular Christian webzine, Relevant Magazine, that stated, that because Joe Paterno was a good coach he was, “He was better than us.” In which the author expressed, “He was so great that I think the ultimate story about him will eventually outshine the awful ugliness of a child molestation scandal that happened…” and that that was “OK.”
And that made the guilt-inducing, shaming claim that “We are all Joe Paterno.” That many of us would have done the same thing in his situation. That we aren’t doing enough to stop the child rape and abuse and therefore, “If Paterno is ugly, then you are ugly. Does that make it right? Of course not. We’re all wrong and we are all missing the mark on this issue—just like Paterno did.”
My initial response was as follows (language warning):
Rather than posting an article encouraging us to see Paterno as a human, like all of us, while acknowledging that he made an inhumane mistake, this article asked us to view Paterno as a super-human, who made a measly mistake that ought to be glossed over in light of his football accomplishments.
Rather than empathizing with how lost and confused the victims must feel right now, this article bemoaned the fact that the curtains of this scandal were covering the shining light that was Paterno’s legacy.
Rather than encouraging us to direct our anger toward Paterno into a productive path so that we could someday learn to forgive, this article sent already confused and hurting people on a guilt-trip.
Rather than educating us about practical ways to help victims of child abuse and rape, this article equated Paterno’s misuse of power to our feelings of powerlessness.
A magazine that posts articles insisting that we are too soft on “sin” when it comes to consensual, premarital sex and homosexuality, referred to enabling rape as “dropping the ball.”
And, again, a section of mainstream Christianity takes its place as a cog in the powerful machine that is rape culture.
And, again, I sit here and cry and thank Jesus for my Zoloft that is preventing the panic attacks, and I wonder why I even bother calling myself a Christian.
I wonder why I’m searching for religious fulfillment.
I wonder why I think it’s going to be worth it.
I see hope. And that hope is small and quiet in the midst of the roar of rape culture, but it’s there.
So, church, let’s break away from rape culture. Let’s throw our wrenches into the machine. Let’s call out the Christian magazines that defend rape enablers. Let’s call out other Christians that use modesty standards to blame victims. Let’s stop teaching our boys and men that they are not responsible for their own actions. Let’s get involved with organizations like RAINN that fight rape. Let’s tear down patriarchal power structures and replace them with a world where all are viewed as equals. Let’s use our platforms as pastors, writers, teachers, parents, neighbors, and friends to spread the message that human life is not more important than a person’s reputation as a coach (or a pastor, or a Christian, etc.).
Rape culture is strong.
But so are we.
As for Joe Paterno, a prayer via Scott Morizot–
Requiem in pacem.
And let us pray that all survivors of rape can find healing in forgiveness.