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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Muscular Christianity

I - like just about everyone, everywhere - am simultaneously shaking my head and wringing my hands over the unfolding story coming from Penn State.

It seems as if everyone involved did what was required by the letter of the law but not in the spirit of moral obligation to protect the kids.

Certainly there is, now, ample evidence that coach Jerry Sandusky actually admitted to breaking the law, since it's illegal for professional mentors in Pennsylvania to shower naked with their charges (DUH!).

Yes, yes. I heard the interview the other night with Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State coach accused of heinous sexual abuse, and Bob Costas, NBC Sports Commentator.

He claims he's innocent. Of course he does. Claims the rhythmic "slap, slap, slap" that was heard from the locker room was just Sandusky and a 10 year old boy playing "towel slap" while naked in the shower.

Never mind that he was naked and alone in the shower with a 10 year old boy. He admits that was "wrong". (Gee, ya think?) And, yes, he "occasionally" hugged kids. While they were naked. In showers. Occasionally patting their upper thighs. Snapping towels. Hugging them. But all "without intent of sexual contact."

See? It was nothing more than a little innocent "horseplay" in the shower.

You know. Just normal "guy stuff".

Is he sexually attracted to young boys? No, Sandusky said to Costas. But only after a long pause. Seventeen seconds, the media is reporting.

Sandusky answered,
"Am I sexually attracted to underage boys … sexually attracted? You know … no, I enjoy young people … I love to be around them. Umm, I, no … I'm not sexually attracted to young boys."

Besides, in this country, you are "innocent until proven guilty", which, in this case - as in others that involve "celebrities" - means that you have access to a team of lawyers and 'spin doctors' and 'wordsmithers' who can work their way around the letter of the law but ultimately leave us wanting for the moral obligation required of all public figures.

I mean, his defense attorney is Mark Geragos, who successfully helped to defend the late singer Michael Jackson against child-abuse charges.

You figure it out.

So, here's the thing: I understand the whole "football world".

Well, no, I don't exactly.

I know that it has it's own world, it's own culture, it's own language. It's own rituals. It's own "spirituality". I don't understand it, but I know it to be true.

I watch my family get all hyped up before - and during, and, yes after - a game. I hear them talk about it with much the same enthusiasm and passion I speak about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I get it.

That being said, I don't understand the whole "Muscular Christianity" thing.

Now, the term "muscular Christianity" actually has its roots in Anglican theology.
I'll give you a little taste of it from "The Victorian Web": 
Beginning at mid-century, the broadchurch (or liberal) Anglican F.D. Maurice and his pupil, the Rev. Charles Kingsley, began espousing the virtues of muscular Christianity.

Maurice and Kingsley, like many Englishmen, worried that the Anglican Church and Britain were suffering from the evils of industrialization: among others, growing slums, poverty, secularization, and urban decay.

Life was a battle, Kingsley argued, and Christians should be at the center, actively employing their "manfulness" and "usefulness" against the evils of industrialization.

Kingsley doubted that traditional morality would be able to cope with the effects of industrialization unless the Church reformed itself.

He also deplored what many considered to be increasingly "suffocating effeminacy" within the Anglican Church, and believed that muscular Christian men equipped with a cohesive philosophy consisting equally of athleticism, patriotism, and religion could rescue Church and country from sloth.
That's not what I mean - especially the part about "suffocating effeminacy", whatever that means. 

No, wait. I think I do know what that means and I think it has something to do - at least in part - with what I heard happen just before the Nebraska-Penn State game on Saturday.

Actually, I'm referring to the sort of "muscular Christianity" I heard in the prayer given by Nebraska Coach, Ron Brown, at the beginning of Saturday's game - the first football game after Coach Joe Paterno and the President of Penn State were fired.

You can listen to a clip of the raw video of the prayer here.

Here are the words that I find most disturbing:
“There are a lot of little boys around the country, today, who are watching this game. And they’re trying to figure out what the definition of manhood is all about. Father, this is it right here. I pray that this game will be a training ground of what manhood looks like.”

I mean, what was THAT all about?

Is that what manhood is all about? A great huddle of men, on their knees, praying to God? Before an often violent game that more often than not leaves many young men with concussions and head injuries? A game that is a modern version of gladiators in a spectators ring?

Is that what "a training ground of what manhood" looks like?

Silly me. I thought it was just a game of college football.

Okay, so in the past Brown’s faith has come under negative scrutiny. He claims to have been passed up for a head coaching job at Stanford University because he, like many conservative evangelicals, believes that gay sex is sinful.

Is that what Brown was praying about? A hint? . . . A suggestion? . . . Another ignorant, uneducated predictably Evangelical link . . . between pedophilia and homosexuality?

Say it ain't so, Joe!

If Jerry Sandusky is guilty of the allegations against him, that doesn't make him a "homosexual person".

It makes him a pervert.

Big difference.

Get it?

No? Then when, exactly, will you get it?

Oh, probably about the same time the Roman Catholics do.

Did you see this? Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Penn State crisis reminds the bishops of their own failures to protect children.
"It reopens a wound in the church as well," said Dolan, the New York archbishop. "We once again hang our heads in shame."

"Our love and prayers go out to the victims, the families and the whole Penn State community," Dolan said. "I know it's a bit of a cliche, but we know what you're going through."
Cliche? Gee, ya think?

I don't know if Jerry Sandusky is Roman Catholic, but is sure sounds to me like two brothers consoling themselves in their own corner of the hell of their own making.

I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm a woman. I don't understand this whole thing about using sex as a tool of power.

I don't understand child sexual abuse.

I don't understand rape.

I don't understand "domestic violence".

Indeed, I reject them all as pathetic last gasps of a desperate attempt to hold onto the dominant cultural paradigm.

I suspect what we need is not a "muscular Christianity" and its critique of a "suffocating effeminacy".

Rather, what we need is a Christianity which equips the people of God with a "cohesive philosophy" consisting equally of compassion, accountability and responsibility which could rescue Church and country from sloth.

I'm not going to hold my breath until that happens.

Meanwhile, I'll just simultaneously shake my head and wring my hands.

And, pray for the victims.  And, work like hell to make sure there is zero tolerance at every level for sexual violence and sexual predators of young children.

Because prayer and service to God's people - especially the most vulnerable among us - are the two strongest muscles a Christian can have.


Muthah+ said...

That you still have the energy to comment on this story says much about you. I am so tired of this kind of "muscular" everything, that it is enervating. I can't bring myself to blog on the whole PSU thing.

wf: ovelinta wonder if it is anything like a fuzzy navel

Christian Paolino said...

Any time someone extols the virtues of "bully Jesus" I wonder what Gospels they read. Certainly not the ones I know.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ I think it says that I have zero tolerance for sexual predators. And, because just requires constant vigilance and persistence. And, because I decided long ago that I'm in for the long haul.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Christian - On one level, it's really pathetic, isn't it?

Turtle said...

Just imagine if they started to investigate all the football programs nationwide. Every diasis (can't spell that word to save my life) of the catholic church had its bishops covering up pedofile priests. The cult of football, the military, the all male priesthood, every all male institution has this structure... it is about dominance, control, sexualization of the weak--women and children. It's the cult of men who believe women are inferior sex toys, who create torture (I mean pornography) for sexual entertainment of men. I say women need to shut down every single one of these male fraturnities of power.... stop watching the big games, stop supporting the sports teams, stop being cheerleaders to the cult of manhood and child molestation. It's what these male cults do, and this is only the tip of the iceberg! It's why the male newscasters are going nuts, because putrid patriarchy is being exposed for all to see.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Turtle - I hope this begins an investigation of all male dominated sports and institutions, but I don't want to eliminate sports. That would be as successful and as dumb as Prohibition. I just don't want anyone to be sexualized, objectified or abused by anyone. Anywhere.

walter said...

Time may come to stop thinking, 4, for our helluva woman and squirt fountains of redemption on the sexual sins of Roman Catholic clergy in the States. And if they do not want to take it? I am not sure that would be the best language to address the potential problem. I would rather say what if they rebuff it? Well then we would just be a little shiner in the God Life Inherent of Sexuality. In the name of One God.

Walter Vitale

Anonymous said...

This evil isn't specific only to the RCC or Penn State.

Your own Presiding Bishop put out a statement this week about her allowing a man who admitted to having a sexual encounter with a teenager to become a TEC priest.

There's not a lot you or I can do to affect Penn State. But as a prominent progressive TEC blogger, there is a lot you could do to hold TEC's feet to the fire on this. It will be curious to see whether you do so or not.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hello again, Michael. Ah, you think I'm going to take the bait, aren't you? Comment on a priest who transferred to "my" church from "your" church? Did you read Bishop Katharine's letter? The allegations against him are not anything he did in TEC. Couldn't be a better letter of a chief pastor following both the letter of the Law and the Gods spirit of the Law of God to show mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation as well as firm boundaries.

Here's a wee bit of unsolicited advice from a sister in Christ: If you're looking for trouble and can't find it, don't make trouble. Not that I mind. It just really pisses Jesus off.

Anonymous said...

Some questions as I'm trying to get this straight.

Since Parry was a RCC priest having sex with presumably a RCC teenager, it is ok to have him become a TEC priest? Would it been different if he had molested a TEC teen back when he was a RCC priest?

What were the "firm boundaries?" Nobody but KJS seems to have known that Parry had any limitations whatsoever on his TEC priestly ministry in the Diocese of Nevada.

And how can you say that you have "zero tolerance for sexual predators" in your comment to Muthah+ six posts up and then commend KJS for accepting Parry into priestly ministry?


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - Get something 'straight'. What a wonderful Freudian slip!

You are obviously reading into this what you want to see. If you read the PB's letter, the "incident" with Parry was clearly a boundary crossing but it was, by all accounts, a one time situation which occurred in the context of a situation where that was the "accepted norm" (read: The RC church). It did not involve genital activity. All reports from certified psychologists who specialize in this field were that he was not a pedophile. Even so, she was NOT the only one who had the information. The Commission on Ministry did as did the Standing Committee. All of the people on all of these committees agreed that they would consent to his ordination with certain safeguards to protect him and his flock from any "near occasion of sin".

Furthermore, the charges brought against Bede are not from things which happened while he was an Episcopal priest but rather old charges from his days as an RC priest.

I have no - zero - tolerance for sexual predators. It is yet to be proven if this, in fact, is the case.

The only surprising thing to me is that I have to remind you, a citizen of this country and a priest in God's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, of "innocent before proven guilty" and the need for us always to seek God's mercy and justice with humility.

Then again, maybe I'm not so surprised.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, we seem to be using two sets of information here.

You appear to be using the PB's statement as the basis for your remarks. This basically says that Parry had one incident, was sent to Servants of the Paraclete, and eventually was laicized in the RC Church because he desired to pursue secular work. His psychological evaluation came back negative for further sexual abuse, and the then-Bishop of Nevada had very sparse contacts with Bede's RCC superiors.

I am using the line of information developed by the Anglican Curmudgeon. It records multiple sexual misdeeds by Parry over the years in the RCC, his being screened out of monastery life by two separate monasteries, a laicization he was in no position to contest, an utterly damning psychiatric assessment, and a warning by a RC abbot to the then-Bishop of Nevada that the man failed that assessment.

Since neither of us is in a position to verify either account, I think that I will wait for the inevitable TEC canonical process that probably has already started to look into the truth of the situation.

However, your statement that "The allegations against him are not anything he did in TEC," is still a mystery to me.

Since the allegations were all (be they a single event or multiple) of a sexual nature, what difference is that to "zero tolerance" you? If Parry were run out of the RCC on doctrinal grounds, I could see your point. But this has to do with a chickenhawk going after a teenager. Does the religion of the perpetrator at the time of the event(s) really matter to you?


gerry said...


Up front I am going to tell you that I am an alumnus of Penn State University, Class of 1969, and second I am a survivor of what is today called "Indecent Assault" by two counselors (working as a team)at an RCC summer athletic camp when I was ten.

The first was a seminarian, the other newly ordained. When it happened, I did what my father had told me to do if any one ever did what they did and went to the Camp office and reported what had happened. They never came near me again, but I had to deal with each at various times for the next six years as I went through Catholic Middle and High School.

I became convinced over time that I was wrong and suppressed the memory to the detriment of my personal life and relationships. It took several years of therapy and a lot of hard work before I accepted that it was real and the Church had failed me.

That said, I want to point out that Universities, the Church, Atheletic Departments and Football programs, etc. are not qualified or capable of policing themselves when it comes to child abuse, financial mismanagement, sexual harassment, or other crimes.

Law enforcement, crime prevention and criminal investigations are the purview of the police, the courts and other law enforcement agencies.

Let them do their jobs... help them to their jobs.

sandtorock said...

A series of books called 'Christian Meat for Christian Muscles' (published Aug 2011 and Nov 2011), discuss the position of human weakness we all find ourselves in until we hunger and thirst for God's strength to live successful Christian lives. Every chapter makes you think ... am I falling short here?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Gerry - Thanks for your brave witness here and the amazing work you've had to do in order to be healthy enough to make this witness. May it continue to change lives.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - Of COURSE you would prefer the --- um --- "information" developed by the Anglican Curmudgeon vs. the Presiding Bishop. He has NO credentials. None. Nothing to even back up his allegations. No charges filed. She, on the other hand, is the PB. Of The Episcopal Church.

Oh, and let's not forget the most important credential. He's male. She's female.

Done. Except, of course the added benefit of the fact that the Anglican Curmudgeon (now, there's a big hint as to the veracity of his POV) supports your POV of TEC and +KJS doesn't.

Stop wasting your time here, Michael. Go talk to people who agree with you and support your POV. Let's let the canonical process determine justice in this case.

Anonymous said...

Well, the Curmudgeon's sources aren't exactly "nothing," since they include legal filings, an on-the-record interview, and a written statement by Parry himself (with the large caveat that the man has been proven a monstrous liar in the past). But I'm quite content to let the TEC canonical process work its way through.

Man vs. woman has nothing to do with it.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael, you can tell yourself that the authority of gender is not a factor and believe it, but I don't believe it for one red hot NY minute.

Oh, and about zero tolerance - if Parry is proven guilty, I will have no tolerance for him or Jerry Sandusky or any of the minions of RC priests or anyone else who has abused his power and authority with children or women or anyone else.

Zero. Tolerance.

And, innocent until proven guilty.

And, forgiveness and reconciliation while maintaining zero tolerance.