Friday, October 28, 2016

Ashamed to be a Man

I am ashamed to be a man. Very ashamed.

No, I am not a transgender person who is dissatisfied with my gender identity. Rather, I am ashamed that men are responsible for so much violence against women. Men continue to persist in such behavior, so much so that I am ashamed. I am sure that many men are also ashamed by violence against women.

We can no longer tolerate such abusive behavior by other men. Many of us may have accepted it at one time, even if we did not do it ourselves, but that is no longer possible because we do not view women that way nor should society. Therefore, I feel compelled to speak out, and so must other men if this problem is ever going to be licked.

Violence against women can take many forms, including sexual assault and abuse, which I want to concentrate on this time. I have touched on this issue several times over the last few years in my blog because of its prevalence around the globe. It can be found in every country of the world and it happens in very part of society.

This time, I will not deal with violence against women perpetrated on continents other than North America. Female infanticide; physical, sexual and psychological abuse, child marriage; female genital mutilation, and child prostitution are just a few examples of such violence. Sadly, there are more,examples, too many to list here.

Instead, I want to restrict myself to sexual abuse in North America, which has made headlines recently. Donald Trump is perhaps the most infamous case at the moment. Bill Cosby's name also immediately comes to mind. Other examples can be found both here and in other parts of the world.

And going back a few decades, JFK's attitude to women was abusive, but he did this in an era when the media looked the other way. Somewhat later, Bill Clinton was not so fortunate when the media reported him engaging in questionable sexual acts that he only belatedly admitted. All of them claimed that the sex was consensual, but power structures put a lie to that claim.

As I should hardly need to explain, sexual assault and abuse is any type of sexual activity that s woman does not agree to. This includes inappropriate touching;vaginal, anal, or oral penetration; sexual intercourse that she says no to; rape or attempted rape. It can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces her to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention.

I should not have to add that such violence is always wrong, whether the abuser is a date; a current or past spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend; a family member, a coworker, an acquaintance or a stranger. In most jurisdictions, it is also illegal, although enforcement of these laws is often haphazard or totally lacking.

Unfortunately, men like Trump are in total denial when it comes to violence against women. They claim that they have never committed any form of sexual assault. And that if they did have sex, it was always consensual. Trump even adds that "no one respects women more" than him.

Such acts of violence are committed against women expressly because they are women. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women states that:"violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women" and that "violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men."

Kofi Annan,a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, declared in a 2006 report posted on the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) website that:"Violence  against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her."

In Canada, aside from domestic and some other kinds of violence, such violence has been signaled especially in the military, the RCMP, other police forces, and even in fire departments. The sexual harassment of women in Canada's armed forces and police services is common, The evidence, both anecdotal and actual, is extensive, yet little is done about it. It has gone on for decades and continues today. The pattern is familiar: public outrage is followed by promises by the military and the RCMP to do better, but nothing changes.

To the leadership in the armed forces, the RCMP, and other police forces, sexual abuse and assault seem to constitute a public relations problem that must be managed, rather than a culture and practice that has to be expunged. In the armed forces, denial has become standard operating procedure. A former Chief of the Defence Staff has stated that he did not accept the "notion" that sexual violence was part of the military culture. No wonder so little has happened to correct this dire situation.

The culture of the armed forces and quasi-military forces like the Mounties promotes hyper-macho behavior in its young men in the name of unit loyalty and absolute conformity to the chain of command structures. Some men admit that within weeks that culture has changed them and made them behave the same way as their fellow soldiers or policemen.

There is indeed a sexualized culture in the military which intimidates female victims and discourages them from reporting the harassment. It's the same in the RCMP.  Female members are fearful of speaking out because of reprisals against their career advancement. 

Last year, a young woman hired by the prestigious Royal Military College in Kingston to run a workshop on sexual assault and consent said she was greeted by greater hostility by the cadets than she had ever experienced before. One officer cadet joked that nobody reports sexual harassment, "Because it happens all the time."

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, and plaintiffs Janet Merlo, center, and Linda Davidson

Recently, the RCMP delivered an apology to female officers and civilian members who suffered harassment, discrimination, and sexual abuse in the force. The federal government has put aside $100 million for compensation. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson teared up as he apologized and praised the women for their courage:
To all the women who have been impacted by the force’s failure to have protected your experience at work, and on behalf of every leader, supervisor or manager, every commissioner, I stand humbly before you today and solemnly offer our sincere apology.
You came to the RCMP wanting to personally contribute to your community and we failed you. We hurt you. For that, I’m truly sorry.
Two factors can curse a female Mountie’s career, according to some women confidence and intelligence. One said, "The more beautiful you are, the more feminine you are, the more willing you are to speak up, the worse you’ll be treated." That is sexism: the objectification and the demeaning of women.

The culture that condones and even encourages violence against women is pervasive. It can be found in every military and police force in the world.Men are inculcated into that culture -- willingly or not. In such a culture, women are at a great disadvantage. The name of the game is power. Who has the power? Men, of course. They control the entire process.That is why nothing is going to change anytime soon.

Trump's predatory behavior towards women as recorded in 2005 expresses the prevailing attitude of some men in this culture. Men can do anything they want with women. An excerpt from this recording:
And when you’re a star they let you do it,’ Trump says. ‘You can do anything.’
‘Whatever you want,’ says another voice.
‘Grab them by the p—y,’ Trump says. ‘You can do anything.'

The sexists in this culture, which seems to include a lot of men, might respond by saying, "Oh good! Just what we need! We can’t get enough of that!" Not that they need any further justification or encouragement for their behavior. They have absolutely zero respect for women. Trump typifies their attitude.

It is no wonder that women are demanding an independent body, outside the chain of command, to examine complaints of sexual harassment. The existing power structure prevents a fair examination., But more is needed; much more!

There are many types of violence against women that I have not discussed. There is no real hierarchy when it comes to violence; all are equally objectionable. Violence directed against men is also wrong. Unfortunately, men are also frequently victims of bullying, especially in the military.

Enough is enough! Men and women are equals and must treat each other the same way. Women must no longer be treated as subordinates. The whole power structure must be changed. Women must enjoy full human rights, and these rights have to be codified as positive laws and then, most crucially, be properly enforced. If all that happens, then violence against women would be reduced and eventually stopped.

As a final note, I want to speak to those Christians who argue that the Bible supports the subordination of women. While I do not intend to refute them by discussing specific biblical verses, I would point out to them that the best way to understand the Bible yeaches is through discerning where the biblical texts are placed in the larger biblical story.

The subordination of women looks back to the situation of a fallen humanity. But  now, since the death and resurrection of Christ, such subordination is no longer relevant. In the new creation that he ushered in, a new relationship between men and women is possible. This relationship excludes all forms of violence, including violence against women. In Christ, all of us are new creatures who are commanded to love one another. 

If all people loved each as they should, there would not be any violence at all. Although the fulfillment may have to wait for some future time, we may start now already. The United Nations General Assembly in  Resolution 54/134 has designated November 25 each year as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women . We don't have to wait until November 25 to act. Men and women must work together to end this violence. Enough is enough!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Evangelicals dump Trump

With the US election only two weeks away as I am writing this, I hesitated about writing another post about Donald Trump. We are so offended by him that in our house that we have started referring to him as, "He whose name will not be mentioned." However, I do want to mention this letter from a large number of evangelical leaders which expresses much of what I would want to say in the waning days of the election campaign. Even though I am not an American, I feel strongly that Christians, as well as all people of faith, must speak out strongly against what this man stands for. 

At the beginning of October, a very diverse group of evangelical Christians published a letter condemning Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his candidacy. In it they argue that his campaign "affirms racist elements in white culture" and is, therefore, unacceptable to them as Christians.

The letter, which was signed by nearly 80 prominent evangelical leaders, thinkers, authors, and pastors, decries Trump’s attacks on women, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and the disabled, saying such vitriol is an affront to the Christian faith. The signatories say they reflect a more diverse coalition of evangelicals than what is often portrayed in the media or has been courted by Trump:
A significant mistake in American politics is the media’s continued identification of ‘evangelical’ with mostly white, politically conservative, older men" the statement reads. "We are not those evangelicals.

They describe themselves as diverse in ethnicity, gender, age, denomination, churches, and political orientation. They are also growing. They add. "Given the rich diversity within our unity, we call upon the political world to hear all our voices, and for the media to acknowledge that the evangelical community is quite diverse."

They explain: "As evangelical Christians, we believe our hope and allegiance rests in the person of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, and Lord of our lives."  For this reason, they insist they are not partisan, although some people dismiss them that way. That is not fair, as they add:
That is why no politician, party, movement, or nation can ever command our ultimate loyalty. As citizens both of the Kingdom of God and this world, we vote with humility, knowing that our favored candidates always fall short of biblical values. We recognize that despite our unity in Christ, we will inevitably disagree about which political stances come closest to the heart of God for our nation.
But this letter was prompted by the candidacy of Donald Trump. They begin by declaring: "Imperfect elections and flawed candidates often make for complicated and difficult choices for Christians. But sometimes historic moments arise when more is at stake than partisan politics--when the meaning and integrity of our faith hangs in the balance. This is one of those moments."

Trump's campaign, they insist "is the most recent and extreme version of a history of racialized politics that has been pursued and about which white evangelicals, in particular, have been silent." They bemoan that silence and attribute the current political environment to it.

They conclude with the affirmation:"We, undersigned evangelicals, simply will not tolerate the racial, religious, and : gender bigotry that Donald Trump has consistently and deliberately fueled, no matter how else we choose to vote or not to vote."  And they invite other evangelicals to join them in this declaration.

While the signatories had no shortage of criticism for Trump, they carefully avoided endorsing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That is an indication of their non-partisanship. This letter is directed against Trump, not the Republican party, although Republicans chose him as their candidate. In this election, some Democrats and Independents will also vote for Trump. That is to whom this letter is addressed, not to the parties as such.

Evangelical leaders, like all other voters, should be allowed to voice their political preferences publically. The signers of this declaration did so publically, but in a private capacity and not as a representative of any church.

Churches as institutions, have to tread carefully so that the gospel is not used for political ends. That would be a misuse of the gospel. But there are times when the gospel compels people to action. That is the case now, as these evangelical leaders insist:
Because we believe that racial bigotry has been a cornerstone of this campaign, it is a foundational matter of the gospel for us in this election, and not just another issue. This is not just a social problem, but a fundamental wrong. Racism is America's original sin. Its brazen use to win elections threatens to reverse real progress on racial equity and set America back.
That is bold language. It requires courage to speak so boldly, but sometimes the times demand it. This is what the Barmen Declaration did in 1934. The Theological Declaration of Barmen, to give it its full title, was a document adopted by Christians in Nazi Germany who opposed the German Christian) movement. 

In the view of the delegates to the Synod that met in the German city of Barmen in May 1934, German Christians had corrupted church government by making it subservient to the state and had introduced Nazi ideology that contradicted the Christian gospel into the German Protestant churches.

The Declaration was mostly written by the Reformed theologian Karl Barth but was modified as a result of input from several Lutheran theologians. I do not mean to imply that Trump's campaign should be equated with the Nazis, but rather that the racism that Trump trumpets demands a similar response from Christians today.

Racism and misogyny and the other activities (read, sins) that Trump tries to make respectable have no place in the public square where politics is played, much less in the churches where believers go to hear the gospel. But that same gospel can and, indeed, must also proclaimed in the public square.

Contrary to what some evangelical Christians maintain, religion and politics do mix. Religion influences politics and politics influences religion. Most of us would agree since there are many historical examples that can be adduced to prove their mutual influence. They do mix.

I admit that politics should not play a role in the church and the church as an institution should not interfere in politics. But that does not mean that Christians must desert the public square and avoid politics. That would be foolish. That way politics is left to non-Christians (such a Donald Trump).

Christians, whether individually or as a group, can and should speak out in the public square since that is where politics is done. That is what those who signed this letter have done. They write: 
We see this election as a significant teachable moment for our churches and our nation to bring about long-needed repentance from our racial sin. Out of this belief, we have written this declaration, inviting you to be part of what we have learned from one another and long to see in the churches and the world—a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human lives.

And thus they invite others to join them in their protest: "We invite you to stand with us, join in this declaration, and pass it along to your friends, congregants, pastors, students, and the diverse evangelical church." 

Instead of condemning these leaders, as some have done, you and I should add our signatures to this long and growing list. More than 80 people have signed the published version. Others have done by signing the petition at I invite you to affix your name to this important document before the election. You can do so by using this link just as I did.

If you are an American, you can also cast a vote against Trump by voting for one of the other candidates. If you don't want to vote for Clinton, you can leave that part of the ballot blank. The important thing is this: don't vote for Trump!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ukraine and Turkey: Divided, yet Connected

I have not written any posts for several weeks because of a trip to Ukraine and Turkey. This was for both business and family reasons. It offered me some new insights into the situation of both countries. I visited both Kyiv and Istanbul, as well as a Ukrainian city in the Russian-speaking zone. I have been in both countries before, yet every time much has changed. I did not visit Crimea, but it is very much involved.

Ukraine and Turkey are very close -- one can fly from Kyiv to Istanbul in two hours -- but they are also very far apart. Their histories are closely intertwined, and yet they might as well be living on different planets. The Black Sea, on which these two countries are located, both unites them and also separates them.

There is more. Ukraine belongs to the Orthodox Christian world, while Turkey has been Muslim since 1453 when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Yet almost five hundred years before this, at the time of Vladimir the Great, Orthodoxy was chosen as the religion of what is today Russia and Ukraine after Vladimir's emissaries reported that in Constantinople they had been transported into heaven.

Turkey is where the seven churches of Revelation were located. This is where the Christian Church flourished initially. This is the home of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Ecumenical Patriarch still makes his home in Istanbul. I have visited this church several times. But is dwarfed by all the mosques that now tower over the city. It is obvious which religion controls the city. Today Ukraine is Christian and Turkey Muslim.

They are also divided ethnically. Ukrainians are predominantly Slavs and Turks are mostly Turkish. Their languages are not related. Ukraine is itself divided into Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking sectors. The latter constitute about 30% of the population, although nearly everyone learns Russian in school, but that is now changing.

What surprised me during my stay in Ukraine is the response of the Russian-speakers to the annexation of Crimea and the attempt to absorb may of the Russian-speaking areas. These people, almost unanimously, have sided with Ukraine.

Ukrainian nationalism is at an all-time high. Ukrainian flags are everywhere and the names of cities and town have been changed to their Ukrainian form. Signs on the streets are in Ukrainian and English, while the use of Russian has been reduced.

In Crimea, which was Ukrainian until Russia annexed it 2014, there is a sizable Tatar community who speak a language that is related to Turkish. These Tatars do not like the Russians. There are historical reasons for their animosity. The Crimea plays a crucial role in this history, which is worth examining in some detail.

The Crimean Tatars emerged as a nation at the time of the Crimean Khanate, which was a Turkic-speaking Muslim state that was among the strongest powers in Eastern Europe until the beginning of the 18th century. The Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group, now make up 12 percent of the population of Crimea.

The Crimean Tatars mostly adopted Islam in the 14th century and thereafter Crimea became one of the centers of Islamic civilization. The Khanate was officially a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire with great autonomy after 1448. The Tatars ruled the Black Sea peninsula until the Russians conquered it in the 18th century.

The Russo-Turkish War (1768–74) resulted in the defeat of the Ottomans by the Russians, and according to the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774) signed after the war, Crimea became independent and Ottomans renounced their political right to protect the Crimean Khanate. After a period of political unrest in Crimea, Russia violated the treaty and annexed the Crimean Khanate in 1783.

A treaty signed between the Russian and Ottoman Empires on April 19, 1783 transferred Crimea from Ottoman to Russian control The treaty promised that if Crimea ever became independent or was transferred to a third party, it should fall under the control of the Ottomans once more. The Turkish government chose not to pursue such a claim in 1991 when Ukraine became independent of the Soviet Union.

This claim was made by the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, which argued that if the Autonomous Republic of Crimea announced its independence, then it falls under Turkish rule. However, the first article to actually make the claim regarding the 1783 treaty came from Ceylan Ozbudak, a television presenter and political analyst based in Istanbul, on March 1, 2014, who wrote for Al Arabiya,

She used that claim as the backdrop for her opinions on what steps the current Turkish government should take in mediating the dispute between Russia and Crimea. Unfortunately, the treaty did not, contrary to these claims, transfer Crimea to Russian control, nor did it promise that it should go to the Ottomans if Crimea  became independent.

In fact, the treaty actually guarantees the independence of Crimea and says nothing of its possible transfer to Ottoman rule. This claim is an example of sloppy journalism. Sources should always be carefully checked. Yet many Turks, including those who are well-versed in Turkish politics, still believe this, probably because Turks want t believe it.

The Crimean Tatars do have more than one bone to pick with Russia. In May 1944, shortly after Soviet troops drove German forces from Crimea, Josef Stalin accused the Tatars of collaborating with the enemy and ordered their deportation. About 250,000 Tatars were shipped in freight trains to Central Asia, where more than 40 percent died of hunger and disease.

Many Tatars later returned to Crimea in the years before and after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which led to Crimea becoming part of an independent Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned against the Crimean Tatars "becoming pawns" in disputes between countries, in particular between Russia and Ukraine.
Though Russia has control over the peninsula, its sovereignty remains disputed as Ukraine and the majority of the international community consider the annexation illegal. A range of international sanctions remain in place against Russia and a number of named individuals as a result of the events of 2014.
In March 2014, following the ousting of the Ukrainian president in the Ukrainian revolution and the subsequent takeover of the region by pro-Russian separatists and Russian special forces, local authorities held a referendum on "reunification with Russia", the official result of which was a large majority in support. The Tatars, understandably, did not agree.

The Russian Federation then officially annexed Crimea and now administers it as two federal subjects: the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. Ukraine does not recognize the annexation and, backed by most of the international community, continues to assert its right over the peninsula.

With so much both uniting Ukraine and Turkey as well as dividing it, it is no wonder that Crimea continues the focal point of these disputes. There are many reasons why Turkey sides with Ukraine, in spite of the latter's many ties with its Slavic and Orthodox neighbor and the enormous differences there are between Turkey and Ukraine.

Yet there is much that continues to tie these two countries, much of it revolving around Crimea. By visiting Ukraine and Turkey, I have gained a deeper insight into these two countries and their relationship to each other, especially because of Crimea.

Religion and politics are intertwined in the relationship between Ukraine and Turkey. Turkey may be cozying up to Russia at present, but its historical ties are with Ukraine. They are not married to each other, but could be, if history were the gauge. Another lesson I learned is that Crimea should become independent again. That is one way to resolve the problem raised by the Russian annexation.

Ukraine and Turkey are divided, but there is much that connects them.