I don’t think that’s actually in Ecclesiastes 3:1, but the phrase occurred to me in a sarcastic, exhausted moment today as I read an article by a very sweet and usually thoughtful male Christian minister about the Isla Vista massacre and Elliott Rodger.
The article contained a few qualifiers about the author’s uncertainty about whether or not he should even broach the subject (he shouldn’t have), before launching into how much empathy he had for Elliott Rodger. And he encouraged his readers to consider how this young man was suffering before he killed seven people and wounded 13 others.
As I skimmed this piece — my eyes rolled too far up into my hairline to read it carefully – I thought, in the words of RuPaul, “Oh no you better don’t.” This was not just a personal reaction. It was a collegial response.
The institutional Church — Catholic and Protestant — has a thick crust of blood on its hands as a result of centuries of preaching understanding and empathy to abused women and other victims of sexual violence, locking women into a strictly obedient and nurturing role, forcing them to return to abusive relationships with men and silencing them through discipline and torture. It is not just tone-deaf for a contemporary clergyman to express sympathy for the murderer at this moment of justified female rage; it is a time-honored, sexist abuse of spiritual authority.
By introducing theological reflection on compassion (which is just one small theological jump from forgiveness) hours after an act of misogynist extremism that generated an outpouring of passionate witnessing by women, this representative of the Church executed a rhetorical body blow powered by the dual power of male privilege and spiritual authority. Am I repeating myself? I’m okay with that. The author may have written his piece in a disarmingly pastoral tone, but he unquestionably implied that good Christian girls would be praying for Elliott Rodger instead of tweeting in solidarity with their sisters to #YesAllWomen.
Today on my local classical music station, the news reported the sentencing of Jared Remy, a privileged man whose many acts of savagery toward women (and men) was treated with leniency by the courts until he stabbed his girlfriend and mother of his child, Jen Martel, to death. Jared Remy is the son of famous Red Sox sports announcer Jerry Remy. The report featured an audio clip from the trial in which Jared Remy’s attorney informed the public that his client felt that his famous father had received too much negative attention for his son’s acts. That’s what the reporting focused on: the murderer’s father getting a bad rap in the press. Because of course this story is about how Jerry Remy’s public reputation may be suffering, and isn’t about Jen Martel.
We don’t need pastors gently suggesting that good Christian women should feel compassion for perpetrators in a world where the back stories of male abusers are already lifted up to the exclusion of the women they stalk, abuse and kill, and where victims get no compassion because they’re dead. Coming into a room at a time of rage and trauma and introducing the topic of compassion to the portion of our species that has had obedience and subservience to men beaten into it isn’t just questionable timing. It’s silencing and shaming, however nicely dressed up as a personal pastoral reflection.
A time to every purpose under heaven. A time to listen to women.