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The community statement on religious sexual abuse.
Full text, part one
Full text, part two
Criticisms
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Good afternoon,

Following the call for a universal statement of condemnation of sexual abuse, which first appeared on The Wild Hunt blog, a gathering of volunteers and I have now crafted the final version of the text.  The full text appears below.

This text came about after a vigorous, productive, and at times intense three-week process. Passing through four "cycles" in which a draft of the text was subject to the criticisms and revisions of all the volunteers, we think we have achieved about as much of a consensus on this text as we are likely to get. Integrating various important considerations, such as the variety and multiplicity of moral views within Paganism's many communities, the need for grammatical and stylistic correctness, the need for moral decisiveness, and for rhetorical and exhortative strength, has not been an easy task. But together we have produced a statement of moral agreement which we are prepared to sign our names to, and stand by. We hope that you agree.

All that remains now is to decide upon a name for the text, and a layout on the page. One of the volunteers, David Shorey, posted to me his suggestion for a page layout. For my part, I quite liked it, and would be very happy if it is the layout style that is eventually used. I have placed it on my web site for interested parties to view, at http://www.brendanmyers.net/storage/statement PDF.pdf. (Note that the text in this PDF file is the fourth draft of the statement, not the final version.)

At this time, I am happy to hand the reigns of leadership on this project back to Jason Pitzl-Waters, author of The Wild Hunt blog, where the project began. May I say that it has been a privilege and an honour to host this process on my forum and to work with all of you. I am confident that the public reception will be good, and that it will generate wide support in the Pagan community and beyond.

 

Brendan Myers


Part 1

(Short version for print distribution.)

 

We are here –

– A circle of spiritual people from many traditions, groves, hearths, and circles. We are young and old, from many walks of life, and many parts of the world. We are Pagans of the modern era, Druids, Heathens, Wiccans, Witches, Shamans, practitioners of magical lore, and many more paths besides these. We walk the paths of the sacred Earth, in the footsteps of the Goddesses and Gods of the Land, the Sea, the Sky, and the Tribe.

2. We have learned of recent incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by individuals claiming to be religious teachers, some of whom claimed to be members of our community. In response to these incidents, we have crafted this statement.

3. We hereby categorically reject, disavow, oppose, and repudiate any and all coerced, nonconsensual, harmful or exploitative sexual acts, especially when claimed to be part of our ways and traditions. We identify all such acts as sexual abuse, and we refuse to tolerate them in our community.

4. Many of us believe the human body is profoundly sacred. Many of us believe that the presence of the Divine dwells within in the body. We therefore find that human sexuality, and acts of love and pleasure between consenting, informed, and mature people, have great religious significance. We affirm the goodness of human sexuality, and the goodness of celebrating sexual identity.

5. Because of these beliefs, we also find that coerced, nonconsensual, harmful or exploitative sexual acts are extraordinary affronts to the Divine presence which dwells within every human body. These acts grievously harm the victim, and inflict deep wounds upon the sense of bodily identity which all of us hold so dear.

6. A sexual predator who exploits the relationship of trust that exists between teacher and seeker harms the whole religious community, and undermines the good work of the honourable teachers in our midst. Similarly, acts of sexual abuse between seekers in the same circle, whether one party is a teacher or not, also harm the whole community.

7. An accusation of sexual exploitation is a very serious matter. The accusation alone, even in the absence of evidence, can damage the reputation and the self esteem of good people. We therefore find that a false or vindictive accusation of sexual misconduct is but another form of sexual abuse.

8. Yet we also recognize that real sexual abuse victims experience deep feelings of guilt and shame, and that they often struggle to admit that they have been abused. Their condition should not be made worse by a predisposition to doubt the validity of their claims. Nor should they be automatically counter-accused of having a vindictive intention, or of lying. We hold that anyone alleging sexual abuse should always be treated with compassion as a primary response, and that claims of sexual abuse should be handled with intelligence and concern for all.

9. We voluntarily commit ourselves to this declaration, and we encourage others to commit themselves to it, whatever their path.


Part 2

(for internet distribution, which includes part 1 as well as the following discussion.)

 

1. Our movement has many principles of moral thought, not just one singular monolithic principle. As there are many gods in the world, so there are many models of the good and worthwhile life for humankind. Some of us practice Heroic Virtue, others Classical virtue, others a Utilitarian principle such as the Wiccan Rede. There are also many among us who find that ethical principles are revealed through the intuition of a Divine presence that dwells within the human heart and mind. This presence unites us with the Earth, with each other, and with the cosmos.

 

2. Among our many traditions, groves, hearths, circles, and communities, there are broad areas of moral agreement. For the purpose of this statement, we (the authors and the undersigned) wish to emphasize the matter of sexual abuse. We agree to the broad and general principle that the human body is a sacred temple, a work of art, and a good home for the self and the soul. Many of us believe that the body is the dwelling-place of the Divine, and the seat of a deeply integrated web of relations which ultimately includes the whole of life on Earth. The human body is thus among the first of all things that deserve our care and respect. On this principle, the differences between our various circles tend to be only a matter of emphasis. Indeed, on this principle, we may share some moral agreement with the dominant religious traditions of our dominant culture: the view that the body is made in the image of the Divine.

 

3. In our circles, the sacredness of the body, as a religious truth, leads to positive conclusions about human sexuality. Our view is that sexuality, sexual identity, sexual expression, and acts of love and pleasure, between consenting, informed, and mature people, have great religious significance. Indeed such acts can take on the significance of ritual. We hold that our sexual identities are worthy of celebration. And for many of us, an occasion of shared sexual pleasure and lovemaking is a most spiritually meaningful event: a communion with the Divine which dwells within ourselves and within each other.

 

4. Indeed, there are some traditions in which a sexual act is performed as part of some rituals, such as higher-level initiations. Various names designate these rituals: Heiros Gamos, the Great Marriage, or the Great Rite, to name a few. In most cases, the Great Marriage is performed “in token”: for instance, a priest touches the tip of a wand or a blade to the bottom of a chalice held by a priestess. This is an ancient gesture, with precedents in the ancient cultures of the Greeks, the Romans, the Hindus, and other great civilizations of the distant past.

 

5. Naturally, given our perspective on the sacredness of the body, our view is that all coerced, nonconsensual, harmful or exploitative sexual acts, are seriously morally wrong. We find that sexual exploitation and violence are particularly worse than other forms of criminality, such as property offences, because sexual offences invade the body. Sexual abuse ignores the sacredness of the body, and ignores the privacy, the dignity, and the freedom of the victim to use and delight in his or her own body. It is an extraordinary affront to the Divine presence which dwells within every human body and which animates the body with goodness. It severely harms the victim, and degrades the dignity of both victim and offender. Sexual abuse also inflicts deep wounds upon the precious sense of bodily identity which all of us hold so dear. No exceptions or relativist interpretations can alter the basic moral wrongness of sexual exploitation and violence. We identify all such acts as sexual abuse, and we refuse to tolerate them in our community.

 

6. Thus in our contemporary circles, the rite of the Great Marriage, if it is not performed in token,  is held privately and by invitation only. The participants come in full knowledge of what they have been invited to. If there are any initiatory “surprises”, they are never intended to violate the sacredness of the seeker’s body. Ideally, the invitees already know, love, and trust one another. They have already given their informed consent, and retain the right to withdraw from the event without prejudice at any time. When we mix sexuality with religion, there is no space for deception or coercion. Religious sexuality is always consensual and never obligatory. No one should enter a circle with eyes covered when sexuality, sexual identity, and the sanctity of his or her own body is put to a test. This remains true even when the ritual participants are not strangers to each other. Initiatory surprises, tests, and ordeals are intended to help a seeker find the sacred within him or her self. If they threaten or invade that self, then the initiators are harming, and not helping, the seeker.

 

7. If someone finds a private group’s practices uncomfortable, he or she is always free to find another group to join. It is wrong to hold someone back from spiritual progress or knowledge for refusing to participate in a sexual act. We are always right to doubt the sincerity, honour, and spirituality of someone who claims that a sexual act is a mandatory requirement for initiation, or for any kind of relationship with the gods, goddesses, or deities.

 

8. An accusation of sexual exploitation is a very serious matter. The accusation alone, even in the absence of evidence, can damage the reputation and the self esteem of good people. We therefore find that a false or vindictive accusation of sexual misconduct is another form of sexual abuse.

 

9. Yet we also recognize that real sexual abuse victims experience deep feelings of guilt and shame, and that they often struggle to admit that they have been abused. Their condition should not be made worse by a predisposition doubt the validity of their claims. Nor should they be automatically counter-accused of having a vindictive intention, or of lying. We hold that anyone alleging sexual abuse should always be treated with compassion as a primary response, and that claims of sexual abuse should be handled with intelligence and concern for all.

 

10. It is clear that one need not be a spiritual person to recognize the wrongness of sexual abuse. Yet we are especially outraged when the perpetrator is a leader or a teacher in a religious community. In our circles, religious teachers are held in high esteem. A seeker who approaches a teacher in search of spiritual guidance and comfort offers a special kind of trust to the teacher. Teachers and seekers often open their hearts and minds to each other, and thus they becomes very vulnerable. It is for this reason many of our traditions require teachers to possess not only great knowledge, but also great integrity and honour. It is also for this reason that sexual predators will pose as religious teacher: in that way, they may find more victims for their gratification. There are also some teachers who, exploiting the trust given them, become sexual predators as well.

 

11. Furthermore, a person who uses this relationship of trust to exploit people thus harms the whole social environment in which teaching and seeking take place. For the sexual predator’s harm touches more than just the victim. It affects all the victim’s friends, family members, fellow seekers in the same circle, colleagues at work, and anyone to whom the victim may turn for help. The harm of sexual abuse thus affects numerous other people who the predator may not know, nor ever meet. Moreover, sexual abuse also casts suspicion and doubt on the intentions of the honourable teachers in our midst, undermining the good work that they do.

 

12. Finally a sexual predator can sometimes exploit the relations of trust that grow between fellow seekers in the same tradition, hearth, or circle, even when he or she does not pose as a teacher. This kind of exploitation also harms the whole community. In all cases, we maintain our condemnation of unwanted sexual acts.

 

Therefore –

We, the authors and signatories of this statement, commit ourselves to:

 

• Demonstrate by example a fully moral sexual spirituality;

• Vigorously entreat others to agree to the principles of this statement;

• Handle all accusations of sexual exploitation and misconduct with intelligence and compassion, for victims of real sexual harm, and for victims of false or vindictive accusations;

• Cooperate with the police when an incident of sexual abuse in our circles is under investigation;

• Help bring comfort, medical assistance, legal aid, and spiritual healing, to victims, as far as ability and opportunity may allow; and

• Help seekers find groups, circles, traditions, or individual teachers, whose practice involves as much or as little sexuality as the seeker feels comfortable exploring.

 

We voluntarily commit ourselves to this declaration, and we encourage others to commit themselves to it, whatever their path.

 

We remain, respectfully,

A community of Pagans.


 

A record of the main concerns and criticisms of the statement

These were the most common criticisms of the statement, as I saw them on Jason Pitzl-Waters’ blog shortly after the statement was published in 2009, and on my own website forum (which I’ve since taken down, to stop the spambots from filling it with 419 scams).

(asterisks indicate the seriousness of the concern, as indicated by the comments of others agreeing with it, or noting a similar concern)

- Fear of coercion into signing the statement **

- “harm” undefined, and may include BDSM practices. **

- (although the discussion produced reasons to keep the word ‘harm’ undefined)

- remove the word “harm” altogether ***

- The Wiccan Rede is “not utilitarian”; remove the word “Utilitarian”.

- stronger statement that sex with children / teenagers / legal minors is wrong; that children are unable to give consent ****

- A suggested text: “”We recognize all laws related to minors and sexual activity. As minors are legally unable to give consent to sexual activities, we consider all sexual actions with minors to be non-consensual, and therefore they are not to be tolerated within our community.”"

- also a statement about the problems of children who witness (if not participate in) sexual acts.

- Brendan’s “pet theory being passed off as universally accepted truth”

- “vigorously entreat others to agree” may seem too evangelical, too close to prosyletizing. ***

- A suggested alternative: “sincerely entreated to consider the principles of the statement”

- “no one should enter a circle with eyes covered when…” this line may seem to condemn common skyclad / blindfold initiations.

- various attachments could be appended, including:
1. Definition of sexual abuse applicable to a variety of contexts, with contrasting crucial common denominators of healthy relationships(such as but not limited to sensible boundaries and the need for ** consistent ** boundaries).
2. Fact: sexual abuse crosses social, cultural, religious, financial, political, academic/intelligence, and other boundaries.
3. Sexual abuse rates of children. http://www.darkness2light.org/knowabout/statistic…
4. A quality list of warning signs of a pedophile. http://www.aupairclearinghouse.com/node/561
5. Sexual abuse clearly categorized as not a crime of passion or attraction but as one of power and control.
6. Practical steps as to how to protect children. People need to know what to do, why to do it, and how to apply what they’ve learned.http://www.darkness2light.org/docs/Final7steps.pd…
7. An ongoing outlet for open dialog with which to process the above.

- what happens if a sexual predator steps up to sign the pledge?

- a firm rejection of the use of cultural or historical precedents to justify pederasty and sexual abuse generally.

- Strangeness of saying “X is bad” without committing to take action against someone who does X. Puzzlement concerning a disconnect between “X is bad” and “We should intervene to stop X from happening”.

- Some pagans believe the body is not sacred / not made in the image of the divine. ****

- A possible alternative: “human beings contain the essence of the divine”

- the victim of a false accusation of abuse should not be conflated with a victim of actual sexual abuse. **

- need for a brief section which defines major terms

- document too long, too wordy **

- danger of going into too much detail over various pagan sexual practices such as certain kinds of initiation: it risks “providing fodder for those who would like to sensationalize the pagan movement”. ***

- a suggested change / addition: “We as individual pagans of many paths (and where appropriate representing our covens, groups, clans and tribes) find sexual abuse, rape, and molestation to be immoral. We agree to act with upstanding integrity in the care of the victims, and in the prevention of future victimization.”

- “commitment to cooperate with police” doesn’t go far enough. Should also include commitment to report allegations of criminal conduct to police, especially when minors are involved.

- the phrase “sexual predator” too sex-negative

- the phrase “some of whom claimed to be members of our community” may be misleading, as some sex offenders are members of our community.

- Alternative possibility: “Recent incidents and allegations of sexual abuse in the guise of religious leadership or instruction prompted us to look carefully at our own community, its history, and its practices to assure the safety of its members and the children in their lives. This statement is our response.”

- too much extraneous info about multiple aspects of paganism

- Section 7 is rape apologism. *****

- only one commentator that I saw articulated a support for sec.7 as it stands now.

- need for a professional grammar proofreader

- naming various trads in the first section insufficiently inclusive: it can appear as if the trads that are named are important enough, and others are not.

- statement claims to be speaking on behalf of everyone “with just enough weasel-words to not be lying outright”.

- if timing of statement is not relevant, then reference to “recent events” can be cut. **

- Sexual abuse as claimed to be part of a pagan ritual is not worse than sexual abuse in any other context.

- need for acknowledgement that sex abuse is emotionally, mentally, psychologically damaging, and not just an affront to the divine.

- sex abuse that affects community not worse than other sex abuse.

- danger of allowing local laws to decide what’s ethical; although that does not mean people should break laws.

- The statement should avoid mentioning legalities altogether, and stick to the moral.

- various discussions about the relation between morality and the law, esp. the age which the law in various jurisdictions fixes as the age of sexual consent.

- statement should mention spiritual practices that do not require sexual acts; needs affirmation that sexual acts re not necessary for fulfilling practice.

- a suggested text for that purpose: “Some of us practice a deep and meaningful spirituality and communion with the Divine without performing any sexual acts as part of our rituals. We collectively recognize this as one possible way to practice and do not judge those rituals to be better or lesser than rituals that do include sexual acts.”

- remove the word “guilt” from the statement about the feelings of sexual abuse victims. A suggested alternative: “We recognize that sexual abuse victims experience deep feelings of self-blame and shame, and that they often struggle to admit that they have been abused.”

- statement could give advice to people who, upon reading the statement, “suddenly realizes that what they experienced in a Pagan context was indeed sexual abuse.”

- the paragraph that begins ” If someone finds a private group’s practices uncomfortable, he or she is always free to find another group to join” need not say anything more than that first sentence.

[end]