Whatever happened to the pagan community statement on religious sexual abuse?

With yesterday’s revelation that the well-known pagan musician and author Kenny Klein had confessed to possessing child pornography, a criminal offence, there’s been a little bit of renewed interest in the “Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse” which I helped to write, back in back in 2009.

I’d like to say a few words about what happened to it.

The version of the piece which appears on my web site (here) is the most up-to-date version that there is. No further work was done on it since that time, because most of the various contributors and critics had lost the will to continue with it. There was a lot of disagreement, often angry disagreement, about whether the statement went too far, or didn’t go far enough, and so on. I’ve included below a list of the common criticisms, as I saw them on Jason Pitzl-Waters’ blog, and on my own website forum (which I’ve since taken down, to stop the spambots from filling it with 419 scams). But there’s one group of criticisms that I’d like to draw special attention to.

There were a lot of angry voices who continued to demand the right to perform sexual acts as part of initiation ceremonies, even when the inductee would not be warned in advance about the nature of the ceremony, and even when the inductee was legally a minor. The most common argument in favour of that position was an appeal to tradition; which is normally a fallacy of logic. Some said that initiatory surprise was an important part of the drama and the power of the ritual, and that therefore initiatory surprise had to be preserved, even when it involved a sexual act. Some also justified it by saying that if they were disallowed from performing such a ritual, that would be an unjust limitation upon their personal freedom. Some people even went so far as to claim that the utterance of any moral statement, or even ordinary moral indicator-words like “should”, constitutes oppression on someone, somewhere, somehow. Even when the “should” was a condemnation of sexual abuse. Some voices really were that absolute with their rejection of all ethical propositions.

Frankly, I think a lot of these arguments are nothing more than a kind of cover-up or a justification for a situation that can be far too easily twisted into a criminal act. I think that no tradition, however old, can be ethically acceptable if it permits such surprises on its initiates, or keeps secrets from them about whether they would have to undergo a sexual act in their initiation. And I think that if someone seriously and truly believes that he can harm others and ignore their feelings and rights, all in the name of his personal freedom, well then he has simply not learned the first thing about ethics.

But when I raised these objections, my voice was drowned in all the shouting about the importance of initiatory surprise and craft secrecy. And I eventually gave up trying. There’s no sense in debating someone who only wants to shout about how right he is and how oppressed he feels when someone raises a criticism. It’s worth noting that I wasn’t always the most polite debater around the table. I apologized for it back then; I do so again now. But nonetheless, the strong resistance against the statement, in the name of tradition and freedom, left me feeling disenchanted with the pagan community. For a long time I doubted whether I should remain part of it.

But I still think the statement is important. I’d like to see it spread around, talked about, argued about, modified by different groups to suit their specific needs and priorities, and incorporated into the policies of any pagan organization which offers teaching, or public services, or which collects money from members.

(To save space on my blog, I have moved the record of the criticisms of the statement here.)

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26 Responses to Whatever happened to the pagan community statement on religious sexual abuse?

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