Among religious women, strong but differing opinions

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in to testify before a Sept. 27 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kavanaugh followed Professor Christine Blasey Ford, who testified about her accusation that he sexually assaulted her in 1982, a claim he vehemently denied.
(CNS photo/Jim Bourg, pool via Reuters)

Last week’s testimony of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to the Senate Judiciary Committee has set off a number of conversations throughout our county. Conversations are taking place among women from the left and the right, women of religion, women and men, men and other men.

Women who speak from a religious vantage point have various and interesting observations and firmly held beliefs about what is at stake. Coupled with the #Me Too Movement, church sexual abuse crisis and women coming to terms with long secreted abuse issues have caught the attention of the nation and called for a day of reckoning over these issues.

One of the more outspoken Catholic women, Sister Simone Campbell, head of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby group, said before the day of testimony, that, “I understand that when he testifies, Judge Kavanaugh is going to cite his Catholic faith as a shield to claim these attacks never happened. Being a Catholic does not change the accounts provided by Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick. I know all too painfully that being a person of faith does not stop men from being sexual predators.” The day of the testimony Network joined a protest which included members from the National Council of Jewish Women, who made a statement calling for “the Senate to do their job and reject Brett Kavanaugh on behalf of the American people.”

One of the other groups of women of religion protesting the seating of Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court was an advocacy group of Latter-day Saints called Mormon Women for Ethical Government. They issued a statement meant to influence senate participants on the judicial committee who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee, Jeff Flake and Mike Crapo. They said, “Sexual assault must not be normalized or condoned in any way or by anyone, especially those charged with political leadership. We boldly condemn any attempts to justify such inexcusable and reprehensible behavior and demand that our elected leaders set a morally sound example.”

Some 320 clergywomen of the Episcopal Church issued a statement strongly objecting to a statement made by Senator John C. Danforth, retired senator from Missouri and an Episcopal priest himself, when he said, “I feel terribly sorry for Kavanaugh.” He also likened what is happening to Kavanaugh to be a tragic repeat of what happened to Justice Thomas after Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against her. In their statement the Episcopal women clergy said in response, “No one, not least a priest of the church, should publicly shame, blame or question the motives of women who step forward to report instances of sexual abuse; Mr. Danforth should instead be calling for an in-depth examination of Dr. Blasey’s allegations.”

The more religiously conservative women are not as quick to call for Kavanaugh’s removal from consideration. In addition to the question of who to believe, some cite their hope that he may help reverse Roe v. Wade. Sarah Corda, a 21-year-old senior at Northeastern University and self-identified Catholic, Republican and staunchly anti-abortion, said she supports Kavanaugh “as a family man” who will help reverse Roe v Wade. Of Dr. Ford she said, “I really just don’t believe her story. I’m having trouble feeling her emotions when I truly don’t believe it was an event that occurred, I’m having trouble seeing it as a real situation.”

Kyra Thompson, a 22-year-old senior at Liberty University, a huge evangelical school that sent several buses of students to Washington to hold signs on Capitol Hill in support of Kavanaugh, said she is somewhat conflicted by the Kavanaugh controversy. As a devout, anti-abortion Christian she was hopeful that Kavanaugh would prevail and perhaps overturn Roe but after hearing the testimony of Dr. Ford, she said, “You’re like, wow, I don’t really want to see another human being suffer through that. I don’t want somebody who is going to mistreat another human being to be in charge of making a lot of these decisions, even if they do have the same political stance on something as me.”

Megan Lively, a member of the Southern Baptist Church, who accused one of the leaders of her church, Paige Patterson, of mishandling her rape allegation years ago, said, “There are many Christians who are struggling with this. They realize there is a problem with the church and politics and every aspect of the world. I mean, Bill Cosby is in jail! If you’re pro-life and say you value women inside and outside the womb, and you’re making a quick judgment against a woman — that’s not pro-life either.”

Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.