I am writing this on the Wednesday that the FBI is supposedly going to supply the US Senate with the results of its investigation on the charges of sexual abuse made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. So, I write this without knowledge of the FBI report nor the outcome of the Senate’s vote on whether or not to confirm Kavanaugh. I also will disclose that even before Dr. Ford’s allegations, I was hoping his confirmation would be denied for other reasons than these most recent ones. Like many people I watched portions of Dr. Ford’s moving testimony and then portions of Judge Kavanaugh’s defense. I found Dr. Ford’s words compelling and credible, whereas I found that Judge Kavanaugh’s aggressive responses made me wonder “What is he hiding?”
With all that as backdrop. I must admit I found myself feeling with the judge, not because I have committed anything even remotely close to what he is being accused of, but because I wonder: Who among us would want to be evaluated on our high school or college self? If the FBI were to investigate my past, while they would not find anything like sexual abuse, they would find many things I said or did that today would be quite embarrassing. I have grown, matured and developed since those days, even though who I am today is a result of those experiences and what I learned about myself.
At the same time, as I listened to Dr. Ford, I was struck by how something that happened 36 years ago has impacted her ever since that time. As she spoke I could see the pain and fear of that terrifying night was still very much part of her psyche and being. And it was something for Judge Kavanaugh could not and does not remember. Perhaps he blacked out. Perhaps it was “no big deal” in his mind, but for Dr. Ford it was life-changing and life shattering, and it took great courage for her to come forward as she did.
What sticks with me is how things that I have said and done can have a lifelong impact. I have been a youth worker, pastor, professor, father, husband and a friend to hundreds, perhaps thousands of people over the last 40+ years since my high school and college years. And I am left to wonder: Who did I hurt? Who has scars that I had a part in creating? Every once in a while, I get an email, a card or a phone call from a former student or parishioner thanking me for something I have said or done. The other day I heard from one of the kids (he is now in his 50’s!) who I worked with as youth worker when I was in my early 20’s. But rarely have I ever heard from someone who I hurt, whose life was negatively altered because of me.
I am not making some grand confession of some deep dark sins, but rather recognizing that like everyone I meet, I too am a broken person. And broken people hurt other people, sometimes purposely, but often unknowingly. As the Dutch priest and writer Henri Nouwen taught me, we are all sinners and we are all sinned against. To try and project a perfectly sinless state is to deny our own humanity. When I watched the judge’s aggressive self-defense, I felt like I was watching his humanity fade away, and I realized that in that he had very likely damaged another person’s humanity.
As he stated in his testimony, Judge Kavanaugh has a lot to lose if the allegations are true and so he has denied them. Given the political polarization in the Senate, even if Dr. Ford’s allegations are validated, he could get confirmed. Yet he will have lost a lot more than his reputation, and his victims and other abused women will feel silenced and devalued. And we all will have lost a bit of our humanity and humility. As Jesus alluded when the woman caught in adultery was brought to him for judgement and a stoning (1) – none of us are without sin; none of us are innocent; all of us are broken people who have hurt others.
(1) John 8.1-11