by Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard
Whether or not you agree he is a rapist; whether you agree or disagree with the 55 women who have come forward with their truth; or whether you feel we should stand with Bill Cosby or be a part of the deconstruction of the icon, there is one thing that is undeniable.
This story provides a great opportunity for the world, especially the Black church, to tackle the larger discussion around prevailing sexual violence and rape culture in America.
In 2013, I wrote my dissertation on the role of the Black preacher to “Lift the Veil of Sacred Silence around Sexual Violence Through Prophetic Preaching and Teaching.” The premise of the document, which is soon to be published, is that as the preacher (spokesperson for God), we have a mandate and opportunity to lift the veil of the “sacred” silence that so many of our parishioners hide beneath when it comes to trauma associated with sexual violence. [This is also true of domestic violence, child abuse and other grave matters, but for the sake of the document, my focus was on sexual violence]
So here we have it. Our beloved and cherished figure, Bill Cosby, has been accused of serial rape; and by his own words, invited us in to know that the use of a narcotic was part of his process of control; has now officially been charged with a sexual assault crime.
I have thought a great deal about this story, and like many, have had to struggle to separate my thoughts about a persona and the real person. As survivor and pastor, this is what I definitely know to be true, that silence is not a just response. What shall the Black Church say? What will our stand be?
Unlike Sandusky, Bill Cosby is not just in our front or back yard, brother man is in da house, as so many African Americans watched his shows faithfully, and even viewed the TV model of the Black family as a model to uphold. He is intimately a part of Black culture and his influence runs deep.
But, if we go silent on this, we have failed our congregations and community greatly. So, to help think through this, I’d like to offer eight reasons why the Black Church has a great opportunity to speak out against sexual violence using as a backdrop the allegations and charge against Bill Cosby.
Reason 1 – Accountability: Bill Cosby is not Cliff Huxtable. So, while we don’t want to put Cliff Huxtable on the stand, most certainly Bill Cosby should be and held accountable for his wrong doing. Cliff Huxtable gave us a model of family apart from the oppressor, but we can not confuse him with the real person.
Regardless of status, reputation, social contributions, etc. We don’t get a pass because we have done good. Accountability is one of the failings in our system when it comes to sexual violence. Often times the perpetrator is not held accountable.
Understand this, the women who have chosen to speak up and follow-through with a charge are simply holding Mr. Cosby accountable for his wrong doing. Churches have an opportunity to encourage our community, and victims especially, that you have the right and we support you in holding your abuser accountable for their crime.
We all agree a thief should be held accountable for stealing; equally so should the molester, rapist, and pedophile, because they have stolen lives (maybe not in the physical sense); but they have stolen innocence, trust, security, hope, and a person’s self worth.
Reason 2 – Bring Balance to our Theology: To be silent on Bill Cosby but rage about same sex marriage becoming legal is an imbalanced stand of righteousness. For all those pastors who were quick to quote Leviticus, and rage about abomination, please read the whole text. Chapter 18 isn’t just about men not lying with other men, but God demonstrates God’s clear concern and sets a standard for the sexual mortality of a nation.
We do our congregations a disservice when our theology is imbalanced meaning we pick and choose what we will and won’t take a loud vocal stand for or against. If one has a problem with same-sex marriage, by golly, you ought to have an equal response to sexual violence.
While we don’t hear God use the term rape, molestation, or sexual assault in the text, the indication that these sexual acts of violence are not pleasing to God. And then, there is Malachi 2:13-15. If we quoted that on a Sunday, many married folks would have to repent.
Reason 3 – Relevant Subject: To be silent on Bill Cosby is a missed opportunity to speak to the real people in our pews who have been victims of sexual violence. Here are a few statistics every pastor should know.
The national average suggests that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Translation, if you have 50 Women in your church, 16 to 20 of them have had similar acts of sexual assault, rape, happen to them as have been described by the 55 women who have come forward about Bill Cosby.
If you have 50 men in church, that means 8 – 10 of them have been victims of sexual assault. And if those are the numbers of victims, then don’t miss out on doing the math on the perpetrators, that are also in our congregations. If you have 100 people in your church, that means you could possibly have in your congregation 10-20 persons who committed a crime of sexual assault; and that have never been reported nor brought to justice.
Our claim as clergy is that we always want to be relevant, timely, and speaking to the present culture. Quoting rappers doesn’t equate to being relevant. Sexual violence is the relevant subject.
Reason 4 – Complicit Silence: To be silent on Bill Cosby is to be complicit with a prevailing rape culture in our nation (and the world). Pastors, especially my brother pastors, I urge you to be intentional to raise your voices against sexual violence. This may mean you run the risk of upsetting those leaders in our congregations who are major contributors, but woe be unto us, if we allow those who are sitting in our congregations waiting and hoping that we will say something to their pain and we do not. To be silent on Bill Cosby makes it easier for the ‘Cosby’ sitting in our pews to sit comfortable and unaccountable and our complicit silence also becomes a culprit. We can’t be prophetic and silent.
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SOURCE: The Los Angeles Sentinel