In the book of Ezra, we see a group of people looking at the same thing and having very different reactions. The Israelites have returned to see the dedication of the second temple. Ezra writes, “No one could distinguish between the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.” (Ezra 3:13) The weeping group was made up of people who had seen or heard about the destruction of the first temple, and the second group was the young people who were happy to be back in their country of origin.
The American people were glued to their TVs on Thursday. The morning and early afternoon belonged to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the later afternoon belonged to Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Both appeared to be credible witnesses before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They were passionate, they were eloquent, and they each hold a prestigious position in our country—among the academic elite and our judicial branch, respectively.
I sat and watched the proceedings for a number of reasons. The first was that I am the husband of one wife, the father of four daughters, and the brother of three sisters. Whenever I read the statistics about sexual assault, rape, and violence against women, I weigh it against the fact that it could have happened to my sisters, my wife, or my daughter. Putting stories into this context is very powerful and it always sets my emotions into play.
I also sat and watched because I am a pastor and I am a seminary professor. I have had students tell me that denominational conferences are some of the most dangerous places for them because male colleagues make sexual remarks to them or ask for sexual favors. One young lady recounted how one of her dates suggested that they read the Song of Songs together (how spiritual can you get?) and then suggested that they practice what they had read. She was shocked and left that date. She came to see me because I often talk about my relationship with my daughters in class and she felt comfortable getting advice from me when she was away from her family.
It is also important to watch because of our propensity for generalities. A number of years ago, I participated in a conference at a nearby seminary. Even though I consider myself an evangelical feminist (I hyphenated my last name when I got married in the 1980s), the speaker at that conference started her presentation by saying that every male is an oppressor. Her statement did a number on me! I came home and asked my wife, daughters, and several female colleagues if I was a male oppressor. I was glad that none of the women in my life believed that I was. I believe this is largely due to the influence of my mother and my three sisters who ensured I grew up with great respect for women.
As I watched the hearing on Thursday, I remembered the first rule of counseling: listen so you can repeat the story exactly. In fact, I was taught to ask the person who is being counseled if I was understanding their story correctly. But as I watched Ford and Kavanaugh, the only conclusion I could come to was that very few people were willing to listen to both stories and repeat them without prejudice.
In the midst of the two sessions, I remembered a verse from Proverbs. “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). Yet drinking is encouraged in our country, even though its effects are rarely positive. I remember attending a party on a Friday night at an Ivy League school in the early 80s. I saw how alcohol changed the way people interacted with each other and heard the music get louder as the night progressed. Couples paired off to go have sex and then continue partying because it was a Friday night bacchanalia and they were celebrating with the mythological gods of wine, beer, and sex.
Christine Blasey Ford could not tell her parents what happened on that August evening because she was not supposed to be at that party. There were no parents present at the house where she was viciously attacked and suffered the effects for the rest of her life. Brett Kavanaugh lived in a culture where he studied hard and played sports, but he also admits that he drank beer, sometimes aided by older siblings or parents. He lived with people who frequently drank in high school, college, and adult life, and they had hangovers and made bad decisions as a result.
King David was very aware of the things that we do in our younger years and he prayed in Psalm 25, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways, according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.” In 1 Samuel, we are introduced to David as a young man whose heart was pleasing to the Lord. Yet David himself remembered the sins of his youth and his rebelliousness when he tested and broke the rules of his parents, ignored the laws of his community, and sinned against God and others.
Two people have two different stories about where they were and what they did on a summer night in 1982. The Senate Judiciary Committee met on Thursday, September 27, 2018 and some people shouted, some people cried, but few people changed their minds by the end of the day.