A Restorative Justice Response to Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford

By Bill Mefford

While watching the confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh and the charges now being levied against him by Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford I feel fairly certain that the most common response by pastors and church leaders will be to stay as far away from this entire situation as possible. Unfortunately, it has devolved into political football and no one wins in that kind of contest, especially someone like Dr. Blasey-Ford, who has clearly been traumatized by an experiences she alleges happened with Judge Kavanaugh.

While steering clear of this entire subject is clearly the safest thing for pastors and church leaders to do, it is the wrong thing to do. This is precisely the area that the church can have the clearest voice and can have a tremendous impact, especially in terms of being an agent of healing for those who have experienced sexual assault.

But the church must engage this issue not as a voice for the Democrats or the Republicans. The Democrats are still angry about the refusal by Mitch McConnell’s Republican Senate majority to take any action on Judge Merrick Garland, who was President Obama’s pick to the Supreme Court in his last year of his presidency. I think Senate Democrats have a right to be angry about it, but they want to use anything and everything to stall on the current nomination.

The Republicans, on the other hand, will do anything and everything to sat Brett Kavanaugh as quickly as possible. This is why he has been rushed through the process and why normal processes, such as making all of the paperwork from his lengthy work in previous Republican administrations available for his confirmation hearings available. It wasn’t. Mitch McConnell has done an expert job at getting conservative judges confirmed and this will be his highest achievement.

With the exceptions of a few Senators on both sides of the political aisle (Senators Hirono and Collins stand out, and both, not surprisingly are women), Republicans and Democrats have much more on their mind than the welfare of Dr. Blasey-Ford.

And this presents the perfect place for the church to step up and be heard; both for the welfare of Dr. Blasey-Ford as well as for the numerous victims of sexual assault who sit in the pews of our churches every Sunday.

As I said before, while most pastors and church leaders want to stay away from politics as much as possible, I want to suggest that as ministers in your churches and campus ministries you should talk about the claims made by Dr. Blasey-Ford publicly. 

As followers of Jesus our approach to this issue is not along the lines of being a Republican or a Democrat, but as a believer in restorative justice. Restorative justice is first and foremost victim-centered. It does not ask the questions our current broken criminal justice system asks: who broke the law and how much punishment should they receive. Instead, restorative justice asks who has been hurt or wronged, who is responsible, how can those who did wrong be held accountable to those they wronged, and how can the victim and the community be brought to healing.

Restorative justice always starts with the victim: how were they wronged and who wronged or hurt them? This means that we must validate the claims made by Dr. Blasey-Ford. Dr. Blasey-Ford has been wronged, she has been hurt, she is a victim of sexual assault. Her years of therapy and repeated sharing of this event bear out that she has been victimized and right now, more than anything, she deserves to have her claims acknowledged and validated.

Church leaders must intentionally and very publicly separate the claims Dr. Blasey-Ford has made from the politics involved on both sides. The aspect of holding the persons involved in her assault (she has asserted that one person assaulted her while another person watched) accountable will be tricky and will be dependent on how the process continues forward. But right now it is vital that we acknowledge the wrong done to her, and we must validate it publicly.

There are two reasons for this. One is, as I said previously, because she deserves to have her claims validated. She is a child of God who has been terribly and horrifically hurt. That is enough for us to say this has happened and she needs healing, regardless of what happens to Bret Kavanaugh. Again, we do not start with the politics surrounding the Supreme Court, we start with asking who has been wronged or hurt and that is Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford.

The second reason is equally simple: there are untold numbers of people sitting in the pews of our churches and campus ministries who have been victimized through sexual assault or rape. It is estimated that somewhere around 2/3 of those who have experienced sexual assault or rape never report it. There are, I am suggesting, numerous people you will likely never know who have experienced this horror sitting right in front of you every Sunday morning when you enter into the pulpit. They need you to speak to the hurts they have experienced and likely have never voiced.

Just a few days ago I got a call this from a friend who, after we started talking, began to sob on the phone. Why were they crying? It was because of the treatment of Dr. Blasey-Ford which has brought back the horrific memories they experienced as a rape victim not too long ago.

I listened to them and I could feel their deep sense of pain. They have gone through counseling, but their pain is still so raw, especially when they see how venomous the media and political leaders can be with victims of violence when those leaders feel their agendas are being interrupted.

This is why we need to seek first the healing of victims like Dr. Blasey-Ford; not because Kavanaugh is up for the Supreme Court and not because this is yet one more in an endless line of political battles for power. We seek healing for Dr. Blasey-Ford because she has been victimized by a horrific crime and she, as a child of God, deserves healing. We have to say from our pulpits or positions of power that rape happens with way too much frequency, that it impacts more people that we will ever know, and because victims of rape and sexual assault deserve for us to listen and aid them in any way in their healing.

And the first step towards that healing is to make the healing of Dr. Blasey-Ford our highest priority.

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