In 2013, an online “Yale Alumni Magazine” posted an article describing the online alcohol education course for incoming freshmen.  The question addressed:  How much alcohol is appropriate for an underage freshman to drink?  The course’s answer – of course it’s illegal according to law, but in reality a “couple drinks during the ‘pregame’ (a small gathering before a larger party) followed by one beer an hour for the rest of the night”.  This course is required for incoming freshmen, and according to the article includes such information as fake ID’s, relationship and romance when drinking, blood alcohol content awareness, and more.

This is the school from where Brett Kavanaugh graduated.

In 2014, The Atlantic published an article tracing the history of fraternities on college campuses and calling out the dangers inherent in these organizations in the 21st century.  One statement stands out from this piece:

“Many more thousands of American men count their fraternal experience—and the friendships made within it—as among the most valuable in their lives. The organizations raise millions of dollars for worthy causes, contribute millions of hours in community service, and seek to steer young men toward lives of service and honorable action. They also have a long, dark history of violence against their own members and visitors to their houses, which makes them in many respects at odds with the core mission of college itself.”

The heart of fraternity life, states this author, originated in the secret societies that believed higher education could be rigorous but also full of pleasure.

Brett Kavanaugh was a part of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale.

Perhaps the pursuit of pleasure on college campuses has been filled above the brim and is finally spilling over.  Or, perhaps today this over-pursuit of pleasure that has been around for years is simply more public.  Either way, the reality is that the pleasure-seeking life seen as part of the inherent experience of college student life is, in my opinion, an origin story for the rampant and destructive behaviors of sexual assault, relational breakdowns, substance addictions, and life-shattering behaviors that seem to permeate every page of our news outlets today.

The most recent case of questions and accusations directed at Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are worthy of deep investigation.  Over time, I am hopeful that full truth outside of political partisanship will emerge.  As Michael Gerson said in the Washington Post:

“…An accusation of attempted rape can’t be allowed to hang in the air without a more serious investigation. In matters of such cruelty and lasting damage, there is no exemption for youth and inexperience. I would no more want a Supreme Court justice who had attempted rape than I would want a president who committed sexual assault. That is not too high a standard.”

But from Kavanaugh’s case, to the celebrity moguls being taken down one by one for (mostly male-driven) sexual assault and abuse, to the pastors of America’s largest churches losing their livelihood for the same things, I am not writing here to defend or accuse.  I am instead writing to ask a simple question:

Where have the increasing behaviors of sexual assault and victimizing of vulnerable people come from?

Let me state at the outset here, as a Christ-follower I have a core theology that informs my proposed answer to this question.  Each of us, as humans, has a nature toward behaviors that cause brokenness; brokenness in our relationships to each other, brokenness in our relationship with self, brokenness in our relationship with God, and brokenness with our relationship to the larger world.  Most churches identify this as sin; and I happen to believe it’s still a good word that depicts this brokenness.  I will often teach that sin is however, more than the ten commandments we were told to obey in Sunday school.  In stark reality, every single one of us carries the weight of sin (this pervasive brokenness) whether we are guilty of all that we carry or not.  I carry the sins (brokenness) committed against me.  I am not guilty of these, but I carry them nonetheless.

But enough of the theology.

My proposition here is simple:

What we celebrate at one point in our lives can decimate us later.

A couple days ago I tweeted a random thought I had regarding the accusations against Kavanaugh (and others):

“Just curious… how much influence has the rampant party culture of elite college life aged into the rampant sexual assault culture being confronted every single day?”

It was a passing thought that grew into a consuming thought.  And so I went looking for some answers.  What I found was that since 1910, 85% of men appointed as U.S. Supreme Court justices belonged to fraternities.  Since 1900, 63% of U.S. presidential cabinet members belonged to fraternities.  76% of U.S. senators and 85% of Fortune 500 executives historically belonged to fraternities.  Even a striking 18 presidents belonged to fraternities.  The reality, as one author says, is that “Fraternities… breed leaders – a cohort of young men dedicated to being loyal, being knowledgeable, and embracing the skills of leadership success.”

While this is absolutely true, and I have no intention of picking on fraternity or sorority life as the root cause of this conversation, it is also evident that the origins of these organizations seeking connection with others for the sake of pleasure cannot be seen only as a positive incubator of virtue and leadership.  The reality is too stark to believe that.

The Atlantic piece makes clear that, from the very beginning, fraternities (and I will add here the pleasure-seeking of campus life at the general level) held tremendously non-virtuous pursuits.  A letter as far back as 1857, written by a Sigma Phi brother, informs his fraternity brothers that he, “did get one of the nicest pieces of ass some day or two ago”.  It is perhaps no surprise then, that in an analysis performed by a major fraternity insurance company in 2010 found that 38% of insurance claims – more than 1/3 – filed against fraternities involved assault and battery or sexual assault claims.

It doesn’t take much scouring to find a pervasive culture that celebrates the partying of youthfulness seen in the idyllic setting of college life.  Consistently, major outlets rank the “best party schools” in the nation.  Films, television, and books all build comedy on the loose culture of young adulthood.  Perhaps it comes as a result of the negative effects of the sexual revolution (there are positives and negatives, as with any movement), but one cannot argue that in the midst of the #MeToo movement being so publicly championed by celebrities and political leaders, there is still great money to be made amidst the raunchy comedies and party marketing that celebrate the very contexts where the victims of #MeToo have suffered.

It is, at best, hypocritical.

So this brings me back to my initial proposition:

What we celebrate at one point in life can decimate us later.

If the ongoing dissecting of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment… if the confrontation of sexual assault by victims who have suffered greatly… if the pervasive destruction caused by power being exerted over others should show us anything… it should at least show us that what is often celebrated in the frat parties or the pregame tailgates or the Instagram worthy gatherings of friends cannot be filtered.  In the hedonism that tells us (and has now told us for generations) to fill our lives with as much pleasure as possible, we have in many ways lost sight of the virtues of humility and compassion that seek the good of the Other.

Frankly, we live in a #MeFirst world facing a #MeToo crisis.

This is where the Gospel speaks to us so clearly.  Regardless of what one might feel about Christianity as a whole or the Church as an organization (for we are among the most broken these days), the life and the words of Jesus still pave the best way forward in the midst of a culture that wants to condemn sexual assault and still remain sexually “free”.

It is the Gospel that has the best answer, because it is Jesus who was pursued by a mob of men set on destroying an adulterous woman; and it is Jesus who, two thousand years ago, chose liberation for the victim while calling out the hypocrisy of the masses.  It is Jesus who calls out the sin of the mob and forgives the sin of the contrite.  It is Jesus who looks around that circle of judgment and suggests that possibly not long before this moment these men were celebrating the same woman’s very vocation, for how else would they have known of her sin?

We are desperately in need of subversive humility and virtuous relationships these days.  Our world is being broken by the after effects of so much that is, at a different phase of life, celebrated among us.  The great tension of the Good News about Jesus is that there is always forgiveness and there is always healing.  Healing for the broken, and forgiveness for the guilty.  This is the shaping of things to come, and it is the vacuum where we find ourselves in the midst of the Brett Kavanaugh’s, the Bill Cosby’s, the Harvey Weinstein’s, and yes, even in the midst of our own lives.

 

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