Of Safe Havens and Clean Slates

[Trigger warning.]

Focus on the Family narrator arrested for luring teenage girl for sex on Net:
A Colorado Springs man who narrates the Bible in Spanish on CDs and works in the Spanish broadcasting department of Focus on the Family appeared in court Monday in Golden on two felony counts of using the Internet to lure a 15-year-old girl for sex, The Denver Post reports.

Juan Alberto Ovalle, 42, was arrested Friday when he drove to Lakewood to meet the girl — who turned out to be an undercover officer — after discussing various sexual acts he wanted to perform with her, the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office said.
Audio of Ovalle has been yanked from Focus on the Family's website.

Based on the limited information available, it doesn't sound at this point like there was a failure in the vetting process; if Ovalle's been arrested before, it's not been reported that I've seen.

So, quite possibly, the only responsibility Focus on the Family has in this matter, which is no small thing, is the usual enablement inevitably provided by Christian organizations that operate on the presumption that anyone who self-identifies as Christian must be a good person. (The flipside of the equation being, of course, that anyone who fails to self-identify as Christian is automatically suspect for a total lack of morality.)

When I was about seven or eight, I'd recently sort of obliquely come into contact with the notion of people who like to lure children away to hurt them when a friend and I were walking home from school and saw a man beckoning us to his car. We ran home and told our parents, who called the police, and much drama ensued before it was determined the man was the Reverend K. who was at the school to pick up his wife, who was our music teacher, and he'd just been waving to us.

All the adults around us made sure we knew we had done the right thing (even Reverend K.), even as they had a laugh about the irony that we'd fingered a reverend! For years, this story has been told in my family with "and it was the Revered K.!" as a punchline, the laugh being dependent on the widely shared agreement that it is a positively ridiculous notion that a "man of God" would hurt a child.

That's a very dangerous attitude to have.

And yet even after multiple Catholic Church scandals, hundreds of local incidents around the country involving ministers and youth leaders and scout masters, and various incidents within the Republican "Moral Values" Party, the equivalence is still drawn by most American Christians between "Christian" and "good person," despite the very basis of their religion being the idea that humans are flawed.

The thing about sexual predators is that they're very good at insinuating themselves into environments with lots of potential victims by whom they will be trusted. For pedophiles, the nature of most mainstream American Christianity, with all its logically flawed but intractably calculated "Christian axiomatically = good" equations, creates a practical heaven on earth for them—a space in which they can move freely, grooming their unwitting targets right in front of their parents' noses, more trusted and less scrutinized than they would be in any other part of society.

Because they know that "I'm a Christian" is the secret passcode to unlimited trust around children. And that makes religious organizations a safe haven for precisely the wrong people.

This is especially problematic in a country where reportedly one-third of the population say they are born again, because, as I've noted before, born-agains have a different attitude about "sin" than, say, traditional guilt-ridden Catholics or Lutherans, or even your average atheist. There's a sense of accumulation among the latter—the feeling that life is a continuing thread, and bad behavior may be past, but hasn't disappeared.

Believers in souls might suggest that each sin leaves an indelible mark; absolution may wash the soul clean, but its shape is forever changed by the dings and dents of living a mortal, and hence imperfect, life. Non-believers might say that your mistakes stay with you, even after you have made amends, and leave a mark on your psyche, in your memory, on a strand of time.

Whatever the language, the principle is the same—our flaws are a part of us, and it's usually considered a good thing. You've learned. Built character. But born-agains start with a "clean slate" somewhere in life, and many of them mistakenly use the "rebirth" as an excuse to ignore all opportunity to learn from their past mistakes, often denying them completely. When I fuck up, the only concern is fixing it. My slate ain't been clean in 34 years; I'm not especially worried about a new chalk mark. But the born-agains intend to keep those slates clean. They carry around their erasers, fastidiously erasing any sign of a mark on their shining slates and bemoaning the states of ours, messy as they are. The only good slate is a clean slate.

They don't just see you and I and everyone else as a sinner, a criminal, separate from themselves; they see themselves in two pieces—the sinner, the criminal, the dead self that was bad, now gone through being born again, replaced with the new self who is good, and God-full, and gifted with the ability to avoid the same pitfalls that the old self knew so well.

And they see other people the same way. Everyone gets the benefit of the doubt.

That's just not a practical or sensible option in a world all too full of people who want to use exactly that kind of blind faith as cloak to mask their life-fucking predation.

Ovalle almost certainly used his position with Focus on the Family to get access to other victims. I fervently hope that Focus on the Family will cooperate with a rigorous investigation and fear that they won't, because it's more important to just wipe that slate clean again.

Behind lots of clean slates lie a lot of victims, who have no experience of the safe haven assumed by way of bad math.

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