By Richard Pryor III
To to the leaders of the University of the South:
I have debated over how best to open this letter. I could say how “shocked and appalled” I am at your actions, yet I am not shocked. I could mention the many men and women on this campus who have been hurt by the actions of those such as Charlie Rose, but I have no doubt that you will be hearing from and about them concerning this very issue of sexual assault. Instead, I would like to talk about Charlie Rose and myself. I have never met Mr. Rose and I hope I never do. I had respect for him but it now has been tarnished. Charlie and I are similar in one way – we both are sinners.
Your letter addressed the idea of sin to my friends and student trustees Mary Margaret Murdock (C’19) and Claire Brickson (C’18) and discussed whether there was or not a hierarchy of sin, wondering if we condemn one person, then shouldn’t we condemn everybody else? Everybody on Earth, from me to you to Charlie Rose, has sinned, this is true. However, you have not committed sexual assault. I have not committed sexual assault. Charlie Rose has committed sexual assault.
This letter asks if there is a hierarchy of sin. The apostle John, in 1 John, writes that “There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.” (1 Jn. 5:16-17, NIV) John, who spends a good deal of this epistle talking about Christian ethics, is telling us that some sins lead to death and some sins don’t lead to death. So we know that there are multiple kinds of sins. Sins that don’t lead to death are, presumably, not as bad as those that lead to death. So there are multiple kinds of sin, some worse than others. That is what the apostle is telling us!
In the Book of Common Prayer, the book that we as Episcopalians use as our guide for prayer and belief, rubrics have been written up so that if a priest knows someone is “living a notoriously evil life” or has “done wrong to their neighbors” and is a “scandal to the other members of the congregation,” (p.409) they are allowed to deny that person Communion. It is understood that this is only for the most serious cases of sin. Is this not a serious case?
The preacher Darwin Chandler writes in his book The Royal Law of Liberty, “sin is what violates right relationships with God or man. Sin is refusing to do what we know will honor God and the welfare of others.” The most egregious sin, murder, violates that welfare so much that that person ceases to exist. By sexually assaulting women, Rose has violated that welfare, not only by the act itself, but for the years of pain from PTSD, depression, flashbacks, self-harm, substance abuse, and various other symptoms that can arise from being sexually assaulted.
It is not wrong to say that our Christian goal should be forgiveness. Jesus instructs his disciples that “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Lk. 17:3-4, NIV). However, as most of you are members of the Episcopal Church, I know that you have promised, with God’s help, to “respect the dignity of every human being.” By allowing Mr. Rose to keep his degree, what are you saying about the dignity of the eight women he assaulted? Are you insinuating that Mr. Rose’s actions should be forgiven and forgotten?
This decision neglects the dignity of these brave survivors as well as all other survivors of sexual abuse on campus. You have told them to forget these gross violations of their liberty and to treat their relationship with their assaulter as if the act had not happened. You have said that you have been working to ensure that the campus culture is a “model of right behavior,” which is all well and good to say, but you have done nothing for these women on this campus.
By not revoking Charlie Rose’s honorary degree, you have told these strong survivors that you don’t care about the fact that he hurt them. You have shown every person on this campus that if you’re powerful enough or well-connected enough, you can sexually assault others without repercussion. This is the message you are sending, and you will stand on the wrong side of history.
Thank you, Mr. Pryor, for your eloquent letter. This has been an issue at Sewanee for decades, with sexual predation on every level of the community being swept under the rugs at Chen Hall (and, before Chen Hall, other administrative rugs). It’s time for spring cleaning.
Yes, this gesture (or lack of one) is precisely an endorsement of sexual assault. The Regents and the VC, having obviously exposed their deepest thoughts to all, reveal their true feelings on the matter, and think it’s no big deal. It is clear they want those who have been violated to remain silent. They want those who commit heinous crimes to go on and have another one. All from this decision not to memory hole a meaningless piece of paper. Because forgiveness necessitates amnesty from judgement and consequence. ALL right thinking theologians agree on that. No hyperbole here. No sir. Nuance. Loads of it.
Acceptance of moral degradation through the veil of religious righteousness is cancerous to a civilized body and must not go unfettered. By Mr. Roses’ own admission, “It is essential that these women know I hear them and that I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior,” he has acknowledged his transgressions, and though it is not the duty of the Board of Regents to decide guilt, it is their duty have oversight and uphold the values of the institution to which they have charge.
Comments are closed.