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Monday, November 10, 2014

"Turn the Other Cheek" Is Not a Thing of the Past #notinvisible


The U.S. Army often portrays itself as a band of brothers and sisters, as a community or a family.  This serves to foster the spirit of teamwork and interdependence among its recruits. Many of those interviewed in the documentary The Invisible War, which deals with rape and sexual assault in the military, described that sense of community as one of the primary reasons they wanted to join the military.  That sense of family and community is broken by sexual assault, and often twisted in order to protect either the rapist or the power structure, or both. 

In response to pressure to protect the rights of victims of rape and sexual assault and to create an environment where sexual assault is no longer tolerated or ignored, the Sexual Harassment / Assault Response &Prevention (S.H.A.R.P.) program of the U.S. Army has established the Intervene, Act, and Motivate (I. A.M.) STRONG program to encourage soldiers to prevent sexual assaults before they occur.  As part of this I AM STRONG program, the Army has created a series of brief rap videos emphasizing the values of the I AM STRONG program.

One of the videos includes these lyrics:

Turn the other cheek’s a thing of the past,
up close and real when they try to harass.
Don’t let a bad situation ever go unchecked;
soldiers helpin’ soldiers, that’s a message connect.
I’m strong, worldwide, we defend and protect,
let ‘em know we here; we demand respect.
When they there in the dark and the predator persists,
step up in his face; you can tell him this: 
We stand.  We fight. Intervene. That’s right.
I stand. I fight. I.A.M. Strong.

 

While I appreciate that the U.S. Army is encouraging a greater sense of interdependence and the responsibility of soldiers to protect one another from sexual assault, I’m concerned that the creators of this video do not understand the biblical instruction to “turn the other cheek” and that they have relegated it to the dustbin of history.

Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek” is recorded in both the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew’s Gospel) and in the Sermon on the Plain (in Luke’s).  The creators of this video seem to understand this to be a command to let assaults go unchecked and ignored.  If that were the case, these words of Jesus should rightly be dismissed.  But while interpretations vary greatly as to how followers of Jesus are expected to obey this instruction, it is not an injunction to blindly allow people to be victimized. It is an instruction to not return violence for violence.  And this teaching is still incredibly relevant in the modern world.

Again, I appreciate that the U.S. Army (along with the other branches of the military) are taking steps to protect the rights and dignity of victims of sexual assault, and trying to prevent assaults before they occur by emphasizing that sense of family and community, but they have seriously misunderstood the teaching of Jesus in this case and have misappropriated his words for their own use.

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