The Community Statement on Sexual Abuse – I approve this message.

In response to recent events I want to re-post this statement from 2009, crafted for the community by my friend Prof. Brendan Myers.

1. Our movement has many principles of moral thought, not just one
singular monolithic principle. As there are many gods in the world, so
there are many models of the good and worthwhile life for humankind.
Some of us practice Heroic Virtue, others Classical virtue, others a
Utilitarian principle such as the Wiccan Rede. There are also many among
us who find that ethical principles are revealed through the intuition
of a Divine presence that dwells within the human heart and mind. This
presence unites us with the Earth, with each other, and with the cosmos.

2. Among our many traditions, groves, hearths, circles, and
communities, there are broad areas of moral agreement. For the purpose
of this statement, we (the authors and the undersigned) wish to
emphasize the matter of sexual abuse. We agree to the broad and general
principle that the human body is a sacred temple, a work of art, and a
good home for the self and the soul. Many of us believe that the body is
the dwelling-place of the Divine, and the seat of a deeply integrated
web of relations which ultimately includes the whole of life on Earth.
The human body is thus among the first of all things that deserve our
care and respect. On this principle, the differences between our various
circles tend to be only a matter of emphasis. Indeed, on this
principle, we may share some moral agreement with the dominant religious
traditions of our dominant culture: the view that the body is made in
the image of the Divine.

3. In our circles, the sacredness of the body, as a religious truth,
leads to positive conclusions about human sexuality. Our view is that
sexuality, sexual identity, sexual expression, and acts of love and
pleasure, between consenting, informed, and mature people, have great
religious significance. Indeed such acts can take on the significance of
ritual. We hold that our sexual identities are worthy of celebration.
And for many of us, an occasion of shared sexual pleasure and lovemaking
is a most spiritually meaningful event: a communion with the Divine
which dwells within ourselves and within each other.

4. Indeed, there are some traditions in which a sexual act is performed
as part of some rituals, such as higher-level initiations. Various
names designate these rituals: Heiros Gamos, the Great Marriage, or the
Great Rite, to name a few. In most cases, the Great Marriage is
performed “in token”: for instance, a priest touches the tip of a wand
or a blade to the bottom of a chalice held by a priestess. This is an
ancient gesture, with precedents in the ancient cultures of the Greeks,
the Romans, the Hindus, and other great civilizations of the distant

5. Naturally, given our perspective on the sacredness of the body, our
view is that all coerced, nonconsensual, harmful or exploitative sexual
acts, are seriously morally wrong. We find that sexual exploitation and
violence are particularly worse than other forms of criminality, such as
property offences, because sexual offences invade the body. Sexual
abuse ignores the sacredness of the body, and ignores the privacy, the
dignity, and the freedom of the victim to use and delight in his or her
own body. It is an extraordinary affront to the Divine presence which
dwells within every human body and which animates the body with
goodness. It severely harms the victim, and degrades the dignity of both
victim and offender. Sexual abuse also inflicts deep wounds upon the
precious sense of bodily identity which all of us hold so dear. No
exceptions or relativist interpretations can alter the basic moral
wrongness of sexual exploitation and violence. We identify all such acts
as sexual abuse, and we refuse to tolerate them in our community.

6. Thus in our contemporary circles, the rite of the Great Marriage, if
it is not performed in token,  is held privately and by invitation
only. The participants come in full knowledge of what they have been
invited to. If there are any initiatory “surprises”, they are never
intended to violate the sacredness of the seeker’s body. Ideally, the
invitees already know, love, and trust one another. They have already
given their informed consent, and retain the right to withdraw from the
event without prejudice at any time. When we mix sexuality with
religion, there is no space for deception or coercion. Religious
sexuality is always consensual and never obligatory. No one should enter
a circle with eyes covered when sexuality, sexual identity, and the
sanctity of his or her own body is put to a test. This remains true even
when the ritual participants are not strangers to each other.
Initiatory surprises, tests, and ordeals are intended to help a seeker
find the sacred within him or her self. If they threaten or invade that
self, then the initiators are harming, and not helping, the seeker.

7. If someone finds a private group’s practices uncomfortable, he or
she is always free to find another group to join. It is wrong to hold
someone back from spiritual progress or knowledge for refusing to
participate in a sexual act. We are always right to doubt the sincerity,
honour, and spirituality of someone who claims that a sexual act is a
mandatory requirement for initiation, or for any kind of relationship
with the gods, goddesses, or deities.

8. An accusation of sexual exploitation is a very serious matter. The
accusation alone, even in the absence of evidence, can damage the
reputation and the self esteem of good people. We therefore find that a
false or vindictive accusation of sexual misconduct is another form of
sexual abuse.

9. Yet we also recognize that real sexual abuse victims experience deep
feelings of guilt and shame, and that they often struggle to admit that
they have been abused. Their condition should not be made worse by a
predisposition doubt the validity of their claims. Nor should they be
automatically counter-accused of having a vindictive intention, or of
lying. We hold that anyone alleging sexual abuse should always be
treated with compassion as a primary response, and that claims of sexual
abuse should be handled with intelligence and concern for all.

10. It is clear that one need not be a spiritual person to recognize
the wrongness of sexual abuse. Yet we are especially outraged when the
perpetrator is a leader or a teacher in a religious community. In our
circles, religious teachers are held in high esteem. A seeker who
approaches a teacher in search of spiritual guidance and comfort offers a
special kind of trust to the teacher. Teachers and seekers often open
their hearts and minds to each other, and thus they becomes very
vulnerable. It is for this reason many of our traditions require
teachers to possess not only great knowledge, but also great integrity
and honour. It is also for this reason that sexual predators will pose
as religious teacher: in that way, they may find more victims for their
gratification. There are also some teachers who, exploiting the trust
given them, become sexual predators as well.

11. Furthermore, a person who uses this relationship of trust to
exploit people thus harms the whole social environment in which teaching
and seeking take place. For the sexual predator’s harm touches more
than just the victim. It affects all the victim’s friends, family
members, fellow seekers in the same circle, colleagues at work, and
anyone to whom the victim may turn for help. The harm of sexual abuse
thus affects numerous other people who the predator may not know, nor
ever meet. Moreover, sexual abuse also casts suspicion and doubt on the
intentions of the honourable teachers in our midst, undermining the good
work that they do.

12. Finally a sexual predator can sometimes exploit the relations of
trust that grow between fellow seekers in the same tradition, hearth, or
circle, even when he or she does not pose as a teacher. This kind of
exploitation also harms the whole community. In all cases, we maintain
our condemnation of unwanted sexual acts.

Therefore –
We, the authors and signatories of this statement, commit ourselves to:

• Demonstrate by example a fully moral sexual spirituality;
• Vigorously entreat others to agree to the principles of this statement;
• Handle all accusations of sexual exploitation and misconduct with
intelligence and compassion, for victims of real sexual harm, and for
victims of false or vindictive accusations;
• Cooperate with the police when an incident of sexual abuse in our circles is under investigation;
• Help bring comfort, medical assistance, legal aid, and spiritual
healing, to victims, as far as ability and opportunity may allow; and
• Help seekers find groups, circles, traditions, or individual
teachers, whose practice involves as much or as little sexuality as the
seeker feels comfortable exploring.

We voluntarily commit ourselves to this declaration, and we encourage others to commit themselves to it, whatever their path.

We remain, respectfully,
A community of Pagans.

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