Ruth Krall, Looking Slant: Oppressive Ideologies and Belief Systems

By William Lindsey
Bilgrimage blog
July 4, 2019

The essay by Ruth Krall that follows below is the fourth in a series of essays entitled "Recapitulation: Affinity Sexual Violence in a Religious Voice," which I've had the honor to publish on Bilgrimage in the past weeks. The first essay in this series appeared in two installments, here and here. The second appeared in another two installments, here and here. The third essay is here. As Ruth's introduction to the essay below notes, it follows on her three preceding essays, which hypothesize the endemic natural of religious and spiritual leader sexual abuse of followers by asking what might be the role played by various ideologies in establishing institutional climates that faciliate abuse and then cover it up. As with some of Ruth's previous essays in this series, I'm posting this one in two parts: part one is below.

Looking Slant: Oppressive Ideologies and Belief Systems

Ruth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhD

Introductory Comments

Having now hypothesized the endemic nature of religious and spiritual leader sexual abuse of their subordinates and followers, we must ask, what, if any, is the role played by human ideologies in establishing institutional climates that facilitate abuse and then cover it up? To begin, I will once again look slant at these interpenetrated issues of ideology and culture as they intersect with my thinking about unchallenged institutionalized clergy sexual abuse. When we think about institutionalized cover-up by bishops and other supervisors inside denominational structures of governance and rule, we need to look at cultural ideologies that support institutional corruption. Once again, I begin by looking slant at these complex issues.

Ebola Revisited

We noted in the first essay that the current Ebola virus outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo are occurring in very close proximity with an active albeit undeclared war zone. There are, therefore, political, security, and cultural complications — not least a refusal to believe that Ebola exists…. (ii) The situation in these Ebola-prone communities is complicated by disease-protecting ideologies and false narratives. Belief in these false and paranoid ideologies about the causation of illness and death is accompanied by a refusal to utilize the public health care providers' help. It is also accompanied by a paranoid refusal to use the newly developed vaccine. These two realities (paranoid cultural/individual ideation and a refusal to accept help from outsiders) are based largely on ideological grounds. In addition, these false cultural narratives of causality (the vaccine is a poison designed to kill) are accompanied by violence and political unrest. For example, one location has seen armed assaults on treatment centers, the murder of a WHO doctor, and attacks on vaccine teams. (iii)

When citizens are culturally, politically or militarily intimidated from seeking medical attention and help; when preventive Ebola vaccination is negatively politicized as a killing poison and vaccination is actively refused by entire families; when health care and community education workers are targeted for lethal violence: then the Ebola virus strains take root and the disease spreads into additional communities. That which is a lethal regional epidemic threatens to become an international or even a world-wide pandemic.

Unchecked (i.e., treatment, containment, and eradication) the disease spreads. As ill individuals are touched and cared for inside their families and as dead bodies are touched by healthy individuals, the disease spreads rapidly. Human deaths from the disease increase and these deaths accompany and go hand in hand with human deaths from the militarized violence of this region's undeclared war.

It’s a devil's bargain. Does one accept public health assistance and its vaccine—only to be militarily targeted and attacked; or does one refuse the help of outside health professionals and support the military's opposition to the world health community's presence? The article I am referring to states that the world-wide organization Doctors without Borders has left the area because its workers were endangered by the local ideologies and presence of armed fighting. The struggle for political and military control of the region competes with the public health struggle to contain the Ebola epidemic.(iv)

Entire communities are, therefore, traumatized by death. Once inhabited by living cultural groups who shared a common belief system and lifestyle, the region has recently become a war zone. When people have no communally-acceptable way of escaping war's violence and are ideologically prohibited from utilizing the services of public health care workers, the epidemic continues to spread; the ideologically resistant community increasingly becomes a paranoid community of suffering and death.

Fatal Infant Diarrhea Revisited

We've also seen that the endemic reality of second- and third-world infants dying of diarrhea (caused by poor sanitation, contaminated food and water supplies, and ultimately by infant dehydration) occurs largely in communities where impoverished parents do not have the financial or social resources to access medical treatment in a timely manner. These are communities which lack access to potable water and safe food supplies. They lack access to medical care. When, because of systemic and endemic poverty, a community of people fails to access the necessities of life, the most susceptible and most vulnerable individuals will be the first to be affected. (v)

In many of these world economies, the nation-states' elites and oligarchies have elevated standards of living while the poorest of the poor remain highly marginalized. Brazilian philosopher-educator Paulo Friere (in his ground-breaking work on consciousness-raising with the poor of his nation) illustrated this reality by noting that active class repression begins to accelerate when the wealthy landowner's campesinos began to ask: why do the landowner's dogs eat better than my children do (vi) Questioning injustice and ongoing, endemic oppression brings active and specific reprisals from those cultural elites who control the cultural narrative of the "desirable" relationships between the landowner and his campesinos.

Personal Reflections

The personal is political. (vii)

In the early 1990s, I visited a violence-traumatized village in the highlands of Guatemala. (viii) This village had been the site of an earlier mass massacre of local corn farmers as they hoed their fields. Shortly before our visit, there had been another armed assault on the town's indigenous citizens. During our visit the students and I talked with the village's elders. We visited the local Catholic Church compound where a murdered priest's body was entombed. (ix) We visited his living quarters which had been made into a site or shrine of remembrance and mourning. We talked with the widows of these murdered men. We saw the beginnings of their collective self-help activities to circumvent these widows' social isolation and poverty. (x) Our presence as North Americans was welcomed as a potential deterrence to violence and massacres. Never before had I so realized the protective power of a North American (i.e., USA) passport. Our collective week-long presence in this village signified the outer world's awareness of these massacres. The widows were no longer alone. Their story was no longer hidden.

Late one afternoon, we walked across a just-liberated piece of police-military land in which local men had been imprisoned underground in small cages. The town's elders and the extended Maya community had protested the ongoing violence and had persuaded the military that it was politically expedient for them to leave their village. The army was withdrawn by the national governing party. The excesses of their repressive killing and politically-motivated violence were, by this removal, implicitly acknowledged.

While the cages had been removed, the cage holes were still in place so we walked carefully —picking our collective way across remnants of a human hell. I felt as if the land itself bore witness to the murderous torture and savage atrocities that had occurred there. I felt as if I was walking on sacred, human blood-consecrated land. The students and I fell silent — allowing this land to permeate our consciousness.

Many years later, after the town had turned this field into a permanent memorial, I again walked across this field with another group of North American students. It was now a people-consecrated field of lamentation and memory. Its ghosts were now mostly absent — appearing only in the narration of our guide.

Mid-morning during this second visit, our guide-teacher led us to the shores of a beautiful — but polluted — lake. Women were washing clothes and hanging them on bushes to dry. Some women were also collecting cooking and drinking water to carry home in big pottery or metal containers on the top of their heads. Our guide informed us that this lake's water was polluted. I worried for these women and their children. I hoped they had the resources to boil this water ,but I suspected they did not. During our stay in this village we drank bottled and warm Cokes — because this internationally bottled soft drink was the only safe fluid to drink. Brushing one's teeth with Coke gives new meaning to the practice.

Here the issues are less directly and visibly ideological. No one says to a mother or father that safe water wells are unsafe to use. No one says to avoid the local medical care facility (if there is one) because it is poisoning the people.

But, in a systemic way, the issues of second- and third-world poverty are highly ideological. The issues experienced within indigenous communities are highly ideological. Issues of life and death are political. No one steps forward to build and maintain a network of free safe wells for the community to use. No one seeks to equalize the power of landowners and campesinos. No one seeks to redress ancient grievances and experienced injustices for indigenous communities.

Years earlier, when I lived in Costa Rica, the World Bank demanded that Costa Rica devalue its currency and end some of its socialized welfare programs for its nation's poor. As a United States citizen living on a North American salary, I barely felt this economic crisis. To put it bluntly, I was (by virtue of my skin color, my education-class status, and my nationality) economically and politically privileged.

Almost immediately after the currency devaluation took place, my Costa Rican and North American expatriate male professional colleagues and friends told me about being approached by many women seeking to provide life's necessities for themselves and their children by prostituting themselves. In these men's perception, the number of women seeking to sell sexual services had noticeably and dramatically escalated in the days since the currency devaluation took place. A currency black market operated relatively unchecked. For the first, I was approached for American dollars — which I never carried.

I am not an economist but I do know that devalued currencies and fewer accessible humanitarian resources cause human suffering. I am not a parent but I do know that the threat of starvation and infant diarrhea creates a life or death situation for parents and their children. I am convinced, therefore, that our ideologies and practices of governance matter. They create the matrix for our individual and collective behaviors. They are the breeding grounds for a pathological normalcy in the social and political realms of life.

In some very direct ways and in many indirect ways, my years of teaching students on location in Central America have shaped my personality and my character. I learned there about the principled need to resist injustice in very specific and very ordinary ways — ways that were not grandiose or messianic. I learned about the potential to fail and the need to persevere. I learned about communities of support and resistance.

These years prepared me to deepen my personal witness against affinity violence inside my religious denomination — the Old Mennonite Church (Lancaster Conference) of my childhood and adolescence (now the Mennonite Church USA). Talking with war's widows, I learned also that I did not need to be one of the great ones; I did not need to become a Gandhi, a Nelson Mandela, a Mother Teresa, or a Bishop Tutu. I simply needed to hear and to follow the inner call of healing, resistance and protest. I needed, in essence, to use the voice which I had rather than hesitating because of the grand and all-powerful voice I did not have. I needed, therefore, to become a professional witness — a professional bearing witness. Most of all I needed to befriend those wounded by violence.


i. This Reuters photo appears in "Fears over Ebola containment after deadly virus spreads to DRC city." The National (Dec. 9, 2018).

ii. Beaumont, P. (June 25, 2019). "Most Complex Health Crisis in History: Congo Struggles to Contain Ebola." The Guardian.

iii. Ibid.

iv. Ibid.

v. In the years of terror in Guatemala, I was visiting an isolated area of Alta Vera Paz with a group of Guatemalan and North American Mennonite women. We were there to learn about the events happening in this region. We were also there to speak about affinity sexual violence. On Sunday morning our Guatemalan hosts took us to church and all of us experienced the reality of not understanding the first-nation language which was used — the reality of being the outsider. Some of the hymns we could sing in Spanish or in English because we recognized the melody. As the service was ending and the benediction was being spoken, an indigenous woman walked in the back door and headed directly for the altar. She was carrying a small, tightly wrapped infant. She asked the community to pray for her baby's healing. The service started all over again — some of the Spanish-speaking women in the group also understood the language being spoken as did one of the Mennonite North American missionaries. They, too, went to the altar and prayed with the community who had gathered around the mother and her baby. I was immobilized by my grief. After the service, as we were headed back towards Guatemala City, I asked my friend what would happen to the baby. She replied that if this infant were living inside economic privilege, the mother would have access to the medications that would cure the baby; but since she did not, the baby would likely die in a very short time period. My North American friend then told me that she knew this family and that the woman had walked at least two miles to get to the church in time to ask for the community's prayers. That meant, of course, that the woman also needed to walk home with a very sick and dying child. I have often wondered, in the years since then, if both the mother and her child were alive that evening when they arrived at their home.

I have been haunted by this story since then. Could our group have made a difference in this baby's life and death? Should we have made a difference? Could we have saved this baby/'s life? Should we have done so? Should we have gone against the advice of the North American missionaries that saving one baby's life was meaningless in the context in which that death would occur — an active war zone, intense poverty, and many children who would die because of a curable and treatable illness in our North American world? I was the stranger and the outsider. My expertise and work in Guatemala needed translation. I was witnessing something I had no way of understanding. Yet, a baby most likely died, a baby North American and Guatemala City medicine could have cured. And somehow even now I know I am complicit in that baby's death.

vi. Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

vii. "The personal is political." Wikipedia.

viii. Loucky, R. and J. Carlsen (Sept. 1991). "Massacre in Santiago Atitlan: A Turning Point in the Maya Struggle?" Cultural Survival. This village had been plagued by violence during the 1980s.

ix. "Stanley Rother." Wikipedia.

x. For more information about the history of this village, see "Before and After the Massacre" at Central American Stories.








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