Catching Flames: Into Account on the “I Am Mine” Series

by | Oct 8, 2020 | 0 comments

The survivor who wrote the “I Am Mine” series has done the world of progressive Christianity an incredible service. Along with the other 40+ survivors who have so far come forward to report abuse by David Hass (and, yes, the number continues to rise), she has offered the Catholic Church, the ecumenical progressive Church, liturgical composers, and the sacred music publishing industry an opportunity to look in the mirror and identify precisely where and how abuse is able to continue to thrive within these communities. She has held out her hands and offered tools perfectly suited for rooting it out. The next step is for the progressive Church to receive the gift with honest gratitude and get to work.

Let me start by making one point unambiguously clear: This conversation isn’t about the individual David Haas anymore. The fact of his decades-long habitual violence is established. The ethical urgency of ceasing to worship with his music is irrefutable. If he is ever again allowed power or position in any proximity whatsoever to the Church, those who do not stand in his way will be complicit with the violence he has indiscriminately waged on scores of women throughout his adult life. 

And so I say again: This isn’t about Haas anymore. The conversation we now need to have is about the communities in which he held influence and power. It’s about the ways progressive approaches to faith, theology, liturgy, sacred music, education, and Christian professionalism routinely fail to recognize and resist the kinds of harm Haas so perpetually spewed. We need to have a sustained conversation about these communities’ covertly toxic assumptions and patterns and structures and systems and habits that need to change and need to change now.

With that in mind, I want to bear witness to a small fraction of what there is to be learned from the author of the “I Am Mine” series. 

First, a non-exhaustive summary of the betrayals and abuses that this survivor endured.

Because adults in positions of religious authority did not hold Haas appropriately accountable after learning that he raped a 13-year-old girl, Haas was able to start a prestigious music camp at St. Catherine’s University that he used as a setting to groom teenagers, including the author, for future abuse. When she and others raised questions about Haas’s grooming behaviors that made them uncomfortable, their immediate religious and sacred music community dismissed their concerns. Her professional and spiritual mentor (Haas) used his own performance of prayerful music to create manipulative and boundary-crossing levels of intimacy with her when she was a teenager. He took advantage of her passion for business and sacred music in order to exploit her labor to his professional benefit when she was a young adult. All the while, he subjected her to a culture of secrecy and shame in which he was the only figure allowed meaningful control. He flew her across state lines under the impression that she was interviewing for a job. While she was attempting to give her pitch for the position he set her up to believe she was about to be offered, he sexualy assaulted her. He sexually assaulted her after she rejected his verbal advances and demanded that he leave. He sexually assaulted her for the express purpose of asserting his dominance over her. He wrote her a psalm in an attempt to keep her quiet, using faith as a weapon against her. He tried to manipulate her into silence by announcing that he was “sodomized” as a child, therefore insinuating that he was the real victim all along. He lied about not remembering that he assaulted her. He tried to gaslight her into thinking she was the one out of line for interpreting his verbal assault (“I want to crawl inside of you”)  in sexual terms.

He repeatedly threatened her job. He harassed her at work. He simultaneously tried to sabotage and take credit for her success in the industry they shared. After Haas deemed it was no longer wise for him to continue to harass her directly (only because another man in power told him to stop), he demonized her among his friends and supporters, sending them out as proxies to carry on his abusive presence in her life—a dynamic continuing to this very day.

BE ADVISED, THE UPCOMING LINK CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT. In the last 48 hours, not one but two additional survivors have come forward to report to us that Haas used the phrase “I want to crawl inside of you” in his abuse of them as well. To one of those survivors, he said it repeatedly. Another survivor came forward to say that she viscerally recognized the scene in “I am Mine, Part 2” when Haas tells our author that he had recently discovered in therapy that he was sexually abused as a child. She recognized it because Haas feigned the same revelation to her. She knows it was feigned because when she asked him to elaborate on his story he wasn’t able to do so and admitted it wasn’t true.

So, here’s a lesson:

People who habitually perpetrate sexual violence also habitually spin the narrative and tell boldfaced lies in ways designed to garner sympathy, deflect attention away from the harm of their actions, and keep anyone tempted to blow their cover too confused, scared, or ashamed to go through with it. Telling lies to portray themselves as truer victims than the people they’ve abused is at the top of the first page of the abuser’s playbook. In bold. In one way or another, perpetrators always claim to be victims as a strategy for avoiding accountability. 

Progressive Christian communities have invested quite a lot in Jesus’ command that his followers be innocent as doves. Interpreting innocence as a quality of spiritual maturity full and complete in itself, we have utterly failed to hold the first part of Jesus’ Matthew 10 command in equally high regard.

“Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Be wise, he says. Be shrewd. Be sharp, clever, alert. Be informed. Be smart. To be my disciple, he says, you must be perceptive and cunning. You must be awake to injustice and equipped to recognize and resist evil in every form no matter its disguise. 

The author of the “I Am Mine” series shows us, plain as day, what Christian communities risk when they fail to celebrate and nurture cleverness as a necessity of faith. They risk missing and silencing wise warnings of grooming and harassing behaviors with a dismissive “Oh, he’s just like that.” 

There are alternatives.

Our author models for us what it looks like to take hold of alert, cunning wisdom as a holy and transformative power. Awake to injustice in all of its forms, she opens our eyes to the cultic qualities of the Music Ministry Alive! program (its “cult-ure”) that many mistakenly celebrated as signs of faithful devotion. Smart and informed, she teaches us to understand how abusers use outward expressions of apology and remorse as tools for gaslighting survivors and avoiding accountability. Perceptive and sharp, she shows us how to recognize abusive (mis)uses of song, prayer, and theology. When she answers the psalm Haas composed to keep her quiet with a psalm of her own that empowers survivors’ voices to ring loud and true, she gathers the divine power of Holy Wisdom (Lady Wisdom, Hokma, Sophia, the One through whom all things were made) and uses it to liturgically call forth divine Love and Justice to put an end to Haas’s power to abuse. 

If you have read her words and if you have heard them, you have witnessed what it means to be both innocent as a dove and wise as a serpent. Innocent insofar as the author’s testimony holds righteous and transformative truth-telling as its singular motivation and goal. Wise insofar as she is able to uncover the truth and invite us to stand with her in it by time and again refusing to be tricked or coerced or lulled into accepting anything less. 

Members of the Catholic Church, the progressive ecumenical Church, the sacred music publishing industry, and communities of liturgical composers can demonstrate respect for and solidarity with Haas’s survivors by making it an urgent priority to become shrewd when it comes to sexual violence. 

What does that look like for you?

And it is critical to clarify that the “you” I am addressing here is you who have not had to become shrewd through the trauma of experiencing sexual violence firsthand. 

Do you need to come to terms with the ways that theological concepts dearly important to you have the silent, systemic function of disempowering survivors in progressive communities of Christian faith? 

Do you need to do the hard internal work of becoming willing to risk and break relationships with people and institutions who refuse to heed survivors’ voices?

Do you need to educate yourself about what it really means in nitty gritty terms to “believe survivors” and hold this as a tenet of your faith?

Do you need to make friends with the fact that you may have to risk your own reputation and livelihood if you are serious about solidarity?

Do you need to interrogate the complicity of your church, your organization, your worldview, your theology, your spirituality, or your past behavior with the perpetuation of sexual violence and make a plan for genuine change?

Yes.

The answer to each of these questions is, no doubt, Yes.

And though the work is hard, the author of the “I Am Mine” series has given you the tools to do it. I hereby challenge you to go back and read her story again. Go back and read each survivors’ public testimony again. Go back and read Into Account’s report again. This time, as you read, hold before you this question: What would I have to know, do, or believe differently in order to show up in this narrative as an agent of resistance to abuse and solidarity with survivors? What would the communities to which I belong have to know, do, or believe differently in order to become communities in which stories like these never need to be written?

For what is sure to be the struggle ahead, carry with you the author’s most precious gift of accompaniment and challenge.

I’m in this fight with you and will proudly serve at your side. We need not wait for any other leader, or any other entity to tell us when to move. Now is a very acceptable time.”

Selah.
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Read “I Am Mine, part 1”               Read “I Am Mine, part 2”               Read “I Am Mine, part 3

About Hilary Jerome Scarsella

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