- Editors' Introduction
In February 2019, Pope Francis summoned a four-day summit meeting at the Vatican with the participation of the presidents of all the episcopal conferences in the world, to discuss the endemic problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy—a seemingly endemic problem that has caused immeasurable suffering all over the world. In December 2019, the Pope made a number of changes to church law, lifting the so-called pontifical secrecy in sexual abuse investigations and thereby forbidding the imposition of silence on anyone reporting sexual abuse or alleging to be a victim. This decision marked a significant shift in the church's handling of the sexual abuse crisis, but many church observers continue to question the effectiveness of existing legal regulations and actually wonder whether they will actually be implemented at all. Confidence in church institutions—a reality that did not just concern Roman Catholicism—was already at an all-time low before the global health crisis struck in early 2020, causing many churches to close down completely for months or at best forcing them to stream their services online. Many wonder what it will take for religious institution to regain some of the trust that they used to enjoy even as late as the 1990s.
Alas, many Buddhist institutions in the United States have also experienced a hard reckoning with their own failure to address issues of sexual abuse. In July 2018, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, son of Chögyam Trungpa and leader of Shambala, stepped down from his duties due to an investigation into sexual misconduct. A few years earlier, the American Zen community was also shaken by the discovery that Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a renowned Rinzai teacher who passed away in 2014 at the age of 107, was also guilty of inappropriate behavior toward some of his students. Clearly, abusive and manipulative behavior by spiritual leaders appears to be present in all religious traditions. It is alas particularly painful that many of these unfortunate realities should have come to light shortly before the COVID pandemic—at a time when more than ever people are in need of spiritual support and reassurance. In the United States, this combination of factors has been made even more searing by the protracted political crisis of 2020 and 2021 and by an atmosphere of racial tension and general social acrimony.
In 2019, a group of scholars met at the annual conference of the Society for Buddhist–Christian Studies (SBCS) to discuss the reality of sexual abuse in both Buddhist and Christian communities. This issue of Buddhist-Christian Studies includes [End Page vii] the contributions of four of these scholars: John Sheveland and Cristina Lledo Gomez discuss the roots and the impact of this crisis in the Catholic Church; Laura Schmidt Roberts addresses a similar situation in the Mennonite community; and Wakoh Shannon Hickey reviews a number of cases in a Buddhist context, and asks whether Buddhists can learn anything from Christians to prevent teacher misconduct. This important and timely panel was just the beginning of a conversation that will surely continue for years as more cases of abuse come to light and different religious community look for resources to address them adequately and prevent their repetition.
This issue also includes papers from a number of other panels organized by SBCS in the last couple of years. Kristin Largen and Peter Feldmeier reflect on the way Buddhist and Christian spiritual practices can challenge members of the other traditions and inform their own approach to practice; James Ford and Duan Bidwell (with a response from Yi Shen Ma) address the vexed question of dual belonging, while André van Braak, Carolyn Medine, and Natalie Quli explore the implications and the ongoing relevance (or perhaps irrelevance) of categories such as "native" and "convert" when discussing religious identification in a contemporary context. John Makransky, Mark Heim, Judith Simmer-Brown, and Perry Schmidt-Leukel (whose massive commentary to the Bodhicaryāvatāra is reviewed in the book review section) offer some reflections on a comparative reading of Śāntideva's spiritual masterpiece.
At a time when American society is finally coming to confront its legacy of racism, it is apposite that...