“. . . this harmless looking little story . . . will awaken us to a whole new way of being human that will reconfigure our lives and leave us longing for more. . . . and will inject rich hope, purpose, and significance into the veins of the most God-forsaken, hollowed-out human soul.” ——————————————————Finding God in the Margins
It doesn’t require any arm twisting to get me to talk about the book of Ruth. I’m always ready to liberate Ruth from the traditional Cinderella damsel in distress just “waiting for her Boaz” and to get to the heart of the story. The book of Ruth is a paradigm changer.
Revd Bruce had recently hosted a webinar on the coronavirus pandemic back in November 2020, inviting me to be a presenter with Rabbi Jonathan and Professor Ted Fuller of the University of Lincoln, UK and UNESCO Chair on Responsible Foresight for Sustainable Development.
It was a huge honor to participate and unforgettable to hear from these two men. I will never forget hearing Rabbi Jonathan talk about ministry to those suffering and losing loved-ones from Covid-19. Learning about UNESCO’s efforts was truly heartening as well.
I can hardly wait for this next conversation. If you are interested in joining this ZOOM webinar, the welcome mat is out.
Sometimes a book finds you at just the right time in your life.
I’d known of Carolyn Custis James’ book, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, since it was first published 10 years ago. But it was one of those books that stayed on my ‘I should read that someday’ list. Maybe I wasn’t ‘ready’ to wrestle with the global issues I suspected it’d raise. Maybe I thought it’d demand too much of me in navigating the complicated world of women’s roles in a male-dominated world. So I put it off.
Until now. And talk about timing. Five months ago, I started working for an Australian-founded, global relief and development organisation whose primary mission is to “be love and end poverty”. Every day I feel the enormous privilege it is to engage in discussions about how we can join God in the work He’s doing in places like Nepal, Bangladesh and Cambodia, where we partner with various Christian agencies on the ground. These agencies provide a range of opportunities to help women, children and men – regardless of status or religion – to emerge from poverty. To flourish. They organise workshops on gardening, hygiene, fish farming, education, savings clubs, etc, in impoverished rural areas.
Most of us in the West can’t begin to appreciate the challenges these families face every day because of the complicated impact of poverty, made worse now because of COVID. Nor can we appreciate just how much of a lifeline humanitarian efforts such as these actually can be throughout the world. Yet even before the 2020 pandemic, our partners were on the ground teaching families daily hygiene to avoid disease and how to grow their own crops when food shortages took a plunge in already vulnerable cultures. They had a step up for what 2020 brought.
In other words, God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, whose heart is turned toward the poor and marginalised, has always been providing for His most perfect design – humans – through, well, other humans.
Enter Half the Church – an inspiring breath of fresh air. Custis James’ compelling writing and solid theology bring these issues together. She begins each chapter with a story from the Majority World – child brides/widows, sex trafficking, horrific abuses imposed on girls and women daily all before 2010. Sadly, they hold true still in 2021 – and so her book remains a grounding and crucial read today.
Custis James cites frequently the impact of another ground-breaking book, Half the Sky, which clearly informed her thinking around these issues. Kristof and WuDunn’s book exposed the atrocities gender inequality brought in the new millennium – many of which continue today. That book was a confronting and personal wake up call for Custis James, giving the American author an opportunity to explore a deeper and more robust theological response to God’s global vision for women.
At its foundation, her book centres on what is often missing in daily ministry and global mission: creation theology.
“When God created human beings in his ‘image’ and ‘likeness’, he was designating us as his representatives on the earth” Custis James writes.
“Instead of running things directly himself, he chose us as his intermediaries to run things here in this world. As his image bearers, we speak and act on his behalf. This is not only about Christians. Every human being is God’s image bearer – granted the highest possible rank of all of God’s creatures. Every human being has a strategic role in God’s purposes in the world. Every human being possesses a derived significance – grounded in God himself. And every human being is summoned to the highest of all possible aspirations – not to be God, but ‘to be like’ God himself. God is the standard for who we are and what our mission is in this world. By pursuing this loftiest of all goals, we move toward true flourishing as human beings.”
In eight well-researched and thoughtful chapters (though with some obviously American perspectives), Custis James provides a meaty and inviting theology for Kingdom work, regardless of gender: That leadership is about bending down to serve. That women and men were always meant to minister together in what she calls a “Blessed Alliance”. That from the creation theology put forth in Genesis, we find a blueprint for understanding our identity as women and men. That women are (as the Hebrew called Eve and also refers to God throughout Scripture) ezers, a word most often used in a military context throughout Scripture as warriors. God is a shield, a defense, a watch over his people, an ezer. For Eve to have been called the same is to see God’s identity reflected in – and for – her.
“He deploys the ezer to break the man’s aloneness by soldiering with him wholeheartedly and at full strength for God’s gracious kingdom. The man needs everything she brings to their global mission.”
Yet make no mistake: This is not a feminist’s handbook any more than it is an enemy of men. Custis James’ chapters on the ‘Blessed Alliance’ of (men and women working together) and the Bride of Christ are riveting stuff, anchored deep in the Biblical narrative, giving juicy Scriptural illustrations, and calling all Christ-followers to dig deep into the mutual power of God’s blessing beyond gender, especially if we want to care and advocate for those fellow ‘image-bearers’ living on the margins. Their justice, after all, is ours; their hope one we all share, because both are rooted in Christ’s crucifixion and raised again for the opportunity of new life available to all throughout the world.
And while Custis James sneaks close to ‘the issue’ (of ordination), she respectfully explores both sides of the ‘Great Debate’ about women’s roles within the church. But she goes way beyond taking a stand – her vision is much bigger than narrow-minded certainties that too many denominations hold about gender roles.
Rather, Custis James offers a much-needed Kingdom strategy in which all are called to participate – a perspective I didn’t know how much I needed until I finally devoured her book. And because she majors on the majors, not the minors, of Scripture, we see the ‘indisputable’ truths in the lives of role models like Eve, Naomi, Boaz, Ruth, Esther, Mordecai, Mary, Joseph, and others, that reaffirm their identity as ‘image-bearers’ and vessels of God’s work. Together they point to Christ the King. In other words, the whole body of Christ is to do the whole work of the Kingdom to serve all of God’s image bearers around the globe, especially those in poverty.
As Custis James put it 10 years ago, in a challenge that rings just as true in 2021:
“There is much work to be done. Earth is emitting a distress signal we cannot ignore. Suffering and injustice are rampant, and they are our business. God has called us. We are ready.”
Review by Jo Kadlecek. Author, reporter and teacher for many years, Jo Kadlecek is now the communication manager for Baptist World Aid Australia. She and her husband and their dog Clark Kent live in Sydney, Australia. Former Gordon College students may remember her as a Journalism Professor at their alma mater.
At the Society for Pentecostal Studies Conference last weekend, Médine‘s presentation preceded mine. She couldn’t have raised the widespread harm of patriarchy more clearly. It’s a battle she faced personally and continues to fight on behalf of others, although, by God’s grace, she is free and flourishing. You will love her heart!
It’s also a good reminder that if #MeToo and #ChurchToo have taught us anything, violence and abuse of women is at epidemic levels in the United States. As Christians, we have work to do.
So watch in segments, but please watch both presentations!
Médine Moussounga Keener, Ph.D. (University of Paris 7) spent eighteen months as a war refugee in Congo Brazzaville. She has firsthand experience of violence against women and the plight of African women. Médine serves as Pastoral Care Coordinator at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. She writes and speaks on the issues of racism, ethnicity, and reconciliation in Africa and the U.S.
Just as Covid won’t go away without effective vaccines . . . . As Christians, we cannot in good conscience adequately address this global crisis of Violence Against Women without exploring causative factors that increase female vulnerability and allow violence against women to occur within our ranks.—————————Carolyn Custis James
This past weekend the Society of Pentecostal Studies held their 50th Annual Meeting at The King’s University in Southlake, Texas. It was the SPS’s second attempt to hold this conference. SPS’s 2020 conference location was Southern California, which at the exact same time became the USA’s biggest Coronavirus hotspot. The conference had to be cancelled. But the conference theme lived on.
Conference planners stuck to their original theme and moved it into 2021: This is My Body: Violence Against Women. Only, with the Covid-19 pandemic still with us, the 2021 conference would be hybrid.
In explaining the urgency of the crisis of Violence Against Women, Program Chair, Professor Melissa Archer, Assoc Professor of Biblical Studies at Southeastern University, referenced a 2006 Study of the United Nations Secretary-General, “Ending Violence Against Women: From Words to Actions.” The report declared that
“eliminating violence against women remains one of the most serious challenges of our time. Global statistics show that 7 out of 10 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. In the United States, more than 600 are raped or sexually assaulted every day. . . . The pervasiveness of violence against women across the boundaries of nation, culture, race, class and religion points to its roots in patriarchy the systemic domination of women by men.
Patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather, it is the fallen cultural backdrop that sets off in the strongest relief the radical nature and potency of the Bible’s gospel message. We need to understand that world and patriarchy in particular—much better than we do—if we hope to grasp the radical countercultural message of the Bible.
Malestrom features the stories of men in the Bible we all too often overlook. These men put on display a whole new gospel brand of masculinity that is both freeing and empowering for men in ways that reflect Jesus, bless the lives of others, and give hard evidence that Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world.
Although these two books may seem to address very different subjects, they are profoundly related.
It actually makes perfect sense that a book about the long-lost Dr. Katherine Bushnell and her groundbreaking work as an activist, medical doctor, and biblical scholar on behalf of women’s rights would lead Du Mez to write her next book about patriarchy and John Wayne
In the U.S. and globally, Bushnell encountered the brutal oppression and sexual abuse of women and girls. According to Bushnell, far too often the men who perpetrated these crimes—even Christian men—“often did so with impunity, continuing to be revered in their communities as respectable Christian gentlemen.”(Sound familiar?) It launched her quest to probe more deeply into the Bible’s message for women. Questions she was asking inevitably raised the subject of patriarchy, which is the topic Du Mez tackles in Jesus and John Wayne. Both books are important, eye-opening, and profoundly relevant for American Christians at this particular moment in time. Do we wrestle enough with how our Christianity transforms how we think and live and treat other image bearers? Does it set us apart or do we just blend in? How truly do we embody the example and teachings of Jesus?
Readers should read both books!
Don’t let the word “feminism” (“patriarchy” either, for that matter) put you off. Feminism isn’t a four-letter word. It’s time we had a long-overdue thoughtful conversation on the subject, especially given the fact that Christian women staunchly committed to Scripture were pioneers of feminism. Du Mez will doubtless surprise many readers as she delves into the Christian roots of that movement.
Drawing on Christian history and theology, Dr. Wallsexplains that within the Christian gospel itself reside opposing tendencies: an “indigenizing principle” and a “pilgrim principle.” The gospel is always incarnated, Walls argues, received in a particular time and place and “indigenized” in particular cultural settings. Yet at the same time, the gospel has a transformative element; followers of Christ are meant to be transformed, set apart from the culture in which they live.
Then comes this quote from Professor Walls that I’ll be thinking about long after I finish the book:
“Along with the indigenizing principle which makes his faith a place to feel at home, . . . the Christian inherits the pilgrim principle, which whispers to him that he has no abiding city and warns him that to be faithful to Christ will put him out of step with his society; for that society never existed, in East or West, ancient time or modern, which could absorb the word of Christ painlessly into its system.”
Her Face in Her Hands: Tamar’s Story as a Blessing during #MeToo/#ChurchToo
2 Samuel 13 Written by Amy Lineburg Knöttner
The Patriarchal Backdrop
As the first-born son, he held the the position of highest value in the family, and yet Amnon wanted more. His half-sister Tamar, by contrast, had no power. At most, she was a bargaining chip. As a virgin, she could be sold through marriage to benefit her family. Her only value came from her marriageability: her virginity. Nursing his lust for her, Amnon made himself sick. His unhealthy desire was to take the one thing of value from the most vulnerable person in his family.
Only one man in the story notices Amnon’s sickness and, probably seeking his favor, tries to find the cause. Jonadab is another member of Tamar’s family. He does more than enable Amnon; he methodically designs the rape of Tamar. For Jonadab, his desire to get brownie points with the prince rates far more important than a vulnerable person. His culture taught Jonadab that Tamar was of less value than his own needs.
King David acts blind to his son Amnon’s psychological state and is not too hard to manipulate. He approves a special request that should have raised red flags. Tamar is “asked” to wait on her brother, to prepare the food in front of him, and to feed him “with her own hands.” David doesn’t seem to think twice about making this happen for Amnon. Tamar, herself, must have known something was wrong with Amnon’s relationship with her. But, in her position, she would have had no choice but to do what her father asked.
Amnon takes advantage of his power over everyone in his house. Once Tamar prepares food for him, he manipulates the situation again. He refuses the food and orders the servants to leave. Amnon is now alone in his house with his sister, but that’s not enough. He calls her to his bedroom. There, Tamar is finally able to resist verbally and gives an impassioned plea for him to stop. She uses all the cultural arguments that could protect her, including even begging him to marry her.
This moment seems to be the pinnacle of sickness in the patriarchal culture in which Tamar is mired: she finds marriage to her sexually sick brother more desirable (and appropriate) than being a survivor of rape. The latter would mean that her culture would see her as “damaged goods.” She would no longer be able to marry. She would no longer be considered a valuable commodity in her father’s home.
Amnon wants instant gratification and is not interested in protecting her in any way. He not only rapes her, but throws her out of the house. This removes the one protection his powerful position could have afforded his victim.
King David’s reaction provides a foil for how Tamar herself responded to the abuse. David is angry, but does nothing, showing that his firstborn son is more important than his daughter (as some manuscripts explicitly state). Amnon must be protected at all cost. Most likely this was not just to preserve the reputation of the family, but for security and financial reasons as well. A break with Amnon could have even more repercussions than it did with another son, Absalom.
David chooses to protect the abuser and looks away. In stark contrast, Tamar looks directly at Amnon, calls him for who he is—a “wicked fool”—and, after his abuse of her, does nothing to hide it. In an act of courage that surely meant her reputation was even more quickly ruined, she tears her robes, puts ashes on her head, and walks away “with her face in her hands.”
At this moment in the text, we see the narrator’s perspective as clearly as a spotlight. The heart of the story is in focus. We linger respectfully with the abuse survivor. We are drawn into the details of this moment as if we are lamenting with Tamar. Instead of our gaze returning to the most powerful, the lens of the story focuses solely on the wronged.
The Genesis 1-2 Backdrop
Re-reading the story while searching for the design God lays out in Genesis 1-2 for male-female relationships is an exercise in heartbreak. We see each of the men denying their true natures as reflections of God. Instead they choose to enable and design evil, and follow their basest desires (even when it hurts other image-bearers). They turn a blind eye to sin, protect abuse instead of defending the victim, and commit murder in retribution. Amnon, Jonadab, David, and Absalom each deny their imago dei for a short-term benefit to themselves.
While the men turn from their God-given design, Tamar’s behavior stands out. She strives to support and empower healthy decisions by those in her family who have complete power over her. It’s astonishing to watch her interact with these men in a way designed to protect them from their worst selves. She tries to preserve as much of God’s goodness in their family as she can. What a great definition of an ezer-warrior! Tamar holds up her end of the bargain, but, through no fault of her own, she misses out on the joy of a Blessed Alliance with men living out their calling as well.
Tamar would have joined her voice with ours. She was abused by several men with power over her. She was denied the minimum protection from the repercussions of the abuse. A family member dreamed up the scheme to bring her to the most vulnerable place she could be: alone in a bedroom with a man who was sick with a twisted desire for her. Her brother, the first-born prince, raped her. Her father, the king, protected the abuser.
I remember when I saw the #MeToo hashtag for the first time. It took about thirty seconds for me to sign on to Twitter, which I hadn’t used for months, and post my own #MeToo tweet. I didn’t think, I just reacted. It’s so rare to be asked about violation, to be asked if it’s happened to you, too. And even if it was anonymous, I wanted to speak up. Because, sometimes, all of our voices come together to make a sound that might be heard.
If it had happened today, Tamar’s story wouldn’t be just one more #MeToo tweet. The attack on the daughter of the king would be profiled by Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker. Retelling her story as if she were the daughter of the highest ruler in the USA hits almost too close to home. We all know the former “king” of our nation is himself credibly accused of rape and many other atrocities against the most vulnerable.
Tamar’s story often gets blended into the story of Absalom and the story of his feud with King David. Raised a white, evangelical, Protestant, fundamentalist Christian, my exposure to Tamar’s story was so limited, that I had her confused with another Tamar, who was also abused by multiple family members within a patriarchal system. I wish our ignorance of her story were just because the story of Absalom hanging from a tree by his hair is more memorable (and somehow less gruesome) to tell in Sunday School.
But it’s more than that. Crimes against women have not been given their appropriate place in our teaching of the Bible. We brush aside stories like Tamar’s, telling ourselves that we couldn’t have much in common with Amnon, who lusted after a family member. We want to avoid noticing that we often reflect the imago of Amnon. We let ourselves be consumed and led by a desire for something other than what God had provided for us.
Stories like Tamar’s need to be told in our churches and ministries. They help us develop a godly perspective on power and sexuality. They remind us of what our true calling looks like. We can learn to live out the Blessed Alliance, instead of going along with the patriarchal system which should be a foil against which our behavior stands out.
Abuse of Power Resulting in the Abuse of Tamar
Sometimes knowing a story too well numbs us. It’s easy to show up with pre-formed opinions about characters like David and Absalom. Separating the actions from the actors shows us clearly what abuses of power happened in the story of Tamar:
Manipulating situations and people for a personal (and destructive) purposes
Not questioning or paying attention to inappropriate behavior or requests that are unusual
After abuse, not using power to protect and restore the survivor
After abuse, not apologizing, being transparent, or getting help
Protecting the abuser (this could’ve been both David and Absalom’s sin, depending on how you read Absalom’s behavior and comment: “Keep quiet for now, since he’s your brother. Don’t you worry about it.”)
Blessing through Tamar’s Story
Tamar’s story echoes the ongoing tragic sound of God’s image being abandoned to fulfill desires in our own strength—desires including power, sexual fulfillment, protection, favor, honor, respect, and vengeance. It gives us a foil of destructive behavior, against which we can check ourselves and learn what not to do.
The act of retelling the story in the #MeToo/#ChurchToo context gives us a chance to get uncomfortable with the truth that we are prone to abuse while we are called to be protectors. Tamar’s story calls imago dei-reflecting women and men to notice, preach, teach, and lead ourselves to protect and honor all, including the vulnerable. We can not promulgate the patriarchal paradigm that caused her story to be possible in the first place.
Tamar’s story trains us to listen for the cry of the vulnerable. Her words and actions model what survivors may look like in our midst. She shows us a way forward: to look for those crying out like she did, with their heads in their hands. We can watch for those who remain desolate, hiding in their family’s home, kept silent by an ongoing abuse of power. Let’s follow her example and counter with actions that provide hope and healing for the survivor, hope and healing for the abuser, hope and healing for families who have protected abusers, and hope and healing for power structures that don’t reflect God.
In my own ministry context, this looks like sharing more resources with our ministry partners. I hope to add to our training a component on how to identify potential survivors among the pre-teen kids in our mentoring programs. I’m personally inspired by the way the biblical text focuses on Tamar and her lament. I intend to spend more time sitting with those, including myself, who have suffered abuse.
Tamar’s story, like every survivor’s story, is honored by God through the tears that He collects, through the death and resurrection of His Son, and through His justice that will one day roll down like a river (Amos 5:24). In the meantime, we can use what didn’t happen in Tamar’s story to inspire us to provide justice to other survivors and to fight against the very thing that causes abuse to happen in the first place: trying to fulfill for ourselves what should only come from God.
2 Samuel 11:1—12:14; Psalm 51 Written by Yeohan Ko
People can see various kinds of sexual abuse in the Bible, but I think that the most horrible case is what happened to Bathsheba.
She is the wife of Uriah, who is a faithful officer of King David. However, David watched her bathing, and he fell in love with her. He had to give up her because she was already married, but he forced her to have a sexual relationship with him. She could not reject David because he was the king of the nation. She received sexual abuse by her husband’s boss, but she could not say anything because she was afraid of the king’s authority and the destruction of the relationship between her husband and her. She could not disclose the horrible affair to her husband or any other people, so she kept it secret. Unfortunately, she was pregnant because of the affair by David. She disclosed her pregnant to David but not to Uriah. Surprisingly, David decided to hide his scandal by various schemes. However, his faithful subordinate was not caught in his traps. Finally, David conspired with General Joab and made Uriah die on the battlefield. By killing Uriah, David could hide his horrible sin from people in the kingdom. Bathsheba could not stop David’s evil deed and the death of her husband. She knew David’s sinful mind. On the contrary, people knew David’s merciful mind because he was to take care of the widow and the baby. By Bathsheba’s silence, David was able to obtain praise from people and hide his sin. Because she did not say anything, David, the kingdom, and Bathsheba herself could live in the kingdom peacefully.
#MeToo story today
Is it true peace? Is it just an ancient story? No, it is a false peace, and it is happening in the current churches. She received sexual abuse, but she could not claim anything. The victim had no power and no helper, whereas the assailant had the biggest authority in the kingdom and a lot of supporters. Also, she had known that the culprit was loved by God. This meant that God could be her enemy if she became the opponent of David. She had no chance of winning against the criminal, so she had to keep silence.
This affair is not unusual in the current society and church. Likewise, by the abuse of power, many women cannot say anything against the authorities. Many pastors and priests who have to lead and encourage people are killing many women spiritually. Unfortunately, they are protected by their associations even though the victims are individuals. The corrupted churches are protected by strong protectors just as David was. Therefore, the victims also have to gather to be against the evil group and disclose the hidden evils. I hope that the movement of #MeToo stories can defeat the evil people.
#MeToo story biblically
To make the world peaceful truly, people need to understand the Bible correctly. People can see the patriarchal cultural background and polygamy (which is based on the discrimination of women) in the Bible. So they tend to think that it is good before God, but that is incorrect. God permitted these cultural habits, but it is not what God wanted the people to do. Women could not refute the male-dominant society because they knew that women could not live without their husbands in a harsh society. However, men should recognize the fair relationship between men and women by knowing the right interpretation of the Bible.
According to Genesis Chapter 1-2, first of all, both a man and a woman are the image of God. Thus, the female status is at the same level as a male. Secondarily, “ezer” means a warrior rather than a helper. This means that a woman is not a supporter of a man but a soldier of the same level as a man. It is a very interesting interpretation for me. Although I still believe that God made women as a helper of men, I understand that the Bible does not disgrace women, and men must not disgrace women. For example, “ezer” is also used for God in the Old Testament. If men disgrace women due to the word “ezer,” they must disgrace God, too. I believe that women are respectable, and they have different roles from men. Above all, I realized that I have to fight against the Christians who discriminate against women by using the Bible verse or church authority. Just as Jesus defeated the Pharisees, who used badly the Bible verses, the movement of the biblical #MeToo stories can defeat the corrupted churches and bring true peace.
#MeToo story in Japan
In Japan, where I lived, the movement is not popular, and the discrimination against women remains strongly although the circumstances for women are beginning to improve recently. According to the World Economic Forum’s global gender equality rankings for 2018, Japan is 110th in 149 countries in the world. For instance, people in Japan often hear the bad news of sexual harassment on TV, which especially happens in workplaces. Also, groping on a train is happening a lot in Japan, too. However, many Japanese women put up with the harassing without saying anything. In fact, some brave women who disclosed sexual harassment were labeled with bad reputations by other people. It will take more time for Japanese to accept the #MeToo movement.
Overlooking sexual abuse caused by wrong thoughts is based on “male-dominated society,” which is derived from patriarchal culture and a Japanese traditional concept: “Kenka ryoseibai.” “Kenka ryoseibai” means that when people have a problem, both parties have bad causes. In other words, it means “In a quarrel, both parties are to blame,” and “It takes two to tango.” Thus, some people think that not only the male assailant but also the female victims have a problem. Similarly, the children of the bullying victims are scolded by teachers, and the victims involved in certain affairs by terrorists are also blamed by mass media. Therefore, in the case of sexual harassment, social recognition against harassment is still weak, and many men still cannot understand the severity of sexual harassment in Japan.
In the past, I did not understand the importance of the sexual abuse problem, either. To protect myself from any false charge related to sexual abuse as a man, I followed many helpful precautions I heard when I was a graduate student. For example, I must not take the elevator if only one woman takes the same elevator. Plus, I have to keep opening the door of the room if only one woman is in the same room. Additionally, when I take a crowded train, I ought to keep putting my hands up in order not to be suspected as a groper. Some people recommended me putting a gay men’s magazine in my bag to exhibit indifference toward women. Thus, I was interested in just how to protect myself from sexual abuse problems, but I was not interested in women who received sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, in Japan people treat women badly who suffer sexual abuse—they regard them as defiled and sinful. Few people protect them in Japanese society. For example, according to a certain woman who suffered sexual abuse, she had to explain in the details to a man in the hospital and the police station, although they were not cooperative. Moreover, she had to fight with the assailant in court, and her family and she were frightened against bad reputations and threats every day. Some women were encouraged by the movement of #MeToo, but Japanese society did not accept it. Many women cannot disclose their #MeToo story because they do not want to be treated by others as a dirty woman. The reason for the underestimation of #MeToo is due to the patriarchal cultural background like many other countries, so the Japanese society is still based on the discrimination of women.
#MeToo story in my future ministry
The #MeToo movement should be expanded biblically. It is because humans are not worthy to trust. Unfortunately, even pastors and churches focus on protecting themselves rather than helping victims. It does not mean that all churches are doubtful, but it is difficult to discern the difference between a good church and a bad church. Consequently, secular people are not trustworthy to trust in, either. All men, including pastors, should know that every man has the possibility to be voluntarily or involuntarily the sexual abuser like David, so what people can depend on is only the Bible. Therefore, they ought to keep the Bathsheba story in their minds. Believers should not blindly trust a pastor because they should trust in the Bible rather than human pastors, as I mentioned above.
Finally, after I graduate from the seminary, I will come back to Japan as a pastor or missionary. When I preach the gospel at church, I would like to teach believers about sexual abuse problems in both the Bible and in current churches and society. I should not forget the importance of openness in ministry. I also have to be punished by God if I sin before God. Even if I have to quit my ministry, I would like to disclose everything because our God is the righteous God. I believe no one can hide anything before God, although they can hide the truth from people until the end. I would like to support the biblical movement of #MeToo so that people in Japan will believe in God through the movement. I hope that God uses the Bible’s #MeToo stories to have a big impact on people who underestimate sexual abuse, just as David realized the bigness of his sin and repented before God when confronted by the Prophet Nathan.
Hagar’s experience is a #MeToo story hiding in plain sight. Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian servant, is given to Abram as a solution to Sarai’s infertility. After laying with Abram, Hagar conceives. But instead of rejoicing over the success of her ploy, Sarai takes offense because Hagar, knowing she conceived, looked with contempt on [Sarai] (Gen 16:4).Then Abram, wanting to wash his hands of the situation, charges Sarai to do to [Hagar] as you please (v6b). We are told simply that Sarai deals harshly with her servant and Hagar flees. In short, Hagar’s body is used for reproduction and then cast out, along with her unborn child, when Sarai reckons with the consequences of her own choices.
As horrifying as the details are, they often fail to color the common portrayal of Abraham and Sarah. Father Abraham is often sung without so much as a wince or a shudder. No doubt, we’re quick to point out that Abraham and Sarah are flawed. But this is usually demonstrated by pointing to Abram’s lies about Sarai being his sister. We also mention with a kind of knowing fondness Sarah’s laughter upon overhearing the three visitors tell Abraham that she will conceive in her old age. Typically, their story then moves on to the covenant, Abraham’s intervention for Sodom, climaxing in his amazing faith in presenting his son as a sacrifice. To be sure, these are powerful moments of faith and important points in redemptive history. I am not suggesting we should vilify Abram or Sarai, only that we can easily overlook Hagar because we need Abraham and Sarah for something else. We need their story free from the stain of a #MeToo kind of sin.
But we should be cautious anytime we find a biblical narrative has been censored or unsavory parts hidden away. Not because the current #MeToo movement should compel Christians to reread the scripture with an eye only on abuse, but because a reading of the Bible that excludes the significance of such moments makes us complicit with Abram and Sarai’s abuse of power in this story. Consider how Sarai crafts a false narrative to justify her actions: Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children (v2).
Abram does nothing to push back against this and so enters into an agreement with Sarai. Indeed, this is one simple way of explaining the premise for all abuses of power: What I do is justified because my needs are greater than the needs of another. Abram and Sarai further abuse their power by shifting the narrative after Hagar conceives, accomplishing exactly what she’s asked. Sarai uses her position to shift Hagar’s reality: It is not just that I wanted you to conceive a child for us, I also wanted you conduct yourself in such a way that wouldn’t make me feel bad about my lack of faith and poor choices. Abram is again complicit by remaining silent. What is remarkable about their blindness to their own sin is that by driving Hagar out of their midst they are disowning themselves. Remember, as far as they know their only descendant is now cut off from their household. They lied to themselves to get what they wanted and then, caught in the darkness of that lie, cast out the very thing they hoped for.
There are several instructive points here for pastors and leaders in the church.
First, it is important to see such moments as more than mere hiccups along the road of redemptive history. Rather, we should see them as woven into the narrative as a warning for the church about the deceptive nature of the human heart. God has not/is not doing ______, therefore I will _____ is a pattern we must be on guard for. The scriptures don’t bury this story, it right at the doorstep of the Bible. This is a challenge to pursue asking questions that may at first appear risky: Who are the victims of sin in the biblical narrative? Are we overlooking any of them for the sake of a more familiar story we want to tell? Do I take the time to specifically name the sins of the biblical characters?
Second, more than just asking new kinds of questions, church leaders may need to notice that our tendency to glaze less palatable portions of scripture is instructive for how we view and shepherd our congregations. Seeing this in myself caused me to wonder where I am blind to needs that are right in front of me. It brings the question: Is my congregation a place where victims feel safe to speak up? If my reading and study of scripture tends to silence the voices of victims and generalize sin, then surely my pastoral leadership may do the same.
Third, related to the second, it is important to teach out of the scriptures with specificity. Just as we say generally that Abraham was “flawed” or a “sinner”, we are prone to do the same with one another. In fact, sometimes we sort of laugh off our sin. Don’t get me wrong, there is something healthy and grace oriented about not taking ourselves too seriously. But this should be carefully balanced with vigilance about naming and unmasking specific sin. Abraham and Sarah didn’t mistreat Hagar out of their understandable distress, no, they conspired together to abuse her out of a lack of faith. This proper naming turns the specific words back to our own hearts: Where is abuse happening in our midst? Where do we see temptation to abuse power to satisfy our own appetites and agendas? Who am I conspiring with to manipulate a situation I’m unhappy with?
Fourth, and finally, it is important to not miss the consequences of sin in this story. Hagar’s son Ishmael is born into a life shaped by the sins of others. Again, sin needs to be named and seen in the catastrophe it brings. Our personal sins impact the community. Knowing this rightly raises the stakes for church leaders and forces me to a confession: I can’t fix the problem of sin. The notion that I can is dangerous for many reasons, pertinent here is that if sin can be neatly contained and cleaned up after, then it is far easier to feel a sense of false security in the midst of the wolves of our own hearts.
“Women’s story is there [in the Bible] written large, though it may be hidden in the text, and finding it might be like digging for gold.” ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Rabbi Julia Neuberger
In the early days of my quest to understand the Bible’s message for women, I came across this hope-filled statement from Rabbi Neuberger. Her words gave me added incentive to keep digging. Turns out, she was right.
It may not have occurred to you, but there are #MeToo stories in the Bible. Recent events have exposed the urgency to hear from this neglected category of women in the Bible. Their #MeToo stories make us uncomfortable and often carry an R-rating. Women in these disturbing biblical narratives have been labeled “sinful women” or “temptresses.” We often overlook their stories completely, blame them for what happens, minimize or ignore their suffering, or simply turn our attention to the more significant men in their stories. The end result is that we fail to benefit from a vital resource from which biblical writers intended to instruct us.
As Walter Brueggemann writes in his foreword to Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror:
“What now surfaces is the history, consciousness, and cry of the victim, who in each case is shown to be a character of worth and dignity in the narrative. Heretofore, each has been regarded as simply an incidental prop for a drama about other matters. . . . The presumed prop turns out to be a character of genuine interest, warranting our attention. And we are left to ask why our methods have reduced such characters so that they have been lost to the story.”
These #MeToo stories are instructive at multiple levels and are never more important than now. It’s worth asking, where would we be now in the midst of the #MeToo/#ChurchToo crisis if we’d paid attention to these stories right in front of us and pondered the truth they reveal?
How and why has her #MeToo story been minimized and/or overlooked?
How does the abuse of power play a role?
How is her story an important resource in helping pastors and ministry leaders understand, raise awareness, and address #MeToo/#ChurchToo in your ministry context?
How could you employ her story to confront the #MeToo/#ChurchToo in your ministry context?
Student papers were powerful, honest, and often heartbreaking. Many students admitted this was the first time they’d considered these biblical narratives as accounts of #MeToo abuses against women. Their papers often reflected the newness of this perspective and their efforts to probe the implications for their own ministries.
After the holidays, I planned to post a few of these papers on my blog.
Then came 2020—the coronavirus pandemic and one of the most tumultuous national elections in U.S. history. These developments largely eclipsed but didn’t prevent more #MeToo/#ChurchToo scandals from surfacing. In fact, warnings have come from different leaders (including President Biden) that during Covid-19, domestic violence and abuse have increased.
So this week, I’m posting three student papers. I do this, not to endorse their interpretations, but for readers to see how three very different individuals have begun to re-see these narratives through a different lens. Not only do we owe this level of study to begin telling the truth about the women themselves and how they were sexually violated, we need these ancient stories now more than ever to help us confront the ongoing 21st century sexual abuse #MeToo/#ChurchToo crisis.
We all have a lot more digging to do to unearth the gold these stories hold.
Yesterday, we re-witnessed—in more horrifying detail—the brutal violence of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It was worse than we thought, yet mercifully and thanks to Capitol Police not as bad as it might have been. It was yet another painful reminder of the deep divides in our country and the question of how or if effective bridges can be built.
“. . . the inbreaking kingdom Jesus was announcing created a new world, a new context, and he was challenging his hearers to become the new people that this new context demanded, the citizens of this new world. . . .
The work of the kingdom is in fact summed up pretty well in the beatitudes. Blessed are the poor, the mourners, the meek, those hungering for justice, the merciful, the pure-hearted peacemakers, and the persecuted. These people are not only blessed, but more than that, even in their vulnerability and weakness, they are the ones precisely through whom Jesus intends to transform the world. When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t launch missiles. Instead, he sends in the meek, the mourners, and the merciful. When God wants to put things to right, he doesn’t scramble combat jets; he calls people to love and do justice. Through those kinds of people the blessings of God’s reign begin to appear in the world.”
—————————————————N.T. Wright and Michael Bird
This isn’t religious escapism, but a counter-cultural path forward that reflects the kingdom of God and the teachings of Jesus that he embodied and calls us to follow.
If you haven’t already heard of this incredible New Testament survey with its rich re-centering on Jesus, I encourage you to check it out. The book is big—5 pounds in all. Some Amazon reviewers are complaining about that. But I have a different opinion. I’m reading a couple of pages at a time, already knowing that when I reach the final page, I’m going to be sorry it isn’t longer.
So if your tank is low on hope these days, let Wright and Bird fill you up with the earth-shaking good news of Jesus’ kingdom and your own summons to follow him!