#MeToo and #HeToo—Holding Abusers Accountable is Good for Them

#metoo

Current events have a way of shedding fresh light on ancient biblical texts.

The steady stream of sexual assault allegations currently dominating the news has cast a blazing beam of light on an ancient biblical text I’ve been working on for years[1]—the story of the patriarch Judah and his Canaanite daughter-in-law Tamar who posed as a prostitute to lure Judah into impregnating her (Genesis 38). It’s the R-rated story pastors often skip as inappropriate for a G-audience and devoid of any theological or spiritual application.

Today, women are generating light by bravely speaking out about sexual assault and harassment they’ve suffered. Fears of reprisals and public humiliation that have kept them silent for decades are no longer holding them back. Silent no more, #MeToo and #ChurchToo tweets and public accusations of sexual misconduct are targeting powerful men once thought unassailable.

When multiple allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein were taken seriously, it unleashed a storm of allegations implicating such public figures as Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, comedian Louis C.K., Senator Al Franken, and journalists Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose, to name a few.

Female survivors have new credibility—especially when multiple accusers raise allegations against a single man. Growing numbers of influential leaders are saying, “I believe the women.”

As Eugene Robinson observed in the Washington Post,

“Virtually overnight, the paradigm for thinking about and dealing with sexual harassment has changed. A kind of Judgment Day has arrived for men who thought they had gotten away with their misdeeds.”

Now Roy Moore is fighting for his political survival against rising opposition within his own party. Both Halperin and Rose (among a slew of other men) have lost their jobs, their stature, and their careers, with more to come. Fair to say, the uproar has resurfaced the dozen-plus allegations against Donald Trump, who so far (and despite his own recorded admission) has managed to dodge the kinds of consequences other men are facing.

These scandals have me looking again at the Tamar/Judah story and what happens when a woman summons the courage to speak up and a man finds himself in the crosshairs of a sexual allegation.

The Past Speaks to the Present

The Judah/Tamar narrative won’t make sense unless we delve into patriarchal practices that are utterly foreign to our western, egalitarian culture—practices that drive the action of the narrative.

Under patriarchy, family survival depended on producing at least one son to perpetuate the family for another generation. The worst calamity in the ancient world was for a man to die without a male heir. That was the crisis Judah’s family faced when his two older sons (Tamar’s sequential husbands) died without producing sons. The remedy according to patriarchal culture (later formalized in Mosaic Law) was for the surviving brother to marry the widow and father a son to take his dead brother’s place on the family tree, as well as the dead man’s inheritance. According to ancient Hittite and Assyrian laws a father-in-law was permitted to marry his son’s widow if no brother fulfilled the family duty.[2]

The twice-widowed Tamar must be viewed within the obligation (a matter of family honor) to rescue her two dead husbands from extinction, which she does by delivering male twins. Although some readers will find this hard to swallow, scholar Bruce Waltke rightly describes Tamar as “a heroine in Israel because she risks her life for family fidelity.”[3]

Although the details of the Tamar/Judah story differ vastly from the current scandals, their story and today’s scandals converge in the perilous moment when an accuser confronts the accused.

Accountability and Redemption

That critical moment in the Tamar/Judah story could have produced an ancient version of the typical “he said/she said” scenario, where Judah met Tamar’s accusations with vehement denials and his Canaanite buddies rallied to his side. Besides, since patriarchy empowered and privileged men over women, no one would take her word over his.

But Tamar came armed with hard evidence (Judah’s seal, cord, and staff) to prove he was the man by whom she was pregnant.

Instead of the common indignant flurry of denials and attempts to deflect blame to his accuser, something radically different happens here. Judah’s encounter with Tamar becomes the watershed moment for him—the moment when the prodigal looks in the mirror, sees the man he has become, and comes to his senses. Judah acknowledges the truth, condemns himself, and vindicates his daughter-in-law.[4]

“She is righteous. I am not.”

This is precisely the kind of decisive moment every man accused of sexual misconduct so far has faced. Judah’s example teaches that facing the truth about himself and his behavior leads to redemption. The Judah we meet in subsequent chapters is a changed man. He bears no resemblance to the dark, angry, sinister figure who trafficked his own brother as a slave and whose vulnerability to Tamar’s scheme revealed a lot about his character. Judah is transformed. He embodies the gospel brand of masculinity that Jesus came to restore.

Evangelical leaders—like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and James Dobson—who rush to defend men—like Donald Trump and Roy Moore—who are caught in the crosshairs of allegations of sexual misconduct aren’t doing those men any favors. They may instead be getting in the way of a situation that holds redemptive potential for the men accused, a crucial predicament intended to rescue them from themselves—men who at present are spewing defiant denials, slandering and insulting their accusers, and claiming they’re the real victims. Furthermore, by defending these men, evangelical leaders are abdicating the prophetic role Jesus actually calls his followers to fulfill by speaking truth to power. In the end, they are actually harming the very men they intend to help.

#MeToo stories aren’t actually so new. They are ezer-warrior stories that are as important today as the moment Tamar stood up to Judah and exposed his truth. Holding these men accountable could actually create an opportunity for redemption for misbehaving men. In the words of Jesus, “The truth will set you free.”

This ancient R-rated biblical story sheds fresh light on current events, reminding us that holding abusers accountable is good for them.


Notes:
[1]For further reading: “Missing in Action—Tamar” in Lost Women of the Bible, “The Father Wound” in Malestrom, and “Tamar: The Righteous Prostitute” in Vindicating the Vixens.
[2]Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 511-512.
[3]Ibid., 513-514.
[4]Several translations [NIV, NKJV, ASV, ESV] depict a chastened Judah making a comparative statement, “She is more righteous than I” (38:26, emphasis added). However, given Judah’s history, it strains credulity to imagine him exonerating himself as “righteous,” when Tamar has publically exposed him as a hypocrite and a solicitor of prostitution. Gordon Wenham’s translation reveals an absolute contrast: “She is in the right, not I” [Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16–50, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1994), 364]. Waltke, agrees, translating “She is righteous, not I.” [Waltke, 513].

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Reason to Always Be Thankful

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Postcard from the Malestrom

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In view of the current avalanche of sexual harassment and abuse allegations—implicating men from Hollywood to Congress (both sides of the aisle) to Silicon Valley to the Oval Office to the church—Christians have to get honest. We need to ask ourselves some serious questions.

What does it mean to be a Christian man in this crazy cultural moment? How do Christian brothers respond to this sexual abuse epidemic against women? The best place to start this conversation is in Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World.

The foreward (below) that I wrote for Malestrom is worth repeating here.

FAJ


Consider this foreword a postcard from the malestrom.

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As one born and bred in the malestrom, I know what it feeds on and how it breeds. I know from firsthand experience the father wound (see Carolyn’s chapter on this) that burden so many males. Without good role models, we flounder as young men and sometimes embrace a cultural vision of manhood that bears little resemblance to Jesus. I also know from my own life experiences that even as men pursue the various culturally defined visions of manhood, it is often accompanied by a gnawing sense within us (the imago Dei) that there is something not quite right about our behaviors and attitudes—the constant jousting for superiority, the artificial machismo, the domineering bravado, the denigration of the weaker males, and the sexualizing of women that shapes so much of male conversation.

The truth is that the malestrom produces schizophrenic males. We present to the world one version of ourselves for external consumption. We hide the true self with its wounds and vulnerabilities. Sometimes we bury the authentic self so deeply that it surfaces only when lubricated by alcohol or drugs. This schizophrenic maleness proliferates in our homes, locker rooms, movie theaters, magazines, blogs, and to our shame, our pulpits, Sunday school classes, and campus ministries. And yes, it is alive and well in our evangelical seminaries.

As a historian, I have taken a sacred vow to tell the truth even when it is painful. A few days from now I will lecture on church history and, although it grieves me to say it, far too much of our history is fraught with male aggression against various opponents—often fellow Christians. I will have to tell the story of the brutality of the crusades, the pogroms against the Jews, the Salem witch trials, the wars of religion, the marginalization of our sisters, the advocacy of slavery, and the internal power struggles that scar our story. If I am honest, I must confess that men have taken the lead role in this history of the church. Admittedly, this is not a comfortable story to tell, nor is it pleasant to see the face of a student at the moment of awful recognition that this is our story.

It might be argued that, in a broad sense, church history is essentially the struggle of what it means to be a Christian man. To be sure, most Christian men do not expresses their manhood through acts of physical violence, but that is not to say there is not an intense internal conflict between their Christian ideals and the cultural conceptions of manhood.

The fall of Adam is worse than we imagined. Theologians are skilled at giving abstract and dispassionate theological analyses of the fall. Carolyn’s book reminds us that the malestrom and its impact on males is never a mere abstraction. The malestrom is the ugly consequence of the fall for the male species.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of reading drafts of Carolyn’s books, and inevitably there are poignant moments that bring me to tears. Not so with this book. The overwhelming emotion in reading this book was a mixture of sadness and apprehension. My sadness is that the life and teaching of Jesus seem to have been missed for so long. Part of the power of the malestrom is that it obscures our reading of the biblical text and so our pulpits promulgate unhealthy notions of manhood.

My apprehension is derived from the anxiety that escape from this cultural captivity of manhood will not come easily. Jesus’ own disciples demonstrate the difficulty. Blinded by the malestrom, they failed to grasp that Rabbi Jesus was inaugurating a new kingdom—not of this world. It was not a kingdom that engages in violence to overthrow the brutish Roman government nor was it a hierarchical kingdom of superiors and inferiors. It was a kingdom of grace, mercy, and humility. This new kingdom of Jesus is comprised of those who turn the other cheek and where the last is first. This new kingdom is to be populated with a new kind of male, the kind of male who comes to life in Carolyn’s book. These men resist the malestrom and give us a new vision of manhood for this new kingdom. My sadness and apprehension remain, but they are tempered by hope and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

I confess that I have a vested interest in seeing Carolyn’s book read widely by both women and men. She is an insightful guide to steer us through our cultural blind spots to see what has been there all the time: a Bible that rejects patriarchy for the distortion that it is. I can speak with some authority about Carolyn’s extraordinary insight because I have been its first beneficiary.

Frank A. James III
President and Professor of Historical Theology
Biblical Theological Seminary


Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World

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The Many Faces of Martin Luther

91jtsEDR+TL“Brilliant, tormented, passionate, scatological, superstitious, devious, loyal, bitter—pick an adjective, good or bad, and it invariably applies to the German reformer Martin Luther at one time or another in his turbulent life. . . . The towering figure who changed the course of Western civilization also had feet of clay. That is one reason why, 500 years later, we continue to find Luther captivating. . . .

As a Reformation scholar, I too find myself returning again and again to Luther, both for amusement and insight. I am not sure my ego could have survived the scathing rebukes he dished out to some of his closest friends. The truth is many of his friends learned to bite their tongues, or else they became his enemies. It was indeed difficult to stand in the presence of what his closest ally, Philip Melanchthon, described as a ‘militant temperament’ and a ‘cocky self-righteousness.’ Luther was a raging fire.”                 —Frank A. James III

So begins my scholar husband’s review of Herman Selderhius’s excellent new biography, Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography.

Frank’s review, titled “The Many Faces of Martin Luther,” alerts prospective readers that truly understanding Luther will undoubtedly require some readjustments (especially for those inclined toward hero worship of the reformers).

“Herman Selderhuis’s biography proves that just about every adjective, good or bad, can apply to the great reformer.”

While there are few reformation scholars to equal Dr. Selderhuis, and his work reflects superb scholarship and analysis, he wrote this book for a general audience. And for the record, he could hardly have chosen a more colorful and entertaining subject than Luther.

Read the whole review here.

Then take a look inside the book and order a copy here.

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Herman Selderhuis

 

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Stan the Man!

stan_gundryIt was one of those moments I will never forget. I was at a Synergy conference when I asked a roomful of Synergy women how many of them were involved in ministry because of the advocacy of a man.

Nearly every woman in the room raised her hand.

I have no doubt that most every raised hand represented more than one man. That is certainly true for me. Of course, it is no secret that my husband has opened doors for me (and often shoved me through the opening).

It is also true that I am indebted for my writing career to Stan Gundry.

In 1998, Stan (Zondervan’s Editor-in-Chief) was on campus at Reformed Theological Seminary/Orlando where Frank was a professor. Stan was there in search of prospective authors among the faculty. When the two of them met, Frank (ever the CCJ promoter) mentioned that Stan might be interested in work I was doing. Frank came home with an invitation in hand for me to submit a book proposal to Stan.

When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference was the ultimate outcome of that proposal, but it didn’t come without a fight. I wanted to write about the importance of theology for women. But this was not the kind of book publishers were typically releasing for women.

Stan, already a staunch advocate for women, was unflinching in his support from the beginning. He was also realistic about the challenges involved in getting a contract. For me, the process involved a rejection letter from a male editor, a follow-up conversation with Stan who nudged that editor to give my proposal another look, and getting through the final jury—an all male publishing board.

From the start, I had two strikes against me. First, that I didn’t have a large audience, and second, that the men on the publishing committee didn’t think women would buy a book about theology—what they called the “dreaded T-word.”

What tipped the scales for me was a pile of impassioned letters from women who wrote to tell Zondervan that they wanted serious theological books. Later, I learned that Stan finally told the Pub Board “Maybe we should trust the ladies on this one.”

I couldn’t have imagined a better advocate!

He didn’t stop there. He befriended, mentored, and coached me every step of the way. He is always checking to make sure his team is treating me well—which I’m happy to say they always are.

I know I’m not the only one who loves and thanks God for this wonderful man. His ears should have been burning recently when I was at Moody Bible Institute, where earlier in his career he was a theology professor. One of the current professors, Dr. Pamela MacRae, told me that he was her favorite theology professor.

Today, November 16, at the Evangelical Theological Society, Zondervan unveiled a new book—a Festschrift—in Stan’s honor:  Evangelical Scholarship, Retrospects and Prospects: Essays in Honor of Stanley N. Gundry. (If you don’t know what a Festschrift is, you have a new word to Google. Look it up! It’s a huge honor.) It was a total surprise to Stan—and no small feat on the part of Katya Covrett and company to pull off the covert publication of a Zondervan book under the ever watchful eye of the vigilant Editor-in-Chief who was totally surprised.

Frank and I were privileged to contribute a chapter, “The Blessed Alliance—Already and Not Yet.” I’ve experienced that Blessed Alliance in my friendship with Stan—the Blessed Alliance reflected when  countless female hands went up at that Synergy Conference.

Stan, you are the man—a kind a gracious man!  Many thanks and congratulations!

evangelical scholarship

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Something to ponder . . .

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“The small nuances of our day-to-day attitudes, acts, and words brought to their final fruition, turn out to be the stuff that heaven and hell are made of. . . . Every attitude, act, and word of ours partakes, alas, of either charity or egoism. Nothing is quite neutral. (We cannot read the prophets or the Sermon on the Mount without becoming alarmed over this.) Charity is what heaven is made of, and egoism is what hell is made of. One way or another, I am becoming more and more at home in one or the other. . . . The whole conflict of heaven and hell crops up at our elbow a thousand times a day. Everything in our experience seems to carry an enormous weight or significance.”

—Professor Thomas Howard, “Heaven and Hell Under Every Bush.”

To read more: “The Seismic Implications of #MeToo”

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Why Vindicating the Vixens Matters

FullSizeRenderA week from now (November 15-17 to be precise) the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) will gather for the 69th time. This year’s conference (held at Providence, Rhode Island) will be my first venture into an organization that for most of those 69 years been predominately the domain of white male evangelical biblical and theological scholars.

I’ll be attending on a non-member guest pass so I can participate on a panel moderated by Dr. Sandra Glahn. Sandi is editor of a new book, Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women in the Bible, that is being released for the first time at the ETS conference.

The panel consists of authors (both women and men) who contributed chapters to this important book. Each of us took up a biblical narrative of a woman in the Bible who has historically been interpreted in ways that reinforce the long-held conviction that women aren’t safe or that women who occupy leadership roles are aberrations. They don’t count as role models for the rest of us because women aren’t supposed to be leaders. The book features well-known names such as Eve, Tamar, Rahab, Deborah, Bathsheba, Huldah, Mary Magdalene, and Junia. I wrote the chapter titled “Tamar—The Righteous Prostitute.”

The immediate objective is to recover these narratives through solid scholarship and careful re-examination of these women within the ancient patriarchal cultural context. Sentences passed on these women generations ago deserve another look.

The long-range objective, however, hits closer to home.

Misinterpreting these narratives comes at a high cost today, not only for women and girls, but for the whole church and for the mission Jesus entrusted to us. Both women and men are impacted by these negative portrayals. Not only do they project a false view of women as inherent hindrances instead of indispensable allies for God’s purposes, they create suspicion and barriers between God’s sons and daughters when he created us to be a united force (that is to say, a Blessed Alliance) for his kingdom. This weakens the church by inclining women to hold back and depriving men of the strengths and gifts they need from their sisters.

That’s merely the harm done inside the church. It doesn’t address the negative, unwelcoming message this conveys to those we long to reach with the gospel.

The Roots of Vilifying Women in the Bible

Negative views of women come with a long history. The problem started early—at the fall—when Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam. Outside of Eden, patriarchy placed women on lower rungs of the social ladder by establishing the rule of men over women.

Both Jesus and Paul dismantled the temptress phobia of women in ways that defied and shocked their patriarchal culture. Jesus’ habitual interactions with women were counter-cultural, and Paul didn’t blink when the Holy Spirit sent him to plant the first church in Europe with a team of believing women (Acts 16:9-40). Paul later paid tribute to those founding mothers of the Philippian church in a letter that opened with,

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-4, emphasis added).

Evidently, the Early Church Fathers didn’t read the text carefully or simply found the downward pull of cultural values hard to resist. Instead of following Jesus and Paul’s lead, they reinforced prevailing negative views women with appalling statements (see, “The Pigtails that Sparked a Revolution”).

Tertullian applied the temptress label to every female and underscored the superiority of men when he wrote,

“Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die.”

The combined force of negative cultural views of women in every culture and negative statements of church fathers has impacted current thinking whether the acceptance of such thinking is involuntary or intentional. The resulting convictions make it hard to avoid viewing and interpreting biblical texts involving women through that cultural lens.

The Ripple Effect in the Present

Negative views of women—even kinder-gentler versions—continue to impact the present. Most importantly, patriarchy creates barriers between men and women that hinder God’s mission. But there are other serious consequences.

Maybe we should be asking how these views influence situations when women or girls in the church come forward with #MeToo stories or to seek protection from domestic abuse. Why is the first question all too frequently, “What were you wearing?” Or why do church leaders so often send wives back into harm’s way with instructions to “Try to be more submissive?”

Thankfully, that doesn’t happen every time. Growing numbers of Christian men have a high regard for women and won’t tolerate their mistreatment. Still, this new book is a significant effort to rethink dynamics in Christian circles. With such a long history and deeply held pejorative views of women, we have our work cut out for us.

My mission on this panel is to give a faithful portrait of Tamar—a woman whose unfortunate “claim to fame” is the fact that she posed as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law, Judah. With the cultural context clearly in view, we will find that the real Tamar was a hero.

I’ll have twenty minutes to pull this off. The clock will be ticking. Generations of patriarchal commentaries have been given hermeneutical priority. But, as Jesus said: “the truth will set you free.”

For further reading:

“The Fab Four”
“The Seismic Implications of #MeToo”
Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew
Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women

 

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