Pushing for Lasting Change!

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The #MeToo movement that began when a few brave Silence Breakers went public with allegations of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace has, at the moment, captured a lot of public attention. Just last week, Oprah sounded an optimistic note as she envisioned a new day “when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.” . . .

If, as Christians, we hope to have any moral credibility in the battle against violence of any kind against women and girls, we need . . . to look honestly at ways the church unwittingly sends subliminal messages that a woman’s testimony doesn’t rise to the same level as a man’s. We need to ask ourselves, why when sexual immorality occurs in a biblical narrative, the default reaction is to blame the woman and forgive or excuse the man.

To read the rest go to ElisaMorgan.com 


For further reading:

Join the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual Campaign–a call to action for the Church to stop standing by and start standing up for women and girls who experience violence.

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“All of God’s children!”

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For all of his great rhetorical flourishes, the phrase that comes to mind as we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. this next week, is his oft repeated refrain about “all God’s children.” He famously declared:

“I have a dream … when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”

Dr. King reminds us that we are God’s children, echoing St. John: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (I John 3:1) As children of God, we bear a resemblance to our Father. That is just another way of declaring the age-old doctrine that all of us, Christian and non-Christian, are created in God’s image. At the very least the imago Dei means that each and every one of us is endowed with dignity, equality and significance. Being an image-bearer is what ultimately defines our essence as human beings, and especially for followers of Christ, bearing His image identifies our mission in this world.

The Gospel of Jesus calls us to live on a different plane of existence: “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly before God.”(Micah 6:8) Martin Luther King’s words are more relevant than ever in a nation increasingly divided by scatology, vitriol, misogyny and racism.

And all God’s children say AMEN!

Frank A. James III, DPhil, PhD
President and Professor of Historical Theology


Originally published at Biblical Theological Seminary

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The Silence Breakers: A Kairos Moment for the Church

silence-breakersWhen TIME named The Silence Breakers as the 2017 Person of the Year, blogger John Pavlovitz hailed it as “one of those explosive bursts of hope. . . like the planet finally getting it right; a welcome rain of rightness to a place so parched for it.”

I couldn’t agree more.

TIME’s announcement resoundingly affirms brave female voices everywhere, as women face down fears to end their silence, name their abusers, and stick to their stories. As the article observed, women have “had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along.”

The first women to break their silence not only brought down some of the biggest names in Hollywood, politics, the media, and technology, they paved the way for millions of other women to tell their stories. And they did. A tsunami of #MeToo tweets revealed a cultural crisis of epidemic proportions that can no longer be ignored. Silence Breakers have put abusers on notice that they can no longer count on their crimes against women remaining secret.

A flood of #ChurchToo tweets followed, exposing a pervasive unchecked problem within the church and other Christian organizations.

Silence Breakers in the Church

Tragically, this crisis has been brewing for generations in the American evangelical church. We’ve been hearing #MeToo stories here and there—whispered in the shadows of big steeple churches, revealed in painful phone calls and emails of despair. It has taken much too long for the truth to break out in the open. Women of faith are recognizing the opportunity—indeed their responsibility—to seize the moment. They are doing exactly that.

Over 100 evangelical women leaders launched the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual campaign calling pastors, elders, and parishioners to seize this “kairos moment—a window of opportunity to bring healing in the world and in the church” by working to bring an end to every form of violence against women globally. According to our Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Women and Girls statement (which thousands have already signed), “This moment in history is ours to steward.”

As with any epidemic, the most urgent task is to address these violations against women that have already happened. Raising awareness within the faith community is not an end in itself. It necessarily means offering safe haven where victims can safely find help and healing. It also compels leaders to hold perpetrators accountable and to seek the expertise of counseling and law enforcement professionals in dealing with allegations of abuse and violence.

But without investigating and addressing the sources of the problem, our efforts will fall short and the epidemic will persist. In good conscience, we cannot adequately address this epidemic without exploring causative factors that increase female vulnerability and allow for such violations against women to occur in the first place. Otherwise, we are fighting a losing battle. We must take preventative action too.

Those Ubiquitous S-Words

Rachel Simmons, author of Enough As She Is, put her finger on a major contributing factor when she wrote, “Women have been taught, by every cultural force imaginable, that we must be ‘nice’ and quiet’ and ‘polite,’ that we must protect others’ feelings before our own. That we are there for other’s pleasure.”

The same kind of social messaging for women intensifies in the church, reinforced by the claim that the Bible supports it.

We are not taught to be strong and courageous (even though that is the Apostle Paul’s message for us). We aren’t urged to develop the kind of backbone needed in awkward situations with the opposite sex. We aren’t conditioned to be decisive and proactive. Instead, “silence” and “submission” are all too often the church’s watchwords for women and girls. When it comes to messages targeting women and girls in the church, we hear more about these two words than anything else, and both put us at risk.

These S-words cultivate and spiritualize passivity, dependency, self-doubt, and deference to men as a woman’s godly first response. Yes, both words appear in the Bible and both appear with reference to women. Yet both words take on deeper, more radical meaning when Jesus’ gospel redefines them.

The so-called “silencing of women” becomes a distortion when interpreted as a ban on the female voice. It ignores other biblical texts that validate the female voice as an indispensible source of theological instruction for all believers. How anemic would Christian theology be without the theological voices of Hagar, Deborah, Hannah, or Mary of Nazareth? The strongest affirmation of the female voice came from Jesus who charged his female disciples with proclaiming his resurrection and rebuked his male disciples for refusing to believe them.

Submission in the Bible is a universal call to all believers—both male and female—that ultimately points to Jesus. His brand of submission isn’t an event. It is a lifestyle of sacrifice for the good of others. It isn’t an expression of weakness or concession, but an act of love, strength, conviction, and commitment to do his Father’s will.

Church teaching on female submission has young women in serious dating relationships at Christian colleges wondering “When do I start submitting?” It vexed the academic dean at a leading Christian college who observed male students “looking for submissive women,” instead of valuing women for the strengths and wisdom a man needs from his wife. It caused one Christian father to contemplate training his energetic and gifted daughters “to be more compliant.”

How dangerous is that!?

May it never be said that we let the Silence Breakers down by remaining silent ourselves and moving on without tackling this destructive crisis of violence. Let it never be said that we settled for superficial solutions and failed to get to the bottom of this epidemic.

May we steward this kairos moment to bring healing in the world and in the church and “a welcome rain of rightness to a place so parched for it.”


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More on #SilenceIsNotSpiritual:

More on #MeToo:

More on Submission:

Resources that lead women and girls to be strong and courageous:

This article was first published at Missio Alliance.

It was also published at Huffington Post.

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

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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.

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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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