“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.
Meanwhile I’m still digging.
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?
At Missio Theological Seminary’s November 2019 seminar, “Confronting the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Crisis,” I asked students to write a paper on one of these four #MeToo narratives—Hagar, Bathsheba, King David’s daughter Tamar, or Esther—evaluating her #MeToo story with these five questions:
- What makes this narrative a #MeToo story?
- 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.
Tuesday: #MeToo Story 1: Hagar by Josh Macha
Wednesday: #MeToo Story 2: Bathsheba by Yeohan Ko
Thursday: #MeToo Story 3: King David’s Daughter Tamar
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––by Amy Lineburg Knöttner