Pursuing the Pilgrim Principle

One of the books I’m reading at the moment is Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s A New Gospel for Women: Katherine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism.

Professor of History and Gender at Calvin College, Dr. Du Mez wrote this book before her latest Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (which I’ve also read).

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.

So be brave, buckle up, and read both!

I had only gotten to Chapter 2 of Bushnell’s story when the quote below stopped me in my tracks. That’s where Du Mez is interacting with well-known missiologist Professor Andrew Finlay Walls‘ book, The Missionary Movement in Christian History. She’s drawing specifically from his chapter titled Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator when she writes:

Drawing on Christian history and theology, Dr. Walls explains 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.”

Posted in #ChurchToo, #MeToo, abuse of power, Activism, Books, Patriarchy, Power and Privilege, Theology | 1 Comment

#MeToo Story 3: King David’s Daughter Tamar

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. 

Tamar’s #MeToo

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.

Overlooking Tamar

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.

Published here with permission.

Amy’s article is the third of three student papers exploring a #MeToo biblical narrative. See my introduction to these papers, “Confronting the Bible’s #MeToo Stories” CJ

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

#MeToo Story 2: Bathsheba

Image by Jeff Juit from Pixabay

Bathsheba’s #MeToo Story and King David’s Crimes

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.

Published here with permission.

Yeohan’s article is the second of three student papers exploring a #MeToo biblical narrative. See my introduction to these papers, “Confronting the Bible’s #MeToo Stories” CJ

[1] JIJI, “Japan rises four places to lowly 110th in WEF’s global gender equality rankings,” The japan times NEWS, <https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/12/18/national/japan-rises-four-places-110th-wefs-global-gender-equality-rankings/#.XcmhaVf0k2w> (November 11, 2019)

[2] Yuko Kato, “#MeToo Japan: What happened when women broke their silence,” BBC NEWS, < https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43721227>(November 11, 2019)

[3] Alastair Himmer, “Japanese women confront grim taboo by saying ‘me too,’ ” The Jakarta Post, <https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2018/04/01/japanese-women-confront-grim-taboo-by-saying-me-too.html> (November 11, 2019)

Posted in #ChurchToo, #MeToo, abuse of power, Domestic Abuse | Leave a comment

#MeToo Story 1: Hagar

Image by Niki Vogt from Pixabay

A #MeToo Story Hidden in Plain Sight

Genesis 16
Written by Josh Macha

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. 

Published here with permission.

Josh’s article is the first of three student papers exploring a #MeToo biblical narrative. See my introduction to these papers, “Confronting the Bible’s #MeToo Stories” CJ

Posted in #MeToo, abuse of power, Sexual Abuse | 8 Comments

Confronting the Bible’s #MeToo Stories

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

“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.

The gold I found was life changing. In Lost Women of the Bible, The Gospel of RuthFinding God in the Margins, and Half the Church, I passed that gold on to other women. 

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: 

  1. What makes this narrative a #MeToo story?
  2. How and why has her #MeToo story been minimized and/or overlooked?
  3. How does the abuse of power play a role?
  4. How is her story an important resource in helping pastors and ministry leaders understand, raise awareness, and address #MeToo/#ChurchToo in your ministry context? 
  5. 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

Posted in #ChurchToo, #MeToo, Brueggemann, Covid-19, Domestic Abuse, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

January 6 Revisited

TapTheForwardAssist, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

This morning I got a much needed infusion of hope from reading these reorienting words from The New Testament in Its World:

“. . . 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!

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A Call for Help!

It is every parent’s worst nightmarethat something bad will happen to one of our kids.

That nightmare is happening now to a dear friend, Christian brother, and colleague of mineknown and loved by many of you. Professor Paul Louis Metzger’s son Christopher (a young husband and father) is in the fight of his life. He is in critical condition following emergency surgery for a traumatic head injury and is several states away from his parents.

Paul started a GoFundMe, Christopher Metzger’s Critical Care and Family Needs, to assist with medical costs and various monthly bills, groceries, and travel associated with this unfolding ordeal.

Here’s his latest post on FaceBook.

I wish to thank everyone who has reached out in a variety of special ways in support of my son Christopher, our daughter-in-law, our granddaughter, my wife, daughter, and me. Your prayers, meditations, and gracious gifts for Christopher and his family’s needs make such an indelible impact. Where would we be without God and you? Blessings on you all.

My son remains in critical condition. I would give my life for him. How I cherish my precious “Taka” and am so proud to be his Dad. I am rarely on Facebook these days and find it difficult to write. Nor am I able to provide any specifics. The letter I wrote at this site below presents all that I can say. I beg your forgiveness if you do not receive responses from me. Please do know, though, that you are such a blessing to my family. Grateful for you!

This brings back tough memories of the battle and long road to recovery we engaged when our little Arden was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. We will never forget the many friends who prayed us through and supported Arden’s GoFundMe. It meant the world to us.

Now I’m appealing on Paul’s behalf. Many of you are friends of Paul’s and will want to stand with him and help in this terrible ordeal. If you can donate, please do. Every little bit helps. Whatever you do, please join me and others who are praying for Christopher and his family, parents, and siblings.

Christopher’s wife is Keyonna, and their little daughter is Jaylah.

Paul and I have partnered on several teaching projects both here at Missio Seminary and in Portland, Oregon at Multnomah Seminary.

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The Trump Conundrum of the White Female Evangelical Voter

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A huge “Thank you!” to the 80 women who responded to the survey I posted in my previous blog, “Let it rip!—Donald Trump & White Female Evangelical Voters”

Let it be said, “They let it rip!”  

Their responses were candid, heartfelt, and profoundly helpful. They made it easier for me to head into the Evangelicals for Justice Webinar on “Race, Gender, and Christian Nationalism: The Impact of Trumpism on Evangelicals” to talk about “Inroads of Trumpism among White Evangelical Women” armed with what I learned from them. 

Responses underscored the voting dilemma that confronted white evangelical women when Donald Trump became the Republican party candidate. Here was a candidate whose campaign embraced the Republican pro-life/anti-abortion stance, who promised to appoint more conservative judges, and pledged to Make American Great Again!

At the same time, he brought with him a well-known reputation as a misogynist, racist, and a bully. His campaign appearances and subsequent term as president provided fresh examples of those character traits. That created the conundrum many white evangelical women faced over which box to check in the 2016 presidential election.  

The survey asked them to list pros and cons for a Trump vote, what influenced their vote in 2016, what if anything changed in the 2020 election, what impact did the Access Hollywood video have on their decision, how all of this, including well-known evangelical leaders’ endorsements of Trump, impacted their faith and their identity as evangelicals. Responses came from white evangelical women on FaceBook, Twitter, or who follow my blog. 

The 2016 Conundrum 

In general it was quite clear that the pros and cons were split between Trump’s policies and his character. It would ultimately reveal how for some women, his behavior toward women was a decisive factor, and how for others policies mattered more. It’s worth noting that women who leaned toward supporting and/or who voted for Trump were clear-eyed about the cons; also that several Never-Trump voters responded “none” to the pros. 


    • Anti-abortion + Supreme Court Justices 
    • Addressed fears of losing America’s white Christian heritage
    • Not a career politician 
    • Successful businessman
    • Strong man willing to fight for them 
    • Kept his promises


    • Character and Behavior
    • Misogyny
    • Racism
    • Bullying 
    • Narcissism 
    • Self-centered
    • Verbal abuse of Meghan Kelly, Carly Fiorina and other Republican primary candidates

There was significant animus toward Hilary Clinton. Several stated the 2016 election didn’t offer any “good choice” and that Hilary was “just as” or “more corrupt” than Trump. Most respondents didn’t disclose how they voted other than that they “voted against Trump”—3rd party, write-in, or for Clinton either in protest or because they supported her and believed she was more qualified.

Here’s how one woman resolved the 2016 conundrum: “I pulled the lever for Hilary and asked God to forgive me.”

The survey reflected the significant spiritual impact of the strong public role of evangelicals in supporting Trump. Almost all of the women confirmed their evangelical faith, but a significant number expressed reluctance or a refusal to embrace the label.

Women with experience in foreign countries brought an important perspective to the issues. A woman who lived two and half years in China said the biggest challenge she faced when sharing the gospel was “proving Christianity isn’t a white man’s religion.” 

Another having lived in Muslim majority countries said “Trump’s discourse regarding Muslims inspired fear and division” and his “‘build the wall’ campaign was extremely divisive and harmful.” 

Fear of persecution, which often surfaces among American evangelicals, drew this response from another woman with international experience: “American evangelicals have no concept of real persecution.” 

Several moms expressed grief over how evangelical support for Trump and toxic divisions in the church prompted their adult children to leave the church and their faith. Many respondents are grieving over broken relationships related to political differences. 

The 2020 Shift

By the time the 2020 election rolled around, evangelical women brought more information to their voting choice. Four years of a Trump administration, the cost of the Coronavirus pandemic in human life and livelihoods, the surging #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, racial and political unrest, combined with the lingering impact of the Access Hollywood video and how evangelical leaders dismissed it—all of these factors and more caused a decisive shift among these white female voters. 

By the time of the 2020 election, women who previously voted third party, write-in candidates, or abstained were now of a different mind. Trump’s conduct during his time in office and the fact that “Joe Biden wasn’t Hilary” freed them to vote decisively for Biden in an effort to defeat Trump. Many said the Access Hollywood video “cemented” their decision.

By far, the most unexpected response came from outside the survey—in an article titled, “I Spent 4 Years Trying to Understand Trump-Voting Abuse Survivors. Here’s What I learned.” The author, an executive director of a rape and violence prevention program in Boston wrote,

“One of the first women I interviewed had survived sexual abuse that was perpetrated by the leader of her church. . . . She was always afraid of being raped again. That’s why she chose Trump. He promised to close our borders, and secure borders made her feel safe. While she detested him personally, his harsh, clear rhetoric about keeping the “bad people” out made the world feel less out of control.”

That one statement underscores the complexity of the current political and evangelical context. 

My Reflections

Ever since the E4J Conference, I’ve been mulling over what I’ve learned from survey responses and also from the many other powerful presentations. Mine wasn’t by far the only presentation. I hope you watched the whole conference or will watch when the recording is posted on www.evangelicals4justice.org. They gave us all a lot to think about. 

I concluded my presentation by raising three serious areas I believe deserve further attention for all Christians and that are profoundly relevant to our political views and how we interact with one another.

First, as Christians we all have dual citizenship. We are citizens of our country and citizens of the kingdom of God—the kingdom Jesus launched when God raised him from the dead. In his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, Pastor Greg Boyd explains that no human government is the kingdom of God. The best any human government can be is a good kingdom of this world. But there is only one kingdom of God. We can be patriotic and care passionately about certain local national issues. But when we embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord, seismic changes take place in who we are and how we think and live. We not only embark on the life-changing journey to know, love, and emulate Jesus, we become kingdom agents of the work he is doing in the world—the rescue operation God put in motion when he raised Jesus from the dead. It goes beyond evangelism to seeing the world through his eyes, hearing the cries of the oppressed and suffering, and entering the work to put the world right. N.T. Wright put it this way: 

“From the very beginning, in Jesus’ own teaching, it has been clear that people who are called to be agents of God’s healing love, putting the world to rights, are also called to be people whose own lives are put to rights by the same healing love. The messengers must model the message. . . . Through the church God will announce to the wider world that he is indeed its wise, loving, and just creator; that through Jesus he has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it; and that by his Spirit he is at work to heal and renew it” (italics added).  Simply Christian (203-204)

Second, we need to put patriarchy in its place. For generations we’ve been taught that the Bible teaches patriarchy. Patriarchy first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3 as a consequence of humanity’s rebellion against God. It has been with us ever since—the power and authority of men over women and of some men over other men. Our definitions of manhood hang on a man’s ability to establish his leadership and authority over others. Granted, at church we work to promote a “kinder/gentler version,” but there’s no escaping the damage of this mindset in homes, countries, government, even inside the church. Tragically, patriarchy is as destructive to men as it is to women.  

It requires eisegesis (the practice of reading one’s own ideas into the Bible) to find patriarchy in Genesis 1-2, because it simply isn’t there. But patriarchy still matters—actually is crucial in how we read and understand the Bible. Here’s what I wrote in Malestrom

“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.” 

Third, we need to be far more pro-life than we actually areGod defined “pro-life” at creation when he called his human image bearers to “be fruitful and multiply.” The idea wasn’t confined to physical reproduction. It is a universal call to live fruitful lives—to flourish and to cultivate and use the gifts and opportunities God has given us. It also meant to promote the flourishing of others from womb to tomb, as well as the flourishing of the whole earth. Humanity’s first responsibility was to be stewards of the earth’s resources, and God wants his good earth to flourish.

Currently, one of the most serious pro-life issues is the #MeToo/#ChurchToo sexual abuse pandemic. Right now, Coronavirus has eclipsed it. But once this deadly virus is defeated, we will find that violence against women and children has been festering unabated globally. #MeToo/#ChurchToo and other abuses inflicted on human beings are pro-life issues that in the church go unaddressed or are badly addressed. This prolife issue, this Shadow Pandemic, is the focus of my next book. I will be exploring, among other things—the Bible’s #MeToo stories—a major overlooked biblical resource that can equip the church to respond effectively to abuse and prevent it from happening in the first place. 

Stay tuned . . .

Meanwhile, for further reading:

——“Why Donald Trump is Good for Evangelicals”
——“The Failure of Complementarian Manhood”
——“Evangelical—When a Good Word Goes Bad”

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Let it rip!—Donald Trump & White Female Evangelical Voters

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

This Friday and Saturday, January 29-30, Evangelicals 4 Justice (E4J) are hosting a ZOOM conference on Race, Gender, and Christian Nationalism to discuss the Impact of Trumpism on Evangelicals

They’ve invited me to weigh in on the impact of Trumpism on Evangelicals, specifically on “the inroads of Trumpism with white women.”

White, evangelical women have been a significant voting block for Donald J. Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. That has a lot of people both here and abroad scratching their heads. In her 2019 article, Donald Trump: Why White Evangelical Women Support Him,” University of Cambridge Researcher in Sociology Katie Gaddini raises the obvious conundrum this way:

“As is well known by now, in the November 2016 presidential election, 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. That constituted the largest ‘evangelical vote’ in nearly two decades. If scholars, journalists and the general public have puzzled over why so many white evangelicals would vote for someone whose language and behaviour [sic] violated key tenets of the Christian faith, the question of why evangelical women voted for him is even more puzzling—especially given Trump’s long track record of alleged sexual misconduct and derogatory comments about women.”

Of course I have my own thoughts on the subject. But I’ve been asked to address a wider group on how Trump won such strong support from white, evangelical women. I’m interested in your thoughts on the subject. For working definitions: 

Christian Nationalism is the belief that America was founded as a white Christian nation and the commitment to defend the country against perceived threats against the original white Christian American identity our Founding Fathers envisioned.

Trumpism includes the political ideology, governing style, political movement, and methods for acquiring and keeping power associated with the U.S 45th president, Donald Trump, and his political base. Trumpism started developing predominantly during Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. It denotes a populist political method that suggests nationalistic answers to political, economic, and social problems. 

Regardless of how (or if) you voted in the past two presidential elections, or if you are evangelical or not, if you are white and female, I’m interested in your thoughts. This isn’t about your political views. It’s not a scientific or statistical survey, and I won’t be identifying respondents. 

Instead, I want to understand how Trump’s presidency and ascendency of Christian nationalism impacted you as a woman.

So here are the questions:

  1. How would you describe yourself?  Evangelical, non-evangelical, ex-evangelical? 
  2. What political/cultural/religious concerns were foremost in your mind as you evaluated Trump as a prospective U.S. president? 
  3. What were the pros and/or cons of him as a candidate?
  4. What was the decisive issue (or issues) in your decision to vote for or against him in 2016?
  5. How, if at all, did your voting preference for president change during his tenure as president?
  6. Explain any concerns you have that your faith and religious freedoms are under threat and by whom?
  7. How did the Access Hollywood tape impact your decision regarding voting for Trump? 
  8. Describe how white evangelical leaders and evangelical voter support for Trump has impacted your faith.
  9. How did Trump and Trumpism change or solidify your identity as an evangelical?
  10. Any extra thoughts?

To respond, cut and paste the questions into an email, and send your responses to cjames.survey@gmail.com  I need to hear back by Thursday, January 28

Please don’t hold back!

To register for the ZOOM conference: http://bit.ly/E4JVoices

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“If only we’re brave enough…”

Yesterday’s inauguration of President Biden introduced us to a new voice. Twenty-two-year-old Amanda Gorman, the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, became the youngest poet to read her poetry at a presidential inauguration. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, gave us all a lot to think about.

The part that seemed to stick with many of us came at the end, when she said,

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it

History is full of ezer-warriors who have been “brave enough to be” light in their time and place in history. The Bible is brimming with narratives highlighting women (often very young) who stepped into the challenges and callings of the moment to bring light and truth and hope into the lives of others.

Think Deborah, Abigail, Esther, or Mary of Nazareth.

Naturally, I’m reminded of Ruth. Probably about the same age as Amanda, Ruth embraced Naomi, her people, and her God against a dark, uncertain, and utterly grim future in Bethlehem.

She took refuge under Yahweh’s wing and from that place of blazing light, she found the courage to do what needed to be done for Naomi. Everything changed. From that moment, she refused to hold back or shrink from actions that involved risk to herself. She dared to make bold initiatives to a powerful man—all on Naomi’s behalf. She risked everything crossing cultural lines drawn for her as a newcomer, an immigrant, an impoverished, barren, widow, a scavenger for food to bring light and hope to her despairing mother-in-law.

Downsizing and mischaracterizing the book of Ruth as a Cinderella Story, is a terrible injustice to Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi, and a monumental loss, not merely to women and girls, but to the whole church and to every person we encounter without seeing how we can help.

So I am more than delighted to announce the online bookclub: Grace, Growth, and God Honoring Reads is featuring The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules. If you don’t feel particularly brave these days, this book will fill you with courage.

Sign-up to join the FB discussion (February 4 to March 11) here.

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