Buckle up Buckaroos!


There is more to the Bible than you know.

The path to spiritual growth (so we are told) is to have our daily “quiet time”—a private time of Bible reading and prayer that gets us focused for the day. Some believe this daily practice will guarantee a prime parking spot when we arrive at work or are out running errands.

This serene portrayal of Bible reading left me totally unprepared for what happened when I started digging deeper into the Old Testament book of Ruth. No one warned me I might need a crash helmet. I’d always heard (even taught) that this brief biblical narrative was a beautiful love story where the wealthy, handsome Boaz rescues the lovely but impoverished Ruth from her dismal life of singleness.

A more accurate depiction of the book of Ruth is of a harmless looking backpack loaded with explosives. The Bible is a dangerous book—in explosive but life-giving ways. It’s not supposed to give us a reassuring pat on the back. It’s designed to disrupt and challenge our thinking, to raise hard, important questions, and to move us forward as truer followers of Jesus.

That won’t be a smooth or a painless process for anyone.

To unleash the Bible’s explosive powers, we must remind ourselves that we are not reading an American book. The Bible takes place within an ancient patriarchal culture. It is important to understand that patriarchy is not the Bible’s message; it is the cultural backdrop that sets off in the starkest relief the radical gospel nature of that message.

Patriarchy is a fallen social system that empowers men over women and a few men over most other men. It deprives females of legal rights, agency, and voice. A woman derives her value and security from men—father, husband, and sons.  In a patriarchal culture a woman’s duty in life is to produce sons for her husband to secure the family’s survival for another generation. Indeed, the gold standard for determining a woman’s value is to count her sons.

By that standard, the deaths of all the men in Naomi’s family (her husband and her sons) send a bereft Naomi and her barren daughter-in-law Ruth plummeting to the bottom of the social ladder. Count their sons. Culturally speaking, they are zeroes.

The deaths of the men shove Naomi and Ruth to the margins where their suffering and vulnerability intensify. Naomi is a famine refugee in Moab (today’s Jordan) with all of the trauma and social deprivation that entails. Today’s refugees shed fresh light on Naomi’s ordeal. Her lament against God defines the issues that the story will address. Convinced she’s lost God’s love, she mutters, “Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant). Call me Mara (bitter) . . . because the LORD has afflicted me.”

Today’s hostility against undocumented immigrants makes Ruth’s stubborn embrace of Naomi and her God breathtaking. Instead of returning to the safety and security of home and family, and well aware of the long road of poverty, vulnerability, abuse, and exploitation that awaits in Bethlehem, Ruth defiantly embraces Naomi and her God.

Culturally speaking she is sabotaging her life.

But this is where the whole story changes—for Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. Ruth is YHWH’s child now and she will live as one, no matter what it costs.

Her border crossing into Israel comes off without a hitch. No barbed wire, drones, border guards, or extreme vetting. On Israelite soil, Ruth drops below zero. She is female, barren, poor, and now a gentile foreigner. Once in Bethlehem, she does is what locals always fear undocumented immigrants will do. She goes on welfare, becomes a common field worker—scavenging for scraps of grain to keep Naomi and herself alive.

This is where the explosions begin.

Ruth defies the silencing patriarchy imposes on women. She will not settle for bringing scraps to Naomi. She will fight to rescue Naomi’s family from dying out. From the margins and against overwhelming odds, Ruth becomes a gutsy risk taker.

Her encounters with Boaz are the stuff of gospel. The cultural disparity between them is pronounced and chilling. She is powerless, defenseless, on his turf, and challenging his interpretations of Mosaic Law. He’s a native born Israelite in perfect compliance with the law. Ruth lives on the hungry side of the law. The letter of the law says, “Let them glean.” The spirit of the law says, “Feed them.”

The book of Ruth gives us one of the most explosive displays of the kingdom of God touching down in human relationships. Ruth’s bold initiatives trigger an epidemic of true kingdom living. Lives are transformed. Sacrifices abound. The culture’s value system is overthrown. Boaz uses his advantages to empower Ruth and insure her initiatives on Naomi’s behalf succeed. Together they bring healing, hope, and blessing to Naomi. And God redeploys Naomi to raise Obed as her own son on the theology she learned in the school of suffering.

Finding-God-in-the-Margins-V4In the end, a hungry widow is fed, a dying family is preserved for another generation, and God advances his purposes for the world on the shoulders of two women the world counted out.

Their story sends shockwaves through my story. Makes me think twice before counting anyone out when it comes to kingdom work. Has me asking myself, “If God called Ruth to take risks to benefit and bless others, why not me?”

Want to read more? Buckle up and read Finding God in the Margins.

This article was originally published at www.KeyLife.org, ministry of Steve Brown.

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Men say the darnedest things . . . especially about women

517C-UTkNALWhen it comes to comparisons, Benjamin Franklin and Boaz the Bethlehemite have a lot in common.

Both occupy prominent spots in their country’s history. Both were powerful leaders in political matters and left their mark on human history. And both made unequivocally outrageous statements about women.

When it comes to their opinions regarding the fairer sex, however, the contrast between them couldn’t be more pronounced.

Benjamin comes off sounding like a Neanderthal, especially by today’s standards.

Boaz, on the other hand, was a man ahead of his time. His words and actions were radically counter-cultural, even by today’s standards. Probably no one was more surprised to hear what he said about women than Boaz himself.

The current #MeToo/#ChurchToo uprising puts both men’s words in the spotlight.

Benjamin Pontificates about Women

My historian husband Frank is currently reading Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. No matter what book he reads, he’s is always more than willing to share juicy morsels with me from his reading—especially quotes that have me rolling my eyes.

The latest was this priceless gem of advice for women from the famous Philadelphia patriot. Isaacson writes:

Among [Franklin’s] rules, avoid all thoughts of managing your husband, never deceive him or make him uneasy, accept that he “is a man not an angel,” “resolve every morning to be good-natured and cheerful,” remember the word “obey” in your marriage vows, do not dispute with him, and “deny yourself the trivial satisfaction of having your own will.” A woman’s power and happiness . . . “has no other foundation than her husband’s esteem and love.” Therefore, a wife should “share and soothe his cares, and with the utmost diligence conceal his infirmities.” And when it comes to sex: “Let the tenderness of your conjugal love be expressed with such decency, delicacy and prudence as that it may appear plainly and thoroughly distinct from the designing fondness of a harlot” (80).

That last bit makes me wonder how an upright decent man would be able to distinguish between his wife and “the designing fondness of a harlot.” But then Benjamin wasn’t exactly above reproach when it came to his relationships with women.

It also raises questions as to how freely otherwise respectable men mistreat and exploit prostitutes as though they were some lower form of humanity. The majority of prostitutes have been trafficked, sometimes as little girls, or reduced to prostitution as the only option available to provide for their families.

I think of Jericho’s Rahab whose embrace of Yahweh prompted her to commit treason by harboring Israelite spies and to risk her life to save her family. In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Fantine is forced into prostitution to support her little daughter. Then there’s Dostoyevsky’s Sonya in Crime and Punishmentwhose self-sacrificing goodness caused my eyes to float in their own tears.

Following Franklin’s advice will never give a woman the kind of backbone required to stand up to abuse or injustice, to make choices for herself, or to cultivate the kind of strength, wisdom, and forthrightness a man truly needs from his wife and closest ally.

As the country mourns the loss of former First Lady Barbara Bush and 41’s fiercely committed ally, I am mindful of the wise counsel she gave one of his colleagues in the White House:  “Don’t hurt my husband. But don’t let him do something he shouldn’t.”

Boaz Breaks with Patriarchy in Bethlehem

The woman Boaz encountered violated the worldly-wise advice Ol’ Ben offered women, and it was a good for him that she did. Ruth’s power and satisfaction came from bucking the system to fight for Naomi and from challenging Boaz’s long-held convictions in earthshaking, life-changing ways. Everything she said made him uneasy and pushed him to think in new and creative ways of living faithfully before God.

Her reference point for the risks she took wasn’t any man’s “esteem and love,” but her fierce love for Naomi and her embrace of Naomi’s God. Ruth refused to accept the culture’s inadequate provision for her suffering mother-in-law. She embraced and boldly exercised her will despite her low status as an undocumented field worker, the patriarchal culture’s expectations for women, and the obvious risks involved.

In every encounter, Boaz was dumbfounded.

At his barley field, it is no secret that he is awed by her stunning choice to stick with Naomi despite the inevitable adversity involved. He prays in public that Yahweh will reward her richly for her actions.

At the threshing floor, Boaz is bowled over when Ruth presents him with her plan to rescue Naomi’s dying family that lacks the essential male heir. He calls her a woman hayil (3:11)—the same Hebrew word used to describe him as a “man of valor” (2:1).

Some Bible translations downsize hayil to “noble character,” “excellence,” “worthy,” or “virtuous” when it applies to a woman. But we have good reason to believe that “a woman of this caliber had all the attributes of her male counterpart.”[1]


Boaz certainly wasn’t confused when he regarded her with such esteem. Within the context of the ancient male-centered patriarchal culture his remark is mind-blowing. It would be one thing to speak of Queen Esther or Mary of Nazareth with such superlative language. But Ruth? The social disparity between her and Boaz is about as extreme as it gets. He resides at the top of Bethlehem’s power pyramid. She lives at the bottom. As a female, an immigrant, a widow, a gentile from a pagan background, impoverished, barren, and with only a desolate older widow to call family—culturally speaking Ruth status is below zero. She lives in the margins.


Yet without a single alteration in her demographics, Boaz affirms her as his equal. It is radical. It is revolutionary. It is gospel. It couldn’t strike a sharper contrast with Ben Franklin’s view of a woman.

Men do say the darnedest things.

[1] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Word Book of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1980), 1:271–72.


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Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else

51ZH-s4p4XL-1I suspect women of all ages and the men who love them will be interested in this new book by George Fox University English professor, Melanie Springer Mock. To give you a taste of what’s inside, here’s the foreword I was privileged to write.

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Every once in a while, a book lands on my desk that I wish I had read when I was in college. The book you now hold in your hands is one of those books.

I doubt that reading Melanie Spring Mock’s Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else would have spared me from the deep personal struggles I experienced when my own story veered off the script I, as a woman, had inherited from my family, church, and culture. But it would have been worth a lot to have her company on the journey and to hear her voice of experience in the process.

This book is part memoir, part sage advice—a compelling mix of Mock’s own story and the kinds of struggles she’s encountered along the way that left her believing she didn’t measure up as a Christian, a woman, a mother, and a professor. Her story isn’t unique, which is why this book is such a gift. I suspect all readers will find themselves somewhere in the struggles she’s experienced.

I was only a few paragraphs into the book when I started seeing my own story in hers. Like Mock, I grew up in Oregon with the expectations that come with being a pastor’s kid. Like her story, mine also veered from the church’s “biblical” script for women when, post-college, instead of marriage and motherhood, I entered a long and unexpected stretch of singleness. Marriage didn’t recover that script. Instead, I became the family breadwinner in a career I loved while my husband completed his academic training. Like Mock, I too became a working mother, sharing the same sense of isolation and disapproval she describes as she juggled her twin loves: mom to two boys and college professor.

Mock is a lover of narratives and a wonderful storyteller herself. By weaving her own story in and through the issues she addresses, she draws us in to think more deeply about pressures and negative messages that hinder us from embracing our own uniqueness and the stories we are living. And Mock is right there in the struggles with us.

Early in the book, she writes, “I am not a biblical scholar or a theologian.” I understand what she means and why that might be good news to readers. But I reject her disclaimer. She may not be a professional theologian, but her down-to-earth theology is what gives this book the kind of relevance we need. This is theology at its best. It is both pastoral and personal. The brand of theology embedded in this book is deeply rooted in real life. It speaks into our own stories and engages the tough questions and self-doubts we all encounter. It gives us courage and hope when life unexpectedly detours into painful circumstances that leave us feeling lost, abandoned, and unworthy. It makes a difference when our feet hit the floor in the morning.

That’s what Mock so beautifully pulls off in this vulnerably honest book.

What prevents this book from being merely another attempt to dispel our insecurities and empower us to “live boldly for Jesus” is this: Mock lodges her assault against unworthiness with a truth that shatters the slightest suggestion that we or our lives don’t matter. The heart of her message is the fact that God created his daughters to be his image bearers. This is the ultimate antidote to any sense of unworthiness.

Because we are God’s image bearers, God—not our demographics, circumstances, or whatever chapter of our story we happen to be living—defines us. God has blessed us with the highest possible identity, meaning, and purpose, regardless of how others judge us or how our stories are playing out.

I still wish I’d read this book as a college student. Even now it is a saving grace, for those negative messages never stop. Yet no matter what season of life we’re in or how convinced we are that we are unworthy, those who read this book will end up standing strong on solid ground. And that alone makes it a worthy read for all of us!

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The #MeToo Stories of the Bible We Tend to Ignore


The NYTimes recently resurfaced the video of pastor Andy Savage’s public apology at Highpoint Church in Memphis for sexually abusing Jules Woodson when he was her youth pastor. In it, he characterized his assault as a “sexual incident.”

The congregation gave him a standing ovation.

This latest version of the video, titled “I was Assaulted; He was Applauded,” included Woodson’s commentary. She was seventeen at the time of the assault.

The #MeToo movement gave Woodson the moral courage to voice her story even though the statute of limitations had expired. Her story is a vivid reminder that sexual abuse is not confined to secular settings. It happens inside the church. Sometimes sexual assault is inflicted by a trusted church leader. All too often other leaders compound the trauma by circling the wagons to cover-up and protect perpetrator and the ministry involved. Victims are often re-abused by being disbelieved, pressured to forgive, forget, and move on, or when leaders a victim turns to for help simply fail to act.

All this without involving law enforcement or professional counselors.

If there was ever any doubt about the church’s complicity in the #MeToo crisis, the damning flood of #ChurchToo tweets that followed on the heels of the #MeToo twitter storm exposed a serious internal church problem we can no longer ignore.

When the Church is Not a Safe Place

For many, former USA gymnast (now attorney) Rachael Denhollander has become the face of both #MeToo and #ChurchToo. Her #MeToo story made national news in the conviction of USA Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar. She was the first to accuse him publically and she gave the last impact statement at his trial.

She became embroiled in the #ChurchToo crisis when she challenge prominent evangelical leaders for a sexual abuse cover-up she described as “widely recognized as one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse.”[1] The cover-up of abuse and the mistreatment she received for her advocacy for the victims led her to voice a conclusion many other women and girls in the church share.

“Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. . . . It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.”

#MeToo Stories in the Bible can help

What is tragically ironic about these current reports of sexual abuse within the church is the fact that the Bible is full of #MeToo stories. Not only should we have been the first to name them, we should be at the forefront of the effort to address and prevent sexual violence against women and girls. Yet somehow we’ve managed to sanitize, spin, or skip these biblical #MeToo stories or else we blame the women involved. They haven’t stirred up righteous indignation in us or caused us to wrestle with these texts.

Abraham and Sarah’s desperation for a son is one of the best-known stories in the Bible. Yet do we ever stop to notice the sexual abuse of Hagar? Not only was she a trafficked slave girl, when Sarah and Abraham compelled her to be a surrogate for Sarah to produce the desired male heir with Abraham, she discovered sex was part of the deal.

The dysfunction of Jacob’s family and the warring between his wives and among his sons give us some of the Bible’s most gripping drama. But have we ever wondered how those stories played out for slave girls Bilhah and Zilpah, whose mistresses (Leah and Rachel) offered them up to a willing Jacob. They commandeered these young girls’ bodies (without their permission) in the desperate quest for sons.

We also have the #MeToo stories of Esther, the Tamars, Bathsheba, and plenty of others.[2]

The Healing Power of the Bible’s #MeToo Stories


These #MeToo stories give pastors the opportunity to raise awareness of the world’s tragic history of sexual abuse and violence against women and girls. It provides opportunities for pastors to acknowledge the trauma and pain that exists today among their own parishioners and to take intentional steps to make the church a place of safety, help, and healing.

These stories also compel us to get honest about the deeply flawed men in the Bible who we view in heroic terms. #MeToo is all about the abuse of power. The story of David and Bathsheba gives biblical warrant to confront those who violate the powers God entrusts for them to employ for the good and flourishing of others.

The Bible also gives us examples of remarkable men we can admire. One man in the Old Testament resisted the temptation that often leads to #MeToo stories and broke decisively with the fallen patriarchal culture’s elevation of men over women.

Meetings between Ruth and Boaz—in his barley field and at threshing floor—present situations that could have turned out badly for Ruth. The power differential between the two of them was chilling. She is young, female, impoverished, widowed, and an undocumented immigrant who became a common field laborer. She is the epitome of utter vulnerability. He, on the other hand, is male, Jewish in his native land, the descendant of one of Israel’s leading families, and a powerful landowner. He had the power to abuse Ruth get away with it.

Ruth’s decision to glean is a matter of survival. It exposes her to greater risk because it requires venturing out alone in a foreign culture. The risks intensifies at the threshing floor when she approaches Boaz in the dead of night.

But this is where Ruth’s story turns out differently, for she will encounter a man who lives before the face of God. That changes everything.

What happened is instructive for the church.

Instead of exploiting his advantages, in every situation Boaz uses his male power and privilege sacrificially to empower Ruth and insure her initiatives on Naomi’s behalf succeed. In the barley field, he intervenes and tells his male harvesters not to touch her. At the threshing floor, when she approaches him under cover of darkness and no one is looking, he shields her from false accusations and guarantees that her proposal to rescue Naomi’s family will happen.

In the end, a hungry widow is fed, a dying family is preserved for another generation, Ruth flourishes in the full embrace of the community of God’s people, and God advances his purposes for the world through their actions. Let us not forget that the family line they fight to preserve is the royal line of King David and ultimately of Jesus. And we are given a powerful example of gospel masculinity that reflects Jesus and his kingdom—a masculinity that brings blessing instead of trauma and flourishing instead of deep wounds.

It’s the #MeToo story that didn’t happen. And when Christian men, like Boaz, embrace their true calling as God’s sons, the #MeToo and #ChurchToo stories will stop.

This article was also published by ChurchLeaders.com

See also Finding God in the Margins

[1] Christianity Today interview: “My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness”

[2] Sandra Glahn, ed., Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible


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“And ain’t I a woman?”


by Frank A. James III in honor of Women’s History Month

February and March are important months of remembrance. In February we honor African Americans and in March we honor women who have played important roles in history. I would like to combine these two remembrances and introduce you to a great African American woman and a six-foot tall fire-breathing abolitionist, women’s rights activist and Christian evangelist: Isabella Baumfree (c. 1797–1883).

Born into slavery around 1797 (the birth dates of most slaves are uncertain), Isabella was one of the ten (perhaps as many as twelve) children born to James and Elizabeth Baumfree both of whom had been kidnapped by slave traders and sold to the Hardenbergh family of New York. In 1806, nine-year-old Isabella was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100 to a sadistic master who beat her without mercy. She was bought and sold several times before ending up in the household of John Dumont.

Around 1815, Isabella made the mistake of falling in love with a slave named Robert from a neighboring farm. Robert’s owner however, forbade their relationship. Robert was savagely beaten when he was caught visiting Isabella, and she never saw him again. She eventually married an older slave named Thomas with whom she had five surviving children.

Late in 1826, Isabella made one of the most painful decisions of her life—she escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia, but had to leave her older children behind. She found her way to the Quaker family of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, who took her and her baby in. Isaac then purchased the run-away slave and her daughter for $20. Although she was safe, her other children were not. She learned that her five-year old son Peter had been sold to an owner in Alabama. With the help of the Van Wagenens, she took the issue to court and in 1828, after months of legal proceedings, she got her son back. Isabella became the first black women to go to court against a white man and win the case. That same year (1828) the state of New York mandated that all slaves be emancipated and her family was reunited.

It was during her time with the Van Wagenens that Isabella became a devout Christian. She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God had called her to “testify to the hope that was in her.” She moved to New York City, worked as a domestic and became a street-corner preacher. Although illiterate she nevertheless acquired a wide knowledge of the Bible and emerged as one of the leading advocates for women’s suffrage.

In the years that followed Sojourner Truth combined evangelism with advocacy for the rights of former slaves and women. Some years later, when speaking in Boston, Massachusetts, she recounted how her mother told her to pray to God that she might have good masters. She told how her various masters beat her for not understanding English and how she would question God why he made such evil masters. She admitted to the audience that she had once hated white people, but she said after she met Jesus, she was filled with love.

She was not always welcomed by her audiences. Once she stepped onto a stage and was met with loud hissing to which she boldly responded: “You may hiss as much as you please, but women will get their rights anyway. You can’t stop us, neither.” She then launched into the biblical story of Esther arguing that just as women in scripture, women today are fighting for their rights.

In May 1851, she was invited to speak at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio where she delivered her most famous extemporaneous speech on women’s rights, later titled “And Ain’t I a Woman.” Her speech demanded equal rights for all women as well as for all African-Americans. Different versions of her speech have been recorded, but the standard text is what follows.

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

After an extraordinary life, Sojourner Truth died at her Battle Creek, Michigan home on November 26, 1883. Her funeral was the largest that town had ever seen.

Today we can answer unequivocally her question: “Ain’t I a Women?” Yes, yes indeed.


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Something to ponder . . .

#MeToo & Male Pwr&Privilege

Read my full article, “Naomi’s Lament and #MeToo,” part of the Lenten Season blog series at www.silenceisnotspiritual.org.

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Voices from the Margins


“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
Dinos Christianopoulos

We are living in a time of breathtaking reversals. When it comes to power and privilege and voice, the laws of social and cultural gravity are being defied.

We’ve watched a line-up of over 150 former USA gymnasts face the man who got away with sexually abusing them for years. They didn’t simply whisper their stories behind closed doors. They spoke them into a microphone before a battery of media cameras and a watching world. After years of being silenced by adults more concerned about avoiding scandal and protecting a colleague and an organization, these young women emerged to voice their stories and claim the justice that for years they were denied.

What kind of internal fortitude did that take?

Their actions not only resulted in a conviction, they’ve raised significant awareness of sexual abuse, of the terrible cost of refusing to take young complainants seriously, and of the tendency of adults in responsible positions to protect the abuser and bury the matter.

After yet another mass school shooting, the politicians, government officials, and religious leaders weren’t the ones who grabbed the bullhorn and roared “Enough is enough!” to demand action. No, it was Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students on the receiving end of those bullets who lost best friends and a beloved teacher and coaches.

How many cycles of this have we been through where “thoughts and prayers” start sounding like excuses instead of the prelude to meaningful action. So now a band of determined, articulate teenagers are on the warpath for change and they are getting results. Already major corporations, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Wal-Mart, Delta, Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis, are voluntarily tightening their gun policies and dropping their affiliation with the NRA.

Author Jim Wallis captured this momentous reversal when he wrote, “Social change always comes when the next generation decides to no longer accept what the last generation accepted.”

Then, of course, a stunning litany of women, once bullied, threatened, and intimidated into silence, rose up to voice sexual allegations against men of enormous power and prestige. The credibility and cumulative testimonies of these women proved more effective than anyone imagined. They brought to a crashing end the ability of some of the biggest names in Hollywood, media, politics, and technology to avoid any consequences for their misbehavior.

Their stories unleashed a flood of #MeToo tweets bringing to light a disturbing epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse held underground for decades. This isn’t confined to Hollywood. A flood of #ChurchToo tweets revealed that sexual abuse happens inside the church, which ought to be a sanctuary. By going public with their stories, these women have triggered a sea change in how seriously organizations take allegations and address incidents of sexual misconduct.

Disrupting the Status Quo

Cultural dynamics we’re witnessing today—as women, the young, the weak, vulnerable, oppressed, and powerless break their silence and overthrow the diminishing cultural expectations imposed on them—is a pattern that shows up in the ancient book of Ruth.

Contrary to romantic interpretations, the story of Ruth was a #MeToo story waiting to happen. Only things turn out differently for Ruth because Boaz, a man of considerable power, doesn’t use his power and privilege for himself. Instead, he employs them sacrificially to empower Ruth and ensure her initiatives on Naomi’s behalf succeed.

The book of Ruth records a moment in time when, against insurmountable cultural odds, a young undocumented female immigrant whose cultural status is firmly cemented in the margins, overthrows the silence, vulnerability, and powerlessness that systemic patriarchy imposes on her and finds her voice. She refuses to allow the risk of shame and failure, or her utter powerlessness to stand in her way. Too much is at stake. Patriarchy may deprive women of voice, agency, and legal rights, but she will claim all three anyway. Her bold initiatives with Boaz bring explosive insight into what it means to live as God’s child in this world and completely disrupt the status quo.

What continues to amaze me is just how often God reaches into the margins and chooses someone whose voice has been silenced, someone no one believes, a person everyone counts out—to blindside everyone with the force of their influence and effectiveness in putting things right in his world.

Within this brief story, God is making some of the boldest counter-cultural value statements about women that we have on record. The fact that the story takes place within a full-fledged patriarchal culture makes those statements all the more astonishing. Furthermore this brief Old Testament narrative also contains some of the most radical value statements that we have regarding men.[1] God is no protector of the status quo and he is not limited to the powerful and privileged to move his purposes forward. All of us stand to benefit by absorbing this message. It’s what we’re witnessing today.

The book of Ruth is a breathtaking reversal where the laws of social and cultural gravity are being defied. It is a hope-filled image bearer phenomenon that is happening today too. And we should not be surprised to see more of it.

To read the full story, see Finding God in the Margins (Released Feb 24)


This post was also published by Evangelicals for Social Action.

[1] See “Better than Seven Sons” and “The Manly Side of the Story” in Finding God in the Margins.

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