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Introducing…The Shiloh Podcast!

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The Shiloh Podcast has arrived!

Rosie Dawson, award-winning journalist, theologian, and host of The Shiloh Podcast shines a light on the stories and practices of religion that either contribute to or resist rape culture. Through conversations with scholars and practitioners, the podcast invites us all to think about ways that we can challenge and dismantle rape culture in our own communities.

Feast your ears on our new trailer and introductory episode, where Rosie discusses the origins of The Shiloh Project with Katie Edwards, one of the project’s co-directors.

Don’t forget to review, rate and subscribe to be notified of new episodes.

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Tasia Scrutton’s research and publication on Christianity and Depression

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Tasia Scrutton’s earlier post on the Shiloh Project blog is one of our most widely read. Earlier this year Tasia’s new book Christianity and Depression was published by SCM. This book, on an important topic and written in an accessible style, is likely to be of interest to Shiloh Project audiences. Find out more!

Congratulations on your new book! (It has a very beautiful cover, too.) 

Thank you!

Tell us about yourself, Tasia. How does your book relate to your work as a whole and how did this book come about?

I’ll start with how this book came about….

One of the first times I remember thinking about doing research on Christianity and mental illness was when a friend of mine, who had contended with serious health problems from an early age and who suffered from depression, was told by her church that her depression was the result of her having been sinful. Initially I thought that view must be extremely rare, but as I researched further, it became more apparent that it is quite common in some Christian traditions. At the same time, it also became apparent that something like this view is common outside of Christianity or any religious tradition as well: it’s quite frequent that people (religious or otherwise) try to provide moral reasons or quasi-moral reasons (such as not doing enough exercise) for why one person suffers from a mental illness while another does not.  

It was around then that I started thinking consciously about the ways in which theology and philosophy could engage with these kinds of claims. Having said that, in retrospect, I can now see other things that also led up to it. For example, when I experienced depression myself, I wondered how the idea that salvation is not only an otherworldly affair could be squared with my inability to feel happy – or, more generally, how faith could so spectacularly fail to make one feel better. I didn’t experience ‘sin’ accounts like my friend, but I remember some clergy expressing the view that medications for depression were inadvisable because they would ‘block’ something that could lead to spiritual growth. So, all of those things had been fermenting for a long time.

The academic work I had done previously had also paved the way for me to write something on the topic. For example, I had already written on the problem of evil – one of the points I make in my book is that we might think that good things can come out of evil (for example, that depression has helped some people to become more insightful or compassionate) – but that doesn’t stop depression from being undesirable and so an evil. That sounds like a simple point but it becomes very important in practical contexts, for example in avoiding either the tendency to idealise suffering (just because good can come out of it), or else to write off a period of suffering as necessarily meaningless because suffering is an evil. (Unlike some philosophers of religion, I do think suffering is an evil.) 

What are the key discussion points of your book?

The book is about different interpretations of depression (and, often, mental illness more generally), and how those interpretations affect people’s experience of mental illness. My aim is to help people navigate the different interpretations of depression that are often presented to them, and to help them separate the wheat from the chaff – or good interpretations from bad. I look at interpretations such as that depression is caused by individual sin, by demonic possession or oppression, by God (in order to bring about spiritual growth), by purely biological factors, or by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. As well as explanatory interpretations, I also look at the idea that depression is potentially transformative – that is, that it can give rise to increased compassion, insight, and a heightened appreciation of beauty. And as well as evaluating existing accounts, I point to some promising emphases for a Christian understanding of depression: the importance of recognising our animality; a social (rather than individual) view of sin and the demonic; hope and the resurrection; and affirming God’s solidarity with those who suffer.  

For a more detailed precis of the book, see here: – but don’t forget to come back and read more on the Shiloh blog 😊

What do you hope your readers will take from this book?

A therapist friend said people may well get out of the book whatever they want to get out of it at the time – whether or not I think I put it there. So, I’m aware that what I see the important points as being may not be the important points for others.

That said, a recurring theme when I’ve given talks on the book topic is that people tell me they’ve experienced sin interpretations of mental illness themselves (often coupled with other forms of spiritual abuse, such as homophobia), and thank me for taking these interpretations down. (I don’t think that’s too much of a spoiler!) I hope this book will come as a relief to those people who have experienced or are experiencing those interpretations, and closely associated interpretations (such as some demonic accounts). I also hope it will make religious leaders and peers think twice before putting forward damaging interpretations to vulnerable people.

As a corrective to sin interpretations, some people now emphasise the idea that mental illness is purely biological. While I think this is an improvement, another hope is that people will take the biopsychosocial model more seriously as a result of reading my book. That’s important because it’s truer to the evidence we have about the causes of mental illness and how to treat it, and because if we deflect attention from the social causes of mental illness – poverty, economic instability, forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, and homophobia – then we have less reason to do something about them. The Christian tradition has a distinctive voice when it comes to talking and doing something about social injustice, and (I argue) there are other (theological) reasons for why Christians should prefer a biopsychosocial model.

I can think of lots of other things I’d like people to take away with them from my book. I’ll mention just one further one though. I hope the book helps people bring together faith, understanding of mental illness, and conversations about the way we understand and treat non-human animals a bit more closely. Some of the causes of mental illness, and/or the collective failure to treat it appropriately, come from a denial of our own animality, and relate to our abuse of other animals. So, for example, we are often encouraged to deny our social needs, and our interdependence with others, in favour of an emphasis on individual competition that is ultimately extremely damaging to us. Christianity has been seen as part of the problem here, as it has been interpreted as a fundamentally dualistic worldview, with humans on the ‘spiritual’ (and only accidentally ‘physical’) side of the spiritual/physical divide. But I think this is a misunderstanding of the Christian tradition – and one that attention to doctrines such as the resurrection of the dead can help us with. 

Can you clarify what is meant by both ‘mental illness’ and ‘depression’?

When I talk about ‘mental illness’ and ‘depression’, I mean anything that might reasonably be diagnosed as a mental illness or depression by a doctor (whether or not these have been diagnosed as such). In the case of depression, these include symptoms such as anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), decreased motivation and concentration, or changes in sleep, guilt and hopelessness. Other common characteristics of depression not discussed in medical manuals can include, for example, a sense of one’s body being heavy and tired, and/or a decreased sense of free will or of possibility (see Ratcliffe, 2015). 

‘Mental illness’ is a contested term because there is so much that is mental about (what we call) physical illness, and so much that is physical in (what we call) mental illness. In depression, for instance, people often experience tiredness, and report that their body feels heavy or leaden. Conversely, we usually feel pretty miserable when we have ‘flu. In addition to this, critics claim, ‘mental illness’ buys into mind/body dualism – something that’s increasingly recognised as a mistake, and a damaging one. I’m sympathetic to those concerns, but I don’t think changing the terms is the answer – it’s better to check our understanding of them instead. For the most part, we know how to use terms like ‘mental illness’ well – for example, to ask about a friend’s emotions if she says she is worried about her mental health. And while the boundaries are vague, there seem to be some things that make many ‘mental illnesses’ differ from many ‘physical illnesses’: mental illness is usually diagnosed on the basis of symptoms, for example, and the symptoms are often identical with the illness itself.[1]

How does your book engage with the Bible?

As you might expect, there’s a lot of ‘proof-texting’ in sin interpretations of mental illness. Here’s one example, from a bestselling Christian self-help book written by two psychiatrists, about anxiety disorders:

Worrying is a choice, since the apostle Paul commands us to ‘be anxious for nothing’ (Minirth and Meier, p. 174). 

Likewise, demonic interpretations of mental illness often take as their starting-point the perception that the exorcisms performed by Jesus that are reported in the Synoptic Gospels are about (what we would now call) mental illness.

In order to respond to these, I try to attend more closely to the detail of the texts (it turns out only one exorcism account really seems to relate to mental illness, for example), and consider texts taking into account their original context. Among other things, I think this leads to a less individualistic and more political and social understanding of language of sin and the demonic. It also helps to drive a wedge between being demonically afflicted (possessed or oppressed), on the one hand, and having sinned on the other. There’s pretty much nothing in the Bible to suggest that being demonically afflicted is the result of having oneself sinned as some proponents of demonic interpretations suggest – if anything, the opposite is the case.

In addition to this, I’m also interested in what texts are used or not used in worship. For example, many people with depression report finding the Psalms, and especially the Psalms of Lament, particularly helpful. Perhaps that isn’t surprising, since we know from everyday experience that people sometimes find sad music more comforting than happy music when they themselves are feeling sad – so perhaps there is something consoling about it being ok to have certain feelings, and not being alone when having them. 

Some Christian traditions regard happiness as normative, and there’s little space within some forms of worship for feeling anything but joy. People with depression often report that kind of worship making them feel worse, because they can’t participate in the feelings of joy that others have (see e.g. Hilfiker, 2002). I think there’s something important about having biblical texts such as the Psalms of Lament within the context of worship or liturgy, and so making space for a range of different feelings within communal and sacred contexts.     

What do you see as the points of connection between gender-based and sexual violence, Christianity, and mental health?

I talk about this quite a bit in chapter 7 of my book. Many Christian traditions are generally good about talking about suffering – but not so good at talking about certain kinds of suffering. In particular, some kinds of suffering seem to be stigmatized. For example, in the Catholic tradition, all the patron saints of rape victims are figures who managed to avoid rape (perhaps by choosing to die instead). That doesn’t send out a very hopeful message to people who didn’t manage to avoid rape. Relatedly, Christians are very happy with the fact that Christ suffered at the crucifixion, but the suggestion that Christ’s suffering involved sexual humiliation has been rejected by some as ‘feminizing’ Christ (see Tombs, 2018). In other words, there are still some kinds of suffering it’s seen as shameful to experience, and where those who experience them are left out in the cold.

That’s important because of course depression and other forms of mental illness are frequently triggered by trauma, including the trauma of rape and sexual abuse. The Christian tradition can be good at offering support and especially a sense of God’s solidarity with those who suffer, whether through belief that God suffers in Godself, or through an emphasis on the suffering of Christ and the saints. However, in excluding certain stigmatized forms of suffering from the life of Christ and the saints, there is a failure to provide solidarity to people who have had certain experiences – and of course that is also a failure to support people who might suffer from mental illness. In other words, churches can be good at providing solidarity with people in the face of some kinds of suffering but not others, and that is relevant to mental illness.

Whether churches have parallel issues about mental illness as they do to sexual violence isn’t clear. There are fewer patron saints of people with mental illness than victims of rape, and so it is harder to say. Some of the saints and holy figures who are patrons – for example, Matt Talbot – had stigmatized problems such as alcoholism. However, perhaps the most famous patron saint of mental illness, St Dymphna, did not herself have a mental illness – her father did. So perhaps there are similar issues: it is harder for people to identify with a figure within the Christian tradition who is a ‘fellow sufferer who understands’ (in A. N. Whitehead’s words), if the kind of suffering you are experiencing is of a stigmatized kind, because there are fewer people held up as ideals who went through that kind of stuff. That means people experiencing depression and people who have experienced sexual violence might not get forms of support from the Christian tradition that would be available to them if they had experienced poverty or a physical illness instead.

References

Hilfiker, David, 2002, ‘When Mental Illness Blocks The Spirit’, available at http://www.davidhilfiker.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33:when-mental-illness-blocks-the-spirit&catid=14:spirituality-essays&Itemid=24

Minirth, Frank, and Meier, Paul, 1994, Happiness is a Choice: The Symptoms, Causes and Cures of Depression (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker)

Ratcliffe, Matthew, 2015, Experiences of Depression: A Study in Phenomenology (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Tombs, David, 2018, #HimToo – Why Jesus Should Be Recognised As A Victim Of Sexual Violence, available at https://shiloh-project.group.shef.ac.uk/himtoo-why-jesus-should-be-recognised-as-a-victim-of-sexual-violence/


[1] I’m indebted to Simon Hewitt for this thought. 

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Q & A with author Chris Greenough: The Bible and Sexual Violence Against Men

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Tell us about yourself. How does your book relate to your work as a whole and how did this book come about?

I’m Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religion at Edge Hill University. I got my PhD from the University of Birmingham in 2016, under the expert supervision of the most marvellous Dr Deryn Guest. I’m interested broadly in gender and sexuality and how it interfaces with religion, including LGBTQ+ identities, and queer theologies. 

The Bible and Sexual Violence Against Men is my third monograph. One of the texts I discuss in the book is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19: 1-29) and its legacy of being a text that condemns sex between men. The text is still used in an abusive way today in an attempt to bolster arguments against same-sex relationships or against gay marriage, for example. Religious teaching about the text has resulted in shame and stigma around same-sex relations, yet the passage is not about consensual, loving same-sex acts at all, it is about attempted male rape. 

The book came about when, originally, I was working with the brilliant Dr Katie Edwards on a similarly-themed book. We quickly realised there was a lot to cover and there was therefore a need for two complementary texts. Katie’s book is also forthcoming in the Routledge series. It was such a rewarding experience to work with Katie, and with the editors of the Routledge Focus series on Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible – Prof Johanna Stiebert and Dr Caroline Blyth. I’m ever so grateful for their support during the course of the book’s journey.

What are the key arguments of this book?

Within the first chapter of the book, I set out the importance of the topic for readers of the Bible today. 1 in 6 men have experienced some form of sexual abuse and the most prolific case of serial rape in UK legal history involved the rape of nearly 200 men. In the book, I argue how religion and society, while bolstering hegemonic masculinity and sanctioning heteronormativity, have contributed to a blindness to male sexual abuse in today’s world. I explore the reasons for shame and stigma that surround male sexual abuse, along with unhelpful myths that prevent men from reporting and seeking support. In Chapter Two, I examine passages from the Hebrew Bible that describe male rape or attempted sexual violence against men: Lot’s daughters who get him drunk and rape him in order to procreate (Genesis 19: 30-38); Potiphar’s Wife’s sexual advances against Joseph (Genesis 39) and the attempted rape of men (Genesis 19Judges 19). In Chapter Three, I turn the attention on Jesus’ enforced nudity at his crucifixion, and I examine sources that denote how such an act was a public humiliation and shaming of a man. The shaming was sexual. Reading Jesus as a victim of sexual violence remains a contentious issue in theology and biblical studies, as well as in wider faith communities. I explore why there is such stigma around these issues, which are undoubtedly connected to the fact he was a man. 

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

In general, critical studies into sexual violence experienced by men remain relatively scarce compared to scholarship exploring the rape and sexual violation of women. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that women experience sexual violence on a much greater scale than men. My aim is that the book generates an awareness of the lived realities of sexual violence against men, and that such an awareness will help debunk some of the myths that men cannot be abused.

I also hope that the book can serve a number of interested readers, including those who may be coming to explore the content of the biblical texts for the first time. For this reason, I wrote the book using a number of different critical approaches from theology, biblical and religious studies perspectives, while also exploring insights from the fields of sociology, psychology, criminology, as well as referring to legal cases and legislation, charity work and media-focussed articles. 

Give us one quotation from your book that you think will make readers want to go and read the rest.

“a blindness to the sexual violence Jesus endured has led to a blindness to sexual violence against men in general.”

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The #MeToo Reckoning: Book Review

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Reflection on and review of The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct, by Ruth Everhart (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020).

This is not the kind of book I usually pick up – but I’m glad I did. Why might I not have picked it up? The author, Ruth Everhart, is a Presbyterian pastor, and she writes of Jesus as a presence and of the Bible as instrumental in addressing sexual abuse and misconduct in today’s churches. I am not drawn to church, and for me, doing something ‘because of Jesus’ (the title of one sub-section early on in the book), or treating the Bible as a kind of how-to for protecting the most vulnerable (signified by ‘the little ones’ of Matthew 18), as much as I applaud Everhart’s purpose, is utterly unfamiliar. Like humanizing one’s pets, or talking to the dead, I see nothing wrong in theory with believing in Jesus’ active presence, but at the same time it’s just not ‘me’.Moreover, I’ve tended to see the Bible as more part of the problem in matters sexual abuse than part of the solution.

Some of Everhart’s writing struck me as too ‘churchy-preachy’ to warm to. Hence, I almost put the book away when I got to, ‘[Jesus’] love changes everything. He is the divine one who came into this world via vagina. To Jesus, women’s bodily experiences matter. To Jesus, all humans bear the image of God equally. To Jesus, the voices of victims crying out for justice is a beatitude sung by a chorus. Stop and listen. Push past the fear. Unleash the energy. The Spirit is here’ (p.15). But I pushed past, persevered, perhaps in part, because Everhart had said at the outset that the book was addressed to victims, survivors, allies of victims and survivors, pastors, lay leaders and also to non-Christians. 

I had ordered Everhart’s book, because I came across it as forthcoming while researching my own book on rape culture and #MeToo. In my book I make much of the enduring influence of biblical texts, particularly in faith communities. And yet, can I really say this with authority, given my own remove from such communities? I preordered Everhart’s book and began to read it soon after it arrived, hot off the press. It is a book that – much to my own surprise – engaged me; a book I admire and warmly recommend. It has taught me much and given me some insight into new perspectives. Here are a few things I particularly like about this book.

Everhart knows what she is talking about and sticks to what she knows 

Everhart is a rape survivor. She has written a memoir about her ordeal, when she and her roommates, all young students at a Christian college, were held at gunpoint and raped by two intruders. The memoir is called Ruined(Tyndale House, 2016)because this word captured her perception of herself following the rape. Feeling ruined can be traced back in part to the purity culture in which Everhart was raised and immersed. Her intimate understanding of both purity culture and of trying to understand rape against the backdrop of faith in a loving God also contributes to her acutely sensitive and empathetic depiction of the stories of others who have encountered sexual abuse and mistreatment in church settings: like Melissa, raised and home-schooled in a conservative Christian culture that deprived her of the language to disclose or speak about rape; Stephanie, the pastor who had to recognize and resist the sexism that was creating a rape-supportive environment in her own faith community; Kris, the young man exposed to a sexual abuser who was protected by church structures and secrecies.

Ruined follows Everhart’s spiritual journey moving through and past rape, past feeling ruined, and her choice of remaining in the church and following her calling to become a pastor. I have not read Everhart’s memoir, only her allusions to it in this book. Like other first-person accounts of rape, Everhart’s albeit brief descriptions stay with me. The two book-length autobiographical accounts of rape I have read – and yes, sadly, rape memoirs are a genre –  are Jill Saward’s Rape: My Story (Bloomsbury, 1990) and Joanna Connors’ I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her (Fourth Estate, 2016). 

With both of these accounts, as with Everhart’s, the victim is easily identified as ‘innocent’. Of course no victim of rape is anything other than blameless; rape is always a dreadful crime, regardless of who the victim is. But it is no revelation that not all rape victims receive sympathy or support. Instead, some victims are blamed – on account of being drunk, or being perceived to have been sexually provocative, for instance. There exists a hierarchy of respectability with some victims deemed ‘more innocent’ and ‘more undeserving’ and others as‘rapable’, their violation ‘understandable’, occasionally even deserved. 

This hierarchy is amply infused with perceptions regarding purity, as well as with racism and other forms of discrimination pertaining to class, for instance. Moreover, it is affected by the identity of both victim and perpetrator – and Everhart is well aware of these toxic dynamics. Early on she alludes to the inequalities of rape, including those pertaining to race (pp.7-8), which she returns to repeatedly (e.g. p.49, pp.222-23). Everhart also unpicks the subtle workings of purity culture and its intersections with rape culture (pp.108–32) and the multiple vulnerabilities of class-based inequalities (passim).

Everhart, Saward and Connors’ accounts are all by white women. Everhart and Saward were both very young at the time of their rapes and both were devout Christians – Everhart a student at a Christian college, Saward a vicar’s daughter. In all three cases the rapists were strangers, in two (Everhart’s and Saward’s) there was more than one rapist and the rapists were armed intruders. In both Everhart and Connors’ cases the rapists were black men. All of these factors – that the rape victims were young, white, Christian, and the assailantsviolent, armed, black, strangers – serve to render the victims ‘more innocent’ in terms of the hierarchy of respectability and the rapists ‘more deplorable’ in the hierarchy of perpetrators than if the victims had been black, sexually experienced, older, or sex workers, for instance, or if the rapists had been their victims’ husbands, acquaintances, or famous, handsome, white. 

This is due to networks of rape myths and how theseshape stereotypes, expectations, prejudices, values and it explains why some rapists – such as good-looking, or wealthy, white men, boyfriends or celebrities – are more likely to get away with rape and why black victims, or sex workers, or disabled victims while, according to statistics especially vulnerable to sexual violence, more often than not do not get a hearing, let alone justice in court, or even representation or acknowledgement of their disproportionate suffering in popular culture.

Everhart comprehends this fully and reflects this in her writing. She chooses, however, wisely in my view, to hone in on the rape culture context she knows and understands best. As she writes, ‘Because I have become a progressive Protestant, this book focuses on stories within that world. I feel a call to clean the dirt in my own house…’ (p.9). Everhart makes no bones about who she is – ‘a rape survivor… a former “good girl,” … a radical feminist’ (p.6) and she takes a clear-eyed look at the church to which she belongs and feels indebted but which she also recognizes as ‘the culprit… the place where culpability hides’ (p.4).

The book contains a variety of stories and gives insight into the complex reasons why abuse is common in churches 

This book is substantial in length and demonstrates considerable narrative agility. It combines accounts ofEverhart’s personal experience, stories of others who have encountered church complicity in sexual abuse and misconduct, news reports (including about the testimony of both Anita Hill and Christine Blasey-Ford), excerpts from written correspondences, and careful examinationsof a wide range of biblical texts: among these, Leviticus 15 (detailing the menstruation purity laws), Numbers 27 (about the daughters of Zelophehad), 2 Samuel 11–13(the stories of Nathan’s parable and the rapes of both Bathsheba and Tamar), Psalm 55, the book of Lamentations, Matthew 10 and 18 (about Jesus and the children, or ‘little ones’), Mark 5:21-43 (the stories of two daughters – Jairus’ daughter and the woman healed of a continuous discharge), Luke 18 (the story of a persistent widow – a text I hadn’t known about prior to reading Everhart’s book), and 1 Corinthians 12 (on theinter-dependent body of the Church).

Everhart is superb at telling and at connecting stories that show in multiple ways that churches foster environments in which sexual misconduct and abuse thrive. She tells her own story, of working in a new congregation and of the inappropriate attentions of a church leader, culminating in his forcibly kissing Everhart. She talks of her efforts first to forestall and then to address this incident and of the many obstructions she encountered. She speaks of how this revived past trauma and also, how her past trauma was used against her.

Alongside this, Everhart tells others’ stories that have been entrusted to her. Some of these describe cases of severe physical abuse (Melissa’s rape by two men, one a stranger, one a trusted friend from church; Kris’s violent assault by a church-assigned chaperone), others of apparently less serious encounters (the misogynybrewing in Stephanie Green’s congregation). Skillful and effective here is how Everhart constructs a church-specific picture of a rape culture pyramid, in which it isclear that the serious crimes that happen in church settings (and which have begun to make the news with horrible regularity) are under-shored by networks and tributaries of rape-supportive attitudes, complicities and suppressions. As Everhart argues persuasively, none of these, even if seemingly small or jocular, are harmless and – if left unchallenged – transpire in the protection of abusers and the multiplication of victims. Atmospheres where sexist jokes are accepted as ‘banter’ diminish and silence women; small sexualized transgressions when dismissed can embolden perpetrators. Everhart tells of the sexualized ‘jokes’ of Big Joe, which go on to influence a vulnerable attendee of his soup kitchen, who then begins to stalk Stephanie, and of Ginni, who is tooready to forgive a sexual predator in spite of his not taking accountability or accepting any punishment. Everhart’s stories are vivid and familiar – even to those not part of a church community. This is because the church setting she describes is a microcosm that, for all its distinctive features, echoes broader social patterns. 

Everhart’s examinations of biblical texts are also compelling – and here I feel on more familiar ground. I, too, have interfaced biblical texts with contemporarycontexts. Everhart describes her approach as hearing stories of the Bible and the present ‘in tandem, the twin halves of a double helix’ (p.11). She uses the Bible as an inspiration for seeking justice: Jesus’ advocacy for ‘the little ones’ calls her to speak for victims and survivors and to heal the church; she appeals to David’s exposure of guilt, as well as to his acknowledgement of fault and acceptance of punishment to act as a model for seekingperpetrators’ accountability.

But Everhart is not uncritical of the Bible by any means. Hence, she notes, for instance, David’s mourning for his sons, Amnon and Absalom, but not for Tamar, his daughter: ‘David’s silence speaks volumes: Tamar’s life is not equal in value to those of her brothers. How painful to be confronted with the sheer expendability of females in Scripture – yet this is our religious heritage’ (p.34). Everhart finds inspiration in the Bible – for women’s solidarity in the story of Zelophehad’sdaughters, and for persistence in seeking justice in the parable of the widow and the judge – but she is not blind to the Bible’s misogyny and she is aware of how it has been used against women. 

Everhart has clearly studied and reflected on the Bible in considerable depth. I have too – but I learned from Everhart. I found her reflection on the ewe lamb in Nathan’s parable insightful, for instance. Hence, Everhart suggests that the man’s affection for the lamb might point to a particularly tender relationship between Uriah and Bathsheba. I did not know and agree with Everhart that it is meaningful, that Bathsheba, though not named here, is referred to as the wife of Uriah in the New Testament (Matthew 1:6). I also concur that the image of the lamb emphasizes Bathsheba’s youth and vulnerability: Everhart asks, ‘Due to stark disparities in status, power, and age, was meaningful consent possible in the story of David and Bathsheba?’ (p.144) We are agreed that the story is one of rape. 

Everhart’s adept and lively narration of stories – both personal and biblical – makes this book enjoyable to read. Her careful analysis of texts from the Bible is balanced with vividly related accounts of actual people from her own circle. The parallels between the two make the Bible stories relevant and alive but without obscuring their toxic potential. As Everhart recognizes ‘Scripture says many things, including many contradictory things. … We must be aware of the temptation to “baptize” what feels good and right because it’s known and comfortable’ (p.36). Everhart avoids this temptation and delves into much that is uncomfortable and painful.

Ruth Everhart

The book not only identifies and explains problems but offers hope and church-compatible ways and incentives to resolve them

Everhart is clear where she stands: she is in the church and intends to remain there. She recognizes the church’s potential for facilitating abuse and wants to be part of the solution for bringing this to an end. She is motivated by feminism and enthusiastic about #MeToo, identifying it as a time to speak up and to bring the church into a movement for positive change. 

Among the problems Everhart identifies and seeks to resist are Christian complicity ‘in championing a patriarchal masculinity that marginalizes women and protects abusers’ (p.11); the manipulation of turning the willing sacrifice of Jesus into the exploitation of self-sacrifice, or into sacrifice of the truth (p.35, p.204); the prevalence of a purity culture and a conservative view on sexuality, which can prepare a seedbed for driving sexual abuse underground; the church’s ‘tremendous pull toward institutional self-preservation’ and the ‘intricate web of relationships within the church’ (p.53); and disciplinary processes that do not acknowledge, let alonehonour harms done (p.90ff., 104–06). 

Over and over again, Everhart, while drawing on discrete examples, agues that these problems lie not with a few ‘sick individuals’ but with systems (e.g. pp.80-81). She advocates for transparency and speaking out (p.106) and for making churches ‘safer and braver’ (p.212). Hence, rather than holding meetings about abuse behind closed doors or foregrounding privacy and anonymity, Everhart advocates for public laments, in line with the large-scale, public strategies of #MeToo. Shame, she points out, lies not with victims but with perpetrators and resisting sexual abuse is not a women’s issue but a human issue. Without active resistance, she warns, churches will lose all the remaining trust they still have and go under. 

Everhart’s book ends on a note of hope, optimism and activity – with a list of strategies for effecting positive change within congregations.

I was left, after reading this book, feeling sombre but also more knowledgeable, and very grateful for people like Everhart and others, including several who have featured on this blog – Jayme ReavesRosinah GabaitseMusa DubeDavid TombsMegan RobertsonLaurie Lyter-BrightHelen PaynterJoachim KueglerGerald WestEricka DunbarJoyce BohamJo Sadgrove… – for fighting the fight in the churches. 

I hope many of you will read this book, whether you are Christian, church-going, or not.

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#MeToo Jesus: Naming Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse

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by Jayme Reaves and David Tombs

Since giving a Shiloh Project Lecture at SIIBS, the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, in January 2018 we have been continuing our work on ‘#MeToo Jesus’. Our paper ‘#MeToo Jesus: Naming Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse’ has now appeared in the International Journal of Public Theology (December 2019) and is available on Open Access here. In the article we explore ways that recent readings of Jesus as victim of sexual violence/abuse might connect with #MeToo, and vice-versa. 

We start with Matthew 25:40, ‘You have done this to me too…’ as affirming a metaphorical connection between the experience of abuse survivors and the experience of Jesus. We then look beyond the metaphor, and discuss more literal and direct readings of Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse. We consider the work of David Tombs (1999), Elaine Heath (2011), Wil Gafney (2013), and Michael Trainor (2014), who each read Jesus as a victim of sexual violence and we note similarities in their work. The last part of the article tackles a question that we are sometimes asked about this reading, ‘Why does it matter?’ or ‘What good does this do?’. Exploring this question has been at the forefront of much of the work since the lecture, as part of the ‘When Did We See You Naked?’ project. We are particularly interested in how this reading might help to address the victim-blaming and victim-stigmatising which often accompany sexual violence. You can read more about the ‘When Did We See You Naked?’ project here, and listen to David’s interview (4 mins) with Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report (18 April 2019) here.

To examine this, we have been working with another colleague, Rocío Figueroa Alvear, at Good Shepherd College, Auckland (New Zealand). In 2018 Rocio interviewed a group of male sexual abuse survivors on their responses to naming Jesus as victim of sexual abuse. You can read the report on interviews with male survivors here. It is striking that this group of survivors were split on whether the reading is helpful for survivors, but they all agreed it was important for the church. 

Rocío and David are currently interviewing nuns and former nuns who have experienced sexual abuse. This has involved discussion of an abridged version of David’s article ‘Crucifixion, State Terror, and Sexual Abuse’ (see here). The shorter version was first published in Estudos Teológicos in Portuguese, and is now available from the University of Otago also in English, Spanish, French and will soon be in German. We hope to share our findings from the interviews next year.

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David and Rocio have also been part of a New Zealand group led by Emily Colgan, which includes Caroline Blyth and Lisa Spriggens. We are developing a tool-kit for use in churches on understanding sexual violence. It was really good to pilot some of the resources in November at a workshop with Anglican clergy and church leaders in Auckland.

During 2019, David has also had a research grant to work with Gerald West, Charlene van der Walt, and the Ujamaa Community at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on a contextual bible study on Matthew 27:26-31. This looks at how the stripping and mockery of Jesus might be read as sexual violence in a South African context. It has been interesting to see the difference that translation can make to responses, and to hear from students how the bible study was received when they used it.

Jayme Reaves has been leading workshops with church groups, activists, and clergy both in the United States and in the United Kingdom.  While these workshops are not aimed at victims/survivors of sexual abuse, they are facilitated sensitively with the understanding that there are no guarantees as to who is in the room. Building on this work and on the workshops conducted by Rocío and David elsewhere, Jayme is forming plans for a potential project in Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia and is currently seeking funding and local partners that will expand the work in two areas: working directly with victims of sexual violence in conflict contexts and their support networks, and building in an ecumenical and interfaith dimension with a view to developing a faith-based resource towards addressing the stigmatisation of victims of sexual violence.

Looking ahead, we are excited to have two books in preparation. The three of us (Jayme, Rocío and David) are co-editors for the book When Did We See You Naked?’: Acknowledging Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse with SCM Press (forthcoming in 2021). We are delighted to be working with a fantastic group of international scholars on this collection. Meanwhile, David is writing for the Routledge Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible Series on The Crucifixion of Jesus: Torture, Sexual Abuse, and the Scandal of the Cross, for publication in 2020.

To promote further discussion of #MeToo issues, Jeremy Punt (Stellenbosch University) is planning a session on ‘#MeToo and Jesus’ in the Political Biblical Criticism Session (see here) at the 2020 International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Adelaide, Australia (5-9 July 2020, see here). The Call for Papers is here and still open until 29 January 2020. We plan to be part of the conversation. If you are going and interested, why not send Jeremy a proposal? Or come along and join the discussion: we would love to hear what you think. 

David is also looking forward to seeing Shiloh colleagues and others in Dunedin in August 2020. The New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions (NZASR) are hosting the 22nd Quinquennial World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). Colleagues in the University of Otago Religion programme have been working hard on all the organisation. It promises to be a great conference in a beautiful setting, so why not plan to come to Otago in 2020?

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 10 – Helen Paynter

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Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?

I am a Baptist minister and an Old Testament specialist. I teach Old Testament and Biblical languages, based at Bristol Baptist College. In particular, I am the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence.  The CSBV is a study centre dedicated to working in the area of the interpretation of biblical texts of violence. It exists to promote and conduct high-quality scholarship, and to serve the churches in the UK and internationally by offering accessible resources to equip them to read the scriptural texts of violence well, and the challenge the ways in which the Bible is sometimes weaponised for the promotion of violence. We hope thereby to enable the church to offer counter-violent counter-extremist narratives in situations of conflict or tension.

 

How does your research or your work connect to activism?

One of the areas that I am passionate about is the interpretation of biblical sexual violence, which has been interpreted – at various times in the history of the church – in some very disturbing ways. I have recently completed a book on the dreadful story of the Levite’s wife from Judges 19, called Telling Terror in Judges 19: Rape and Reparation for the Levite’s wife. This will be coming out soon in the Routledge Focus series. In this book, I offer what is known as a ‘reparative’ interpretation of the text; that is, while acknowledging the horrors it presents and the ideology that may lie behind it, seeking to read for some suprising positives that the narrative offers. As part of this work, I did quite a lot of research into modern situations of sexual violence with which this ancient text has contact, particularly the horrific Delhi Bus Rape. I draw these comparisons in the book.

Another project I have been involved in was the #SheToo podcast series, produced by Rosie Dawson for the Bible Society. I was a consultant and contributor for this series, wherein Rosie interviewed various female scholars from different faith perspectives on some of the narratives of sexual violence in the Bible.

The other arm of the CSBV, which looks at the weaponisation of the Bible, has led me to write a second book this year, to be published by BRF in 2020. The title is still under negotiation, but the current working version is ‘The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So: Why submitting to abuse is not a Christian wife’s duty’. Tragically, domestic abuse is sometimes sustained by abusers through appeal to various biblical texts, and churches also sometimes contribute to this by the misapplication of biblical principles. As a Christian minister, I am not only deeply disturbed by this, but feel a sense of responsibility to attempt to address it, and this book is intended for that purpose. It is aimed at women who are trapped in abusive marriages where the Bible plays a part in their abuse, and also at those who seek to help them, and at church leaders. I am hoping that it will reach an international market as well as a domestic one, and that through it, women will find themselves empowered to find places of safety and resist manipulative attempts to keep them trapped in situations of abuse.

 

Why is activism important to you and what do you hope to achieve between now and the 16 Days of 2020?

I think I’ve probably covered the first question above. Between now and the beginning of December next year, I hope that both of these books will have been published, and that I will be able to speak on the subject at various national and possibly international platforms. In particular, I am hoping to be in a position to attend and contribute to the Baptist World Alliance quinquennial meeting in Rio next year, where there will be a specialist subject stream on gender based violence.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 7 – Joachim Kuegler

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Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?

Since 2008, I am Professor for New Testament Studies at the University of Bamberg in Germany. My work lies at the interface of the academy, education and religion. Since 1988 I am also an ordained priest of the Catholic Church (in the diocese of Bamberg). I am one of the many Catholic men who, while benefitting from the gender bias of this Church, is suffering in the face of the traditional gender injustice so powerful in both doctrine and practice. The big goal of my work as a professor and priest is to let people know that God is a power that helps to overwhelm gender bias, gender-based violence and misogyny. I really don’t know if it will be possible to transform the Catholic Church into a tool of gender-fairness but at least I don’t feel alone in my attempt to do so.

How does your research or your work connect to activism?

For me it is quite easy to connect my research with activism. First, because the main topics of my research are gender and developmental justice. With our Bible-in-Africa-research we aim at tearing down the walls that colonialism created by organising an exchange with African students and scholars based on the principle of pluriform equality. Using the opportunities offered by a rich country (Germany) we try to give academics from Africa a chance to display their talent in exploring the Bible in a contextual life-oriented way.

Secondly, my double existence as professor and priest allows me to spread my academic insights into the area of an old and established but still vivid faith-based community. I always try to structure my preaching and my pastoral work with people living at our local Asylbewerber-Heim (‘centre for asylum-seekers’) according to the principle of gender fairness and global justice. In the last years church structures allowed me to organise funds for African students and financial help for immigrants – not to mention the spiritual support that a congregation can give to new-comers. I think, the quota of racist, xenophobic and misogynic people is lower among  active Christians than in some other parts of German society. Thus it is easier to find help and feel supported by the consent of many.

Why is activism important to you and what do you hope to achieve between now and the 16 Days of 2020?

Activism is no ‘add-on’ to my academic work. Because I take my research insights seriously, they urge me to act them out accordingly. I cannot read Galatians 3:28 – ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ – and then go and preach that it is okay when women aren’t ordained. I cannot analyse Jesus’ beatitudes of the poor and then ignore those in my village that are suffering from being marginalised and ill-treated. But also, I am also learning from activism for my academic work. Which questions in research are really relevant? Which ones can I leave to those whose prime or even only goal is a university career? Between now and the Days of Activism in 2020 I hope to support especially ‘Maria 2.0’ (an equal-rights-movement of Catholic women) with as many public lectures as possible. I feel that my interpretation of biblical texts is really welcome in this movement.

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#MeToo 2 Years On: What Have We Learnt – Event at St Paul’s Cathedral, 19 November

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Shiloh Project co-director Katie Edwards (University of Sheffield) will speak at this event, reflecting on the #MeToo movement, at St Paul’s Cathedral later this month. Booking details can be found here.

Two years on from #MeToo – what have we learnt?

Tuesday 19th November 2019, 6:30pm-8pm
OBE Chapel, St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Churchyard, London, EC4M 8AD

It’s two years since the world was rocked by allegations about high-profile men harassing women, who often felt they had to stay silent in order to keep their jobs. As the social media storm grew, more and more stories emerged from around the world and in every workplace sector. Women at all levels of working life had experienced discrimination, sexualised behaviour, and abuse. Has anything changed since then?

This event will reflect on the last two years: the nature of debate, the experiences of women and men, and the consequences for working life.

Speakers include:

  • Sarah Churchman OBE, Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer, PwC
  • Ayesha Hazarika, journalist and political commentator
  • Dr Katie Edwards, University of Sheffield
  • Sarah Whitehouse QC, Senior Treasury Counsel, 6KBW

The entrance for this event will be the Crypt Door. If you have any accessibility needs please let us know by emailing: institute@stpaulscathedral.org.uk

This event is open to all who wish to attend and is free of charge. However, we would welcome a donation (we suggest £5-£10) to help cover the running costs from anyone who wishes to make it.

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Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible Book Series: Inaugural Volume Out Soon!

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We’re delighted to launch the inaugural volume of our book series with Routledge Focus.

Rape Myths, the Bible and #MeToo by Shiloh Project co-director Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds) will be available in all good bookshops from 5 November.


We’ll be celebrating its publication with a launch event at The University of Sheffield on Friday 20 December 4-7pm G11 – Workroom 2, 38 Mappin Sheffield.

Talks from Johanna Stiebert and Dr Mmapula Kebaneilwe (University of Botswana) will be followed by a wine reception and seasonal buffet.

If you would like to join us, book your tickets here.

If you would like to submit a proposal to the series editors for consideration, contact us at Shiloh@sheffield.ac.uk

We look forward to reading your ideas!

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“Women, take the matter up!” Family violence, social justice, and faith

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This post is written by Daphne Marsden (BMin, MTh). Daphne works with Project Esther, a charitable trust that works with and for women to ensure they are valued, respected, and can reach their full potential. Project Esther offers an impressive range of services to women, including wellbeing support groups (Waiora o te Wahine), temporary and emergency accommodation for women in crisis, supporting women of faith who are experiencing domestic violence, and advising church leaders about responding pastorally  to disclosures of domestic violence. Project Esther staff also contribute to the Chaplaincy work in Christchurch Women’s Prison providing pastoral care, crafts, music lessons and a bookclub for the women in the prison.

The first part of Daphne’s post is based on a presentation she originally gave at a 2018 suffrage event in Christchurch, New Zealand, titled  “Women on Fire.” Daphne presented this extended version at our recent Shiloh Project workshop, held at the University of Auckland on 4 July, 2019.

 

Nga mihi tena koutou katoa – Greetings everyone

No Ōtautahi ahau  – I am from Christchurch

Ko Opawaho te awa – The Opawa is my river

Ko Alice raua ko Betty ōku kuia – Alice and Betty are my grandmothers

Ko Fay tōku whaea – Fay is my mother

Ko Anna raua ko Emily āku tamāhine – Anna and Emily are my daughters

Ko Daphne Gracie tāku ingoa – I am Daphne Gracie

No reira tena koutou katoa – Greetings to you

I want to give voice to past and present stories.

The present stories are from the places I work.

Rachel McAlpine’s novel, Farewell Speech (Penguin, 1990) gives voice to the ordinary women who worked as suffragettes. In the novel, we read about suffragette Ada Wells, who had a daughter called Bim. Bim describes the following:

I woke up suddenly and I heard the noises. A thump thump thump, and then a silence and another thump. I pushed the door open and there was father in his rage. I wanted mother to scream but she just stayed there with her hands over her head.I once asked, “Why did you let Father hit you, Mother?”

In frustration, she said, “He was bigger than me.“

Image: www.pexels.com; Text added: E.Samuel

In a support group, a woman shared with us how she grew up in a cult. During her childhood, all the decisions concerning her schooling, social, and home life were made by men. The man in charge was a bully to her family:

“There was so much I wasn’t allowed to do, like simply reading a novel or having friends outside the cult. We had no freedom, we were all controlled. I have come to Christchurch to get away from a very controlling and abusive husband; I brought my young children with me.”

Image: D Marsden

A woman who used our accommodation tells us how she came to New Zealand with her husband of many years. Soon after arriving, he did not want her anymore. He left her for another woman. She says:

“He said he did not love me, he does not want to look at me, and I bring him bad luck. The police came one day when I was injured and in hospital and I got refuge help. I have a lawyer now and I am waiting to know what will happen with our children.  I still love my husband and I feel very sad.”

Image: D. Marsden

A disabled woman’s diabetic son got taken from school to hospital by ambulance. He stayed overnight. When he was discharged they took turns riding home on her disability scooter. She says:

 “He was weak and couldn’t walk far. It was dark and cold we had to do it this way I only had $30 in the bank till Tuesday and couldn’t afford a taxi it would have cost $30. But we did it because we had to, life can be like that, but when you have kids you find a way.”

Image: Marco Verch on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/SnszHw

There is a school nearby our workplace; the teachers sometimes ask us, can we provide bras, underwear and sanitary pads for young women students who have special needs? These requests make me wonder, what other issues are these young women facing and struggling with? Thankfully, there are women school teachers who advocate and care for them. It’s not right though, that the girls who are the most vulnerable in our community have so few resources, and must rely on the support of teachers and charity.

Image: D. Marsden

In the Christchurch women’s prison where I am chaplain, the women often ask me if I can get them a bra, socks, or a pair of undies. Some women arrive at prison in what they wore to court, or in the police cells.  For others, their size has changed or their only bra has worn out. It’s embarrassing for them to have to ask; the older ladies whisper their size to me and I have to explain, “You need to fill out a special form and give it to someone who works here.” In my mind I think, “She will need to keep going through this embarrassment time and again. This is not justice.”

Image: D. Marsden

The role of chaplain involves a lot of listening to stories about gender injustice, women who can’t leave the prison as they don’t have a safe place to go to. Some women say, “I will be sleeping on the street when I get out,” or “I don’t want to go, I am better off here,” despite the fact that being “here” is not an easy option, no matter what people say. It is sad to hear these words from both young women and older women. It is also sad when women come back after only a short time of freedom, and I ask myself, “was she ever really free?”

Image: D. Marsden

Years after the vote was won, a Women’s Christian Temperance Union  editor wrote of the suffragettes,“We, the mothers of the present, need to impress upon our children’s minds how the women of the past wrestled and fought, suffered and wept, prayed and believed, agonised and won for them the freedom they enjoy today.” Gratefully, we walk in their footsteps of advocacy but need to leave our own.  Present freedoms remain partial. Stories still need to be rescued, heard, understood, felt, and resourced so that allwomen have choices.

Image: Deraman Uskratzt on Flickr. Text: D. Marsden

One hundred and twenty five years after suffrage, we still have a long way to go in Aotearoa New Zealand. There are still bastions of patriarchal power which do not enable freedoms or goals of equality and respect. We are told that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treatsits weakest members.  Women and girls remain in positions of exploitation and disadvantage in every area: education, health, employment, and safety. That our sisters are needing help to access sanitary pads, bras, transport, domestic safety, homes, health services and a basic income screams injustice.

Image: www.pexels.com; Text added: E.Samuel; Cartoon source: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/37118907

We are women on fire.  In our communities we smoulder away; some of us are infernos which people try to dampen down. Fires destroy rubbish, give direction, signal danger, and clear paths. Margaret Atwood says:

Eating fire
is your ambition: 
to swallow the flame down
take it into your mouth
and shoot it forth, a shout or an incandescent
tongue, a word
exploding from you in gold, crimson,
unrolling in a brilliant scroll
To be lit up from within
vein by vein
To be the sun.

I concluded my talk at the suffrage event last year by saying I hope an evening such as this encourages us to keep our feminist fires burning, to gather fuel, stoke up embers, eliminate dead wood, and choke with smoke if we need to. Our fires need to rage and burn the rubbish and dross of patriarchy.  There is so much more work to do. Some structures are difficult and take a long time to burn. I say, let’s turn up the heat. Justice still needs to come. For so many women and girls, things are far from what they should be.  I ended my talk with the lovely words of New Zealand’s most famous suffragist, Kate Sheppard: “Women, take the matter up”

But for now, I don’t quite want to end there.

We have some more precious and significant words from women of faith who journey with domestic violence.

The first time that Sam hit me, he just … I was on the bed and he was slapping my face, side to side like that, you know (moves head) … hurting … and I thought to myself, “I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to let him see that this is upsetting me.” And I just lay there and let him do it to me. Where did that come from?! I’ve not a clue. He just slapped, slap, slap – like this – and I didn’t know it was abuse. I just lay there, thinking, “There’s one thing I’m not going to let him do to me – and that is I’m not going to let him break me.” …. That was so early in our marriage, like, maybe a year into our marriage …. something just shifted in my thinking towards him, from then on – and I was married to him for thirteen yearsCovenant is something to be taken seriously. I didn’t think God ever broke covenants – so if we made a covenant with God, then we shouldn’t break it either. Which sort of takes my mind down the road to, well, how bad is divorce, then?[1]

In secular situations when a woman continues to return to a violent relationship, the question most often asked is, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

Within the church, however, leaving, even as a temporary measure is a possibility that is frequently denied an abused woman. When seeking help from her faith community it is more than likely that she will be asked a series of faith-related questions which she no doubt has already asked herself:

Have you prayed about the problem? 

Have you forgiven him? 

How have you contributed to the conflict? 

Have you been a good witness or example? 

Have you been submissive? 

Didn’t you promise to stay for better or for worse? 

Doesn’t the Bible say we are to suffer for our faith?

Each of these questions is undergirded by and justified with traditional understandings of particular scriptures, such as forgiving seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22), women remaining silent (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), and wives submitting to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18).  Literature and stories women share with us continually  highlight these particular scriptures.

Another woman has spoken to me about her experiences of church culture which shaped her husband’s behaviours:

In our church there was a theology of domination. The great God does all these things and is in control and takes charge – and that was mirrored by men being the ones who take charge, and they solve things by taking charge. Women are there to assist.  Subservience and suffering are somehow virtuous in their own right. 

A big issue of course was sex. I was “being cruel” and depriving him of something that was really essential to him by not wanting to go to bed.  

If we disagreed about sex, who gets to decide? Well, he’s the man, he’s in charge, and I’m the woman. How important am I as a person? and in fact, do I even own my body?

Christian women are a very vulnerable group who, in the main, wait longer to seek help for domestic violence than their secular sisters.

The churches that hold onto patriarchy and non-egalitarian beliefs and practices (which I would say areunbiblical) create a lot of hard work. The church is very happy to celebrate and draw attention to itself for the work that women do to help other women, such as providing services like refuge, food, and education. But the church does not want to see or take responsibility for the ways it contributes to the plight of women, especially those who are vulnerable. There continues to be resistance to basic practices like the use of inclusive language and the equitable sharing of leadership between women and men. Church leadership commonly continues to withhold power from women and other marginalized groups in patriarchal and hierarchical ways. There is resistance to appreciating how pervasiveand complex violence against women is, and of course many male church leaders are certain that God is a man.

The patriarchal tenets of this hierarchical model can be replicated in the Christian family and increase the risk of family violence. Some Christian women experience their marriage as a place of vulnerability and danger, as their husband is guided by beliefs adhered to within their faith communities: that a wife’s submission is biblically expected and directed. Abused Christian women describe their marriage relationship as one of inequality, where the greater power is held by their husbands. Christian husbands mayembrace traditional ideas about family and gender roles,especially that the husband is the supreme and superior leader in the home and,as such,has the power to control family members. Choices made by husbands may leave women feeling disadvantaged and, in many instances, vulnerable to harm. The children within these families also suffer as a result of this misuse of male power.

Let me share another woman’s story:

My husband had an affair; our baby was six months old.  Once he was angry with the dog and he threatened, “You wait ‘til I get home, I’m going to fuckin’ kill it; I’m going to fuckin’ wring its neck.” I was frightened. He would get angry with our little son and push him into the corner and I push my way between them, the kids were only little. I’d go back to “you made your bed and you lie in it.” So I’ve made my bed and I’m lying in it.

Research highlights the connection between violence within marriage and the subordinate position of women within marriage. The abuse of women exposes the potential danger of men’s sense of entitlement and their claims to control within the family structure.

In my work at Project Esther, I meet women who have encountered similar circumstances. Sometimes they just want to chat, to ask questions about scripture; many feel they need to justify why they believe they cannot leave the abusive relationship, and some to ask for advice about a safe place to go with their children for a reprieve from violence.

I always feel that it is a privilege to listen to a woman sharing her difficult story of abuse; it is sacred listening which behoves respect. We must do justice with her trust, offer her support, and respect her choices.

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[1]This and the following quotes are from Daphne Marsden’s Masters Thesis, “Dishonoured and Unheard: Christian Women, Domestic Violence, and the Church,” Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School of Theology, 2013. This thesis is now published by Archer Press(2018).

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