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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.

Helen Paynter

The author Helen Paynter

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