"#MeToo: Women of the Bible Speak Out"

March 18, 2018

 

“#MeToo: Women of the Bible Speak Out”

 

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him…But David remained at Jerusalem. 2It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. Then she returned to her house. 5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”  6So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David...8Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet...” 9But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house...  11Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife?...” 13David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. 14In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab.  [It said,] 15“Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

         (2 Samuel 11:1-9, 11, 13-15, NRSV)

            “I believe healing is a lifelong journey and the hardest part is starting.” These words were spoken by Tarana Burke, American civil rights activist and recently best known as the first woman to begin the "Me Too" movement to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in our society.

 

In a recent New York Times article by Sandra Garcia, she states, “In 1997, Tarana Burke sat across from a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually abused. The young girl was explaining her experience, and it left Ms. Burke speechless. That moment is where the Me Too campaign was born. “I didn’t have a response or a way to help her in that moment, and I couldn’t even say ‘me too,’ ” Ms. Burke said in the interview. “It really bothered me, and it sat in my spirit for a long time,” she added.  Ten years after that conversation, Ms. Burke created Just Be Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps victims of sexual harassment and assault. She sought out the resources that she had not found readily available to her 10 years before and committed herself to being there for people who had been abused.  And she gave her movement a name: Me Too.”[1]

 

Following Tarana Burke’s compelling statement, millions of women followed suit.  Actress Alyssa Milano posted on social media, “Suggested by a friend, if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of this problem.”  The hashtag was widely used on [social media platforms] and was shared in more than 12 million posts and reactions in just the first 24 hours.[2]

 

As women began sharing their stories, others came forward to break their silence. In recent months we’ve heard the stories of thousands of women and some men, spanning across diverse backgrounds and experiences, shedding light on the prevalence of abuse in our world.  Time Magazine awarded the 2017 Person of the Year to the “Silence Breakers” of the Me Too movement. The historic Time Magazine article states, “The [#MeToo movement] is born of a very real and potent sense of unrest. Yet it doesn't have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet. The hashtag #MeToo…which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories is part of the picture, but not all of it. This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries.”[3]

 

As people of faith, we too have been responsible for perpetuating generations of abuse, patriarchy and mistreatment of women.  How we tell and interpret our beloved stories from scripture, defines how we perceive God and how we treat one another.  This historic movement in which we find ourselves a part of calls us to evaluate our lives and the times, knowingly or unknowingly where we have caused damage to others.  When the Church (universal) fails to call out structures of abuse in our Holy texts, we then become part of the systemic problem.  When we interpret structures of patriarchy and misogyny as “that’s just the way it was” we propagate violence and abuse.   This is a time for truth telling.  This is a time for women of the Bible to break their silence.  This is a time for people of faith to call out injustices and structures of exploitation and abuse.  This is a time when the Church must respond so that we might all begin our life long journey of healing. 

 

In our scripture lesson this morning, we hear once again the well-known story of David and Bathsheba.  Let us hear it once again as we observe it perhaps in a new light.  “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.  3David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. Then she returned to her house. 5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”  6So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” 11Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 12Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. 14In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”[4]

 

I remember hearing today’s story as a teenager.  Often teachers referred to Bathsheba as an adulteress and the class would giggle in response.  More often than not, discussion would focus on the fact that Bathsheba was bathing on her roof, exposed.  The boys would typically agree that it was her fault that she was within view of others and “tempting” David.   The girls were always aghast at Bathsheba’s admission to David the she was pregnant.  The class was more often than not more concerned about David’s image and how he would escape this scandal, than they were about Bathsheba’s power rape and abuse. There was never any mention of David’s wrongdoing when it came to his treatment of Bathsheba. “That’s just the way it was”, teachers would say reluctantly.  “Kings gave orders and people obeyed.”   Through our analysis of the text, we agreed that the real sin in the story is David’s attempted cover up and his eventual murder of Uriah. We would go on to discuss how David was in fact a “Man after God’s own heart”.[5]  We would write on paper our own shortcomings like David and remember God’s grace. Often we would conclude with a prayer that would say something like “might we too, like David, become men after God’s own heart in our lives.”  

 

This interpretation of today’s story is not uncommon, at least not to more conservative denominations in the south.  I heard the same explanations in Bible study groups, in campus ministry circles, and in churches throughout my young adult life.  As people of faith, we must start changing the narrative we have heard for far too long. We must call out abusive and oppressive behaviors not only in scripture, but also in our daily living. 

 

In an article published by the Feminist Studies in Religion Journal, Religion professor Dr. Sarah Emmanuel writes, “[B]iblical stories …can powerfully shape people’s lives—even when the story may seem innocuous. We can think of stories in alternative ways. Stories order and reorder our experience; that is to say, they reveal the way things are in the real world. They reflect a given culture. Alternatively, stories may be thought to create the real world. They are ‘performative’ rather than simply explanatory. They give meaning to life, implicitly making proposals for thought and action which are then embodied in a re-created world.[6] 

 

            It matters how we interpret and explain stories of faith.   Stories from our Biblical text are woven into the fabric of our lives and often inform our thoughts about worth, value, love and relationship. As a young college student, I often identified with the Old Testament story of Esther.  She was an essential female Bible character that typically found her way into various all-girl Bible studies on my college campus.  The Bible study leader would remind us to be brave like Esther, to be beautiful like Esther. But part of her story was omitted from our interaction with her. “We forgot the darkness woven throughout her testimony and we exploited her story without honestly accounting for her victimization and trials. Esther’s story is one of a victim’s account of human trafficking.  The relationship that develops between the king and Esther is none other than one of sexual exploitation.”[7] The scripture tells us, “While the other girls were “gathered,” Esther was “taken.” (2:8)

Stories harness power.  When we uncover these truths of systemic abuse, we empower others to do the same. When we teach our children and our youth to identify harmful systems of abuse in our Biblical texts, we help them recognize and call out injustices in their current realities. For like spiritual writer Erika Hewitt once wrote in a piece called “The Dynamics of Silence”, she proclaims, "How complicated it is to break silence: to open all of the secrets in all of our broken hearts. But silence does break; truth seeks the light. We're unraveling silence because we have determined that our power with one another is greater than the power someone once had over us."[8]

 

The church must do better.  We will do better.  We can start by re-examining harmful Biblical texts and calling out places of oppression when we see it.  We can start by talking about misogyny, sexual harassment, and abuse.  Statistics reveal that 1 out of every 6 women will have experienced sexual violence within her lifetime.  1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.[9]  As a faith community, striving to become fulfilled, whole and complete people, we must do better. 

 

We can start by having conversations about harmful views of what it means to be a boy or a man in the world.  We can start by discussing harmful views of what it means to be a girl or a woman in our world.  In a recent article in USA Today, contributor Alia Dastagir writes, “The stereotypical sense of masculinity is at war with everything we know about what it means to be human. It’s muted suffering, even when we know talking through trauma is important for healing. It’s not expressing physical affection for other men, including male children, even though we know human touch is central to emotional well-being. It’s filthy jokes, flaunting sexual conquests and insecurity disguised as bravado. It’s being taught that power is dominating others, rather than treating people as the full humans they are. For this, men pay a steep price. So do women. We brutalize [males] and then tell them the tradeoff is you get to be in a more powerful position,” said CJ Pascoe, a professor at the University of Oregon. “Men not only are told this is how you behave if you want to be a man, but they’re also called upon to demonstrate — in the military, in fraternities, in politics, in relationships…. Former Marine Erika Butner, spoke out saying, "Victim blaming and the excuse that some are giving that ‘boys will be boys’ needs to stop.” This isn’t what a boy is. It’s what a boy is told he must be.”[10]

 

Lutheran pastor and NY Times bestselling author Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber published a timely article in the Washington Post entitled, “We’re in the midst of an apocalypse. And that’s a good thing.”  In the article, she shares that the Greek word for apocalypse means to uncover, to peel away, to show what’s underneath.  She suggests that these recent moments in our history are in essence an “uncovering” of sorts.  That we are exposing some of the deeply rooted issues in our society.  And that many of the oppressive and abusive behaviors stem from our understandings of scripture.  

 

She writes, “If we look as deep as we can stomach, we will find heresy at the center. Nineteenth-century theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher defined heresy as “that which preserves the appearance of Christianity, and yet contradicts its essence.” The heresy is this…those who seek to justify or maintain dominance over another group of people have historically used the Bible to prove that that domination was not actually an abuse of power, but indeed was part of “God’s plan.” And there you have the appearance of Christianity (Bible verses and God-talk) contradicting its essence (love God, and love your neighbor as yourself). … When the subordination of women is established as God’s will, when slavery is established as God’s will, when discrimination against [our LGBTQ brothers and sisters] is established as God’s will,…” it delivers a poison that can infect the deepest parts of us. Because messages that are transmitted to us in God’s name embed far beneath the surface, all the way down to our original place, our createdness.”[11]

 

Bolz concludes, “This is why I welcome our moment of uncovering; we need to see how deep the heresy of domination runs, and then remind one another that dominant powers are not ultimate powers. She writes, …As Christians, we need to repent of our original sins, and see where we have embraced the appearance of Christianity only to reject its essence…. The Bible, Christian theology and liturgy are too potent to be left to those who would use them, even unwittingly, to justify and protect their own dominance. And sometimes the origin of the harm can be the most powerful source of healing. That’s how anti-venom works.”[12]

 

As we journey together this Lenten season, might we remember Jesus’ call to abundant life. Might we recognize that each of us is fully and equally created in the image of God. For only then, might we begin to heal generational wounds and to experience a life of fullness. As people of faith, we can do better.  We can teach our young boys that they can be strong, protective, powerful, independent and fearless.  But we can also teach them to be loving, gentle, kind, nurturing and considerate. We can teach our young girls to be loving, gentle, kind, nurturing and considerate. We can also teach them to be strong, protective, powerful, independent and fearless. Equality benefits us all in our quest for a rich abundance Jesus calls us to.  As people of faith, we must call out places within our religious structures and stories that have led to generations of injustice, oppression and abuse.  We must do better.  And we will do better.  

 

May we go now in God’s steadfast grace and abiding love.  May we go now as people of faith seeking to heal the broken places both within us and around us.  May we go now with courage as people of God that we might begin the process that leads to healing and eternal wholeness for all.  May it be so. AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PASTORAL PRAYER

 

Covenant-making God, you use every possible means to reach us, breathing your Spirit in us, calling us by name,
showing us symbols of your promise, offering us a new way of life.

We confess that our hearts are hardened. We choose certainty over faith, anxiety over courage,

independence over compassion.  We turn our eyes from our neighbors in need, and from stories of despair, and from pleas for peace, and from anything that might bring tears to our eyes, for we prefer our own comfort.  We get caught up in our own needs and desires, and forget you have made us to be your people, together.

We pray for the many needs of people in our world today. Where there is violence, we pray for a peaceful solution.  Where there is hurt, we pray that we would find ways to mend.  Where there is hunger and thirst, we pray that we would find ways to quench and to satisfy.  We pray for those who are separated from loved ones this day.  Bless all those in need of your tender care.

 

Draw us closer to You and to one another.  Through the name of Christ our sustainer we pray, Amen. 

 

 

~ Adapted by a prayer by Rev. Terri Peterson and posted on LiturgyLink.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/us/me-too-movement-tarana-burke.html

 

[2] Ibid.

 

[3] http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2017-silence-breakers/

 

[4] New Revised Standard Version

 

[5] 1 Samuel 13:4

 

[6] http://www.fsrinc.org/women-of-the-bible-say-metoo/

 

[7] https://sojo.net/articles/esther-s-story-victim-s-account-human-trafficking

 

[8] https://www.uua.org/braverwiser/dynamics-silence

 

[9] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

 

[10] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/03/31/masculinity-traditional-toxic-trump-mens-rights/99830694/

 

[11] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/03/14/were-in-the-midst-of-an-apocalypse-and-thats-a-good-thing/?utm_term=.629cd69762c4

 

[12] Ibid.

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