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Sexual violence and the church

Sexual violence and the church

Catherine Woodwiss writes in Sojourners about how images of God and Bible stories that support power and masculinity lead to manipulation, devaluation, and sexual abuse of women. From her essay In the Image of God: Sex, Power, and ‘Masculine Christianity Woodwiss writes:

Most of us are too familiar with this story: an Upper Midwestern Baptist minister claims that “God made Christianity to have a masculine feel [and] ordained for the church a masculine ministry.” Or a Reformed Christian pastor mocks the appointment of the first female head of the Episcopal Church, comparing her to a “fluffy baby bunny rabbit.” Or a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor in California says physical abuse by one’s spouse is not a reason for divorce. Or numerous young evangelical ministers brag about their hot wives in tight leather pants.

Fewer of us are familiar with this story: Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon. Tamar protests her brother’s advances, citing the social code of Israel, his reputation, and her shame, to no avail. Their brother Absalom commands her to keep quiet, and their father, the great King David, turns a blind eye.

What do these contemporary statements above, delivered into cultural megaphones with conviction and certainty, have to do with the Old Testament rape and silencing of Tamar? The difficult answer is, quite a lot. The narrative dominance of these stories rests on power and control, which — whether intentional or not — speaks volumes about whom the church serves and what the church values.

Read it all here.


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Weiwen Ng

Clint – my solution is to own those stories, to say that this is an example of humanity being imperfect, and to say that this is falling far short of the glory of God.

One potential problem there is that some Christians place a heavy emphasis on believing the Bible to be literally true, or nearly so. Others don’t require the Bible to be as literally true. There’s a spectrum. And the approach above could be harder to accept the closer you are to the literal end.

After all, God did not smite David. God smote the Israelites for various violations of the purity codes and for various instances of worshipping false gods. I would put sexual abuse on the same level as worshipping false gods, if not higher. David should have been smote. And God actively commands the Israelites to commit genocide on several occasions, so we know that the OT God is not afraid to intervene with violence against whatever sin.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t have to be a disqualifying factor for more text-oriented Christians. They’ll need to accept that sexual abuse is a sin, and that it should be actively opposed at all levels.

Sojourners seems to be running a series on sexual violence. A very good companion post by a women who was sexually assaulted by a fellow missionary is below. Apart from the part where she’s assaulted, the second most poignant part is where one other leader comes to her and says that she has caused some married men to “stumble”. WTF? is the only response I can think of.

Clint Davis

What is the Church to do with these absolutely terrible stories in “the Bible”? Ignore isn’t the answer, try again. I know my answer, I want to hear others give an answer.

James Mikolajczyk


You may be aware that the Eastern Orthodox call Mary Magdalene “the Apostle to the Apostles” because she was the first one to receive the Great Commission.

James Mikolajczyk

Gregory Orloff

Men who preach such nonsense really need to read the gospels in the New Testament. There they’ll find that the risen Jesus didn’t appear and God’s angels didn’t reveal the resurrection to men first. No, he appeared and they revealed it to women first, and they sent those women to announce it to the men. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

Bill Moorhead

A “fluffy baby bunny rabbit”? I expect most of us find that massively offensive. I suspect that +Katharine finds it hilarious. No, GMimi, these people aren’t clueless. They’re sociopathic.

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