Content Warning: Sexual Assault
“The explicit nature of the biblical text calls for an equally explicit conversation about the text and, I argue, that includes from the pulpit.” – Wil Gafney, Womanist Hebrew Bible Scholar
I saw something floating around Facebook a few weeks ago… some of you even shared it. And I figured would work well as an introduction.
I’m going to ask the men here a question.
“What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?”
Take a moment and think of an answer.
Most of us, I think, would answer something similar to my answer:
“Nothing. I don’t think about it.”
Okay, now I’m going to ask the women here a question.
“What steps do you women take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?”
Take a moment and think of an answer.
These might be some of your answers:
Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street. (This is from Jackson Katz)
Let’s pause for a moment here and let this sink in.
Bathsheba can add another thing to this list:
Don’t take a bath in my own home.
See, many of us who grew up with this story have had it explained to us as a story of adultery. That David and Bathsheba were having an extra-marital affair, and then David wanted the husband, Uriah, out of the picture.
So he arranged for his murder.
Except in all of this story, Bathsheba never says a word.
She never agrees to have sex with David. We assume that she did, but I’m not so sure that we should.
In fact, David sends his men to her house to go and get her.
Think about that. Your husband is off at war, and the door knocks. And outside the door are two of the king’s messengers, maybe even personal body guards (I doubt David sent the accountants), and they say “The king wants to see you.”
What do you? Can you even say no?
According to our Bibles, Bathsheba never gives consent to this relationship. She never gives consent to sex. She never says yes.
Unwanted sexual contact. That’s the literal definition of sexual assault.
This isn’t a story of adultery. This is a story of rape.
We’ve heard a lot of stories of assault over the past year…
The #metoo movement, started by Tarana Burke, is where women are taking courageous steps and stepping forward and saying “Me too. I am a survivor of sexual assault.”
I remember when my social media feeds were filled with the words “Me too”. Family, friends, high school acquaintances, strangers, famous people, people I go to church with. Everywhere. Me too.
1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their life. 1 in 10 men will be sexually assaulted in their life.
And the numbers don’t change in churches.
And this isn’t something that happens “out there.” This is something that happens “in here” as well. This is us. This is our story.
First of all, our primary posture should be one of where we believe the stories that we hear. Because they’re probably true.
What about false allegations?
Only 2% of reported allegations are found to be false. And those are of the reported cases.
98% of allegations are true.
There is a far, far, far, far greater chance that a woman will be assaulted than a man falsely accused. Far more.
So when somebody tells us their story, it is probably true. And so we believe them.
Our primary posture is one where we believe survivors, and work to create spaces where survivors are listened to, and feel safe and supported.
Secondly, we reinforce to survivors is that it is not their fault that they were assaulted. They are the victims, and are not responsible for the actions of the perpetrator.
We do not and we cannot blame the victim.
Blaming the victim is where we tell the victim that they were part of the problem.
It manifests itself in phrases like this:
“Well, look at the clothes they were wearing.” “They should know not to get drunk in places like that.” “They should have said no.” “They shouldn’t have been alone at night.” “They were asking for it.”
Victim blaming is saying, “You shouldn’t drive because you might get killed by a drunk driver.”
No. We don’t say that. We say “you shouldn’t drink and drive.”
What does victim blaming look like in the story of David and Bathsheba?
“Well, she shouldn’t be bathing on the roof. That’s just asking for trouble.”
And what makes that victim blaming even harder, is that our Bibles don’t even record Bathsheba on the roof. David was on the roof. It doesn’t say where Bathsheba was.
We think she was on the roof because of Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, where we hear “You saw her bathing on the roof. Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya.” But our Bibles don’t say that. The Bible locates David on the roof, but not Bathsheba.
And, this victim blaming feeds into the myth that female body is so powerful that men can’t control themselves, so it’s up to women to stop men from assaulting them.
It is not up to women to stop men from assaulting them. It’s up to men to stop themselves from assaulting women. It’s up to men to stop themselves from assaulting men.
We don’t blame victims.
Victims are not responsible for their assault. Ever.
If 1 in 3 women are survivors of assault, and 1 in 10 men, it’s worth asking:
Who are the offenders?
Almost exclusively, men are the offenders.
At least 98% of offenders are men.
And, only 1 in 4 assaults are by strangers, so by far, these assaults are being committed by men we know. Spouses, family, friends, co-workers, service provider, and yes pastors… we’re in this category too.
This is a problem for us men.
So, I’m going to take a few minutes and speak to men.
Women have long figured out how to survive in a world where the risk of assault is real. It’s time for us to figure out how to get our stuff together and lower the risk of assault.
Look, I get it. We’re not always good at having vulnerable conversations. I recently drove twelve hours with a bunch of men my age, and I think we spent about ten minutes talking and the rest either eating, sleeping, or listening to music.
I would encourage all of us men to have at least one conversation about #metoo and assault, because clearly we are the ones with the problem. We are the ones causing harm. We are the ones who are hurting the people in our lives.
What to talk about?
Well, let’s start with these:
Boys Will Be Boys – Nope. We will not assume that we are a bunch of wild animals with no control. We will expect better of ourselves.
It’s Just Locker Room Talk – Nope. Talking about women in any way that doesn’t edify them or treat them with dignity is not okay. Don’t do it. This is probably one of those areas where we can actually make a difference. While we may not participate in these conversations, are we willing to step up and tell our peers to stop? I know when I’m at the curling club, twice where I could not believe the vile coming out of someone’s mouth, but did not want to get into an argument. I regret both of those. Hopefully 3rd time’s the charm.
She is someone’s daughter/wife/mother – Nope. While yes, she is someone’s something, a woman’s dignity is not tied to their relationships with men. Women deserve to be treated with respect because all humans deserve to be treated with respect.
I’m afraid of false accusations, so I’m limiting how much I work with women. I’m scared to hire a woman. I’m scared to mentor a woman – Nope. Because a) That’s sexist and b) The risk of men abusing women is far, far higher than the risk of a false allegation. So, by the very nature of men and women working together, women bear far more risk and have far more to lose. And, come on… when we even start talking about equality, and not being assaulted, we respond by giving women less opportunities?!?! Unbelievable.
Because of #metoo, I don’t know how to act around women now. Good! Women have learned how to navigate relationships with men to avoid abuse, to survive, forever. And now it’s time for us to do our work. So if we have to think extra hard, or make double sure that our actions are appropriate, that’s a good thing. If we have to make sure we’re doubly clear about consent, awesome. If we have to spend 20 minutes on google learning, great! That’s called “doing our work.” And if we end up saying something wrong, we’re allowed to own it and say “I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”
It’s a scary time to be a man. Nope. Just nope. Patriarchy is a drug.
Here’s something that we all need to be aware of.
In all relationships, there are different levels of power.
We call them power dynamics.
And we always have to ask ourselves:
Who has more power? Who has less power? Who makes decisions? What are the consequences of that decision?
And when we start to ask these questions, we realize that every time there is some sort of oppression happening, some form of abuse, some form of inequality, some sort of injustice, they’re all connected to the realities of power.
Power dynamics affect sexism and assault.
Power dynamics also affect racism, homophobia, war, poverty, political disenfranchisement, genocide, and how many refugees Canada takes in every year.
So, when King David sends his men to go get Bathsheba, and then they get married after David has her husband killed… Who has more power? Who has less power? Who makes decisions? What are the consequences that decision?
When we ask these questions, we realize quite quickly that Bathsheba is probably trying to survive. Because the king has shown that he is a violent man who will kill when he doesn’t get what he wants.
“Hey Bathsheba. I just killed your husband. Want to get married?” What is she supposed to say?
Thus, a relationship with two different levels of power is pretty much impossible, because it’s actually classified as an abuse of power. And this applies to everyone: Teachers, pastors, lawyers, doctors, child care workers, youth workers, nurses, coaches, politicians.
With David and Bathsheba, what’s we’ve historically called adultery is not only sexual assault, but it’s also an abuse of power.
Take a moment… Do you know of a politician who’s been accused of sexual assault?
Take another moment and think of a different politician who had an “affair” with their secretary?”
See… it’s not a conservative or liberal thing, a left thing or a right thing, a religious thing or non-religious thing. It is a power thing. Someone with power wants something and they use that power to get it.
I’m picking on politicians here, but the same can be said in the media world, the business world, or the church world… And ugh, we in church world have our own skeletons to deal with. I’ll get to that in a bit.
But if we look closely, and ask questions about power, we sexual harassment and abuse are rooted in power dynamics.
Catcalling? Unwanted massage? Assault? All of King David’s gross actions? They’re clearly not the same behaviours… but they are rooted in the same desire: Power and control, and using power to dominate and get what one wants. And none of it is “loving our neighbours as ourselves.”
We have some work to do, don’t we?
I’m going to take a few moments here and address some of the unique ways that our faith affect our postures about #metoo. Each of these deserves a sermon on their own, and I don’t have answers to all of these. But I do think there’s value to naming them.
1. In our effort to “not be a stumbling block” to others, we have put an unfair burden on women. We create dress codes for women and expect modesty. And while I’m open to having a conversation about these things, when we do these things to help men “not sin” or “not to lust”, we again are blaming the victim, and removing any sense of responsibility of men.
And just for fun, Jesus wasn’t in favour of dress codes. He was in favour of gouging out men’s eyes. Because, he said that if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. He’s having no part of this victim blaming business.
(But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Matthew 5:28-28)
2. We are terrible at talking about sex. We are brutal at it. Now, this probably applies to most humans, and not just us religious folk, but still, we’re especially bad at it. I think this is why the church spends so much time talking about same-sex relationships and the LGBTQI community, because as long as we’re talking about “that”, we don’t have to talk about ourselves. And because we’re so bad at talking sex, it makes talking about assault and abuse that much harder.
3. Related to that, we need to find better ways to talk about sex other than “True love waits. Wait until you’re married and then it’ll be great. And this is really important.” We need to find better ways to talk about this, because a) In a recent survey, 80% of Christians have sex before they’re married. 88% of non-Christians have sex before they’re married, so clearly the message of “true love waits” only works for about 8% of us.
But this message is also really harmful to victims of sexual assault. So not only is there the trauma of being an assault survivor, but then there’s the added guilt and shame that religion adds because now you can no longer save yourself for your future partner, or now you’ve had extra-marital sex.
4. Forgiveness – We like talking about forgiveness. It’s kind of one of our things. And this is one of the reasons why I’m a Christian. But what we’re not always good at is figuring out what forgiveness all entails.
Someone much wiser than me once said that: “Forgive and forget is one of the worst phrases in the English language.” Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgetting means we just let the abuser keep abusing, or we keep them in their positions of authority, or keep giving them access to vulnerable people.
Forgiveness involves accountability. It involves repentance. It acknowledges harm. It is equally (but probably more so) concerned about the victim as it is the offender. And forgiveness takes time.
Forgiveness is not forgetting.
We in the church still have a lot of work to do.
A few years ago, I found myself saying over and over again, “We don’t walk alone.”
And that still applies today.
We don’t walk alone.
We walk together, trying to love each other.
We walk together, working to create safe communities.
And we walk together, trying to interrupt violence and injustice wherever we can.
We don’t walk alone.
We walk together.
And trust that in the midst of all it, God is with us.
We trust that God has crushed the power of sin and darkness.
And we trust that God cares deeply about hope and healing, liberation and justice.
We don’t wake up, unless we do it together. – Rev Matthew Wright
If you live in Manitoba:
- To contact the 24/7 Sexual Assault Crisis Line, call 1-888-292-7565.
- To contact MCC about resources, support groups, consultations & information
- To report clergy abuse, contact your church conference pastor
I’m grateful for the help of Steph from Southeast Coalition Against Trafficking, Hilary from Into Account, Jaymie from MCC, and many other women who helped shape this sermon.