Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for the ‘Impact of CSA’ Category

Pastor or Predator? Sexual Misconduct in Youth Ministry.

Kudos to Princeton Theological Seminary! Their Institute for Youth Ministry recently invited six leaders to submit responses to the topic on clergy sexual abuse in youth ministry. The series, “Pastor or Predator? Sexual Misconduct in Youth Ministry.,” was published this week. 

Here are the highlights. To read the whole essay, just click on the author’s name.

Linda Crockett says that the church often shortcuts justice by urging survivors to forgive too soon. As a result,  “victims carry the burden of shame that rightfully belongs to the offender.” Crockett urges the church to help young people recognize the red flags of sexual abuse. Although youth programs often each about the dangers of substance abuse, “we shy away from frank discussion about sexual offenders and how they operate. … We don’t tell them most offenders are not strangers, but people in our families, churches, neighborhoods, schools, and sports clubs.” 

Sharon Ellis Davis shares for the first time that “my Black Church experience also includes my being the victim of childhood sexual abuse by ‘men of God.’” She says, “It was the secret I was determined to hold onto no matter how much this abuse had negatively impacted my life choices… I could not, and I would not go against the ‘men of God.’ “ Ellis Davis only began to heal when she found a wise, compassionate listener who was willing to be a holder of her long-kept secret. As she healed, she was able to become a holder for others’ secrets as well. She reminds youth leaders that “many times we are… called to be holders” even if we “may not have adequately dealt with [our] own childhood victimization and are now forced to remember while providing care for others.

Hillary Scarsella writes, “Sexual abuse and assault are silencing.” She explains: the offender and the religious institution work hard to silence survivors, but survivors also silence themselves because of the stigma surrounding the experience of sexual assault. “We need to make it our regular practice to talk about sexual violence accurately, sensitively, and often,” she says, “because talking about abuse and assault has a significant degree of power to prevent and stop both.” The kind of speech we need, says Scarsella, “is the kind that believes and respects victims and survivors, the kind that empowers youth to love and protect their bodies.”

Justin Holcomb offers biblical encouragement to survivors dealing with the stages of aftermath of sexual abuse. He assures survivors that “what happened to them is not their fault. They are not to blame. They did not deserve it. They are not responsible for what happened to them. Nobody had the right to violate them… They were sinned against.” To survivors who despair of ever healing, Holcomb reminds them, “God promises a hope and a future.”

When Wes Ellis was in the 7th grade, his “funny, likeable” youth pastor inspired him to go into youth ministry. In college, Ellis was devastated to learn that this minister had sexually assaulted several young woman who had been Ellis’ friends in youth group. Ellis offers a clear, challenging theological response to clergy sexual abuse. “For me to come to terms with my own story,” he writes, “is to accept that the person who was eventually imprisoned for sexual misconduct… was the same person who mentored me, cared for me, and helped me to find my calling. He was not a monster, but a human being like me. … In recognizing his actions as sin… I am forced to face the sin of which I myself am capable.” At the same time, Ellis urges readers to “not treat this as an abstract philsophical problem or a problem of mere policy, but as a real human experience.”

I am honored to be the sixth voice in this series. I share the case study of a young woman who became suicidal when the church tried to silence her complaint against a youth minister, and I offer a series of steps the church must take to protect the young people in its care, including age-appropriate boundary training for youth and regular, vigorous discussions of this topic by the adults in the congregation.  

As I researched my piece, I discovered two great resources. 

1. Author and clergy spouse Sabrena Klausman has a wonderful piece entitled “Dangerous Volunteers: Understanding Signs of Sexual Abuse in Youth Ministry.”  She says the church MUST do a better job screening, monitoring, and training the clergy, staff, and volunteers who work with youth.

2. Tim Challies spells out “6 Reasons Why Sexual Predators Target Churches.”  It’s not a hopeful essay. Challies points out the deeply rooted structural issues that put children and teens at risk in just about any church. But it’s required reading for anyone who wants to solve the problem.

How a Congregation Grieves

A leader at my former church sent me a heads-up: “Our Easter flower donations list includes several donations by parishioners in appreciation of Scott and [his wife].” This leader didn’t want me to be blind-sided if I attended Holy Week or Easter services. I told her how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness. It feels good to have a church leader thinking, “How will my decisions affect someone who was harmed in my church?” 

But she could have taken it a step further. I’m glad the church didn’t refuse the tribute donation, even though it honors a man who caused me such harm. The congregation loved Scott. Grief is a long and painful process, and we need to remember that denial and anger are part of the process. It may take years (or a lifetime) for Scott’s admirers to accept the fact of his guilt. Meanwhile, they are doing what they can to show their love.

Even given in love, these flowers create a hostile environment for victims and survivors. If Scott had harmed another woman at St Paul’s, and if she were trying to decide whether to come forward, the floral tribute might silence her forever. 

How might church leaders address this problem? To balance things out, they could invite donations of flowers to honor the voices of survivors of abuse, or they could pass the hat at the staff meeting and make that donation themselves. They could include an awareness message in the service bulletins — unusual during Holy Week, but all the more impactful. They could pump up the publicity for the the classes on clergy misconduct. 

Yes, you read that right! Next month, St Paul’s will offer a three-week series on clergy misconduct during the Sunday adult education hour. I was thrilled when I heard about it. I don’t plan to attend; the congregation needs to have an honest conversation, and my presence might make that difficult. But I am delighted they are doing this work. So — in response to the flowers honoring Scott, the church could make a stronger effort to get people to those classes.

Even more important: church leaders could recognize the grief in those floral tributes. Along with the educational effort, they could embark on a conscious course of healing for the congregation. It wouldn’t be easy; it would take a lot longer than three weeks. Rebuilding trust and vibrancy could take years. Hopkins & Laaser’s Restoring the Soul of a Church (Liturgical Press, 1995) tells stories of congregational healing; the leaders at St Paul’s might use these stories to generate their own process, including a liturgy of healing — because no one does liturgy like Episcopalians.

Speaking of liturgy: later this spring, St Paul’s will offer a service of healing for survivors of clergy misconduct. It will be open to all denominations. Even though I consider myself substantially healed, I’ll be at that service. I don’t expect any miracles; I know even the best liturgy can’t undo the damage or erase the scars of my experience. But then again, a floral tribute can’t erase Scott’s disgrace or restore him to the priesthood either. A healing service, like the floral tribute, is a gift of compassion and love.

And I accept with gratitude.

Anger Rises to the Surface

It’s been two and a half weeks since I learned of Kevin’s defrocking and eleven days since the congregational meeting. I’m relieved that the church is free of a dangerous priest, I’m grateful that the bishop called me directly to share the news, and I’m feeling validated since he finally dropped the veil of secrecy around my complaint.

Relieved, grateful, and validated: I wish that’s all I were feeling. I’ve been trying to write a relieved, grateful, validated response to the bishop’s words. But every attempt came out brittle, formal, and fake. Last night, I finally realized why.

Because I’m ANGRY. Once I got over the miracle that the bishop shared the truth at all, I start looking at what he said about my story. And what did he say? That what happened to me wasn’t that big of a deal, and that he still believes he was right to keep it from the congregation. 

WHO IS HE to say that Kevin’s offenses against me “didn’t rise to the level of a Title IV complaint”? What kind of yardstick did he use? Does the church keep a manual that says if it’s only words, or if there’s only one complaint, then it’s okay to brush it under the carpet? (In 2010, the bishop actually told me that’s why he chose a “pastoral” response instead of invoking the canons). What if a priest deliberately misconstrues a directive from the bishop in order to continue meeting with his favorite congregants? What if he spends years working to gain a congregant’s trust, then misjudges and springs the trap too soon? What if he openly tells her that she’s part of a years-long pattern of inappropriate behavior toward “beautiful women”? Is a predator less guilty because a particular prey escaped without physical injury? 

The bishop ignored Kevin’s pattern of grooming, instead focusing on a few words that he spoke to me on a specific day in 2008. Even worse, he ignored the impact of Kevin’s behavior. Author Marilyn Peterson, in her book At Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships (Norton, 1992), says that the only reliable measure is the harm an offense causes to the victim. “Determining severity by content alone does not allow a violation to be identified as legitimate or valid unless and until it has progressed to the most severe and overt extreme. … To get a truer, more comprehensive picture, it is essential that degree of pain felt by clients be measured.” My injuries at the time — a serious eating disorder and a diagnosis of PTSD — were severe. Six years after the church closed the case, I’m still trying to process what Kevin and the church did to me. Does this not signal an offense worthy of a Title IV response, and of a stronger warning to Kevin’s next congregation?

And why did the bishop think the congregation didn’t need to know? At last Tuesday’s meeting he told us, “I made a measured decision [not to disclose].” He was vague as to how he measured it, but he has spoken clearly on this question before. When I brought my complaint, he refused to inform the congregation, protesting that Kevin was “the [highest ranking priest] of my [most prominent congregation]!” Church scandals drive people and dollars away, and there was a lot at stake with this congregation. The bishop may have thought he could prevent this damage with secrecy. (I wonder how that has worked out.) Two years later, I was in the room when he told a group of clergy that this kind of news would be a “body blow” to a congregation — as if a group of full-grown Christian adults would be too weak to deal with hard truth. 

The bishop decided to avoid the harsh official sentences, placing Kevin under pastoral direction instead.  “I [required] that he not do certain ministerial functions, and [required] him to do certain other things to address the behavior.” First of all, isn’t that what suspension is — a temporary ban from exercising some or all of the gifts of ordained ministry? Second, why use vague language like “certain ministerial functions”? Why not name those functions, as he did with me in January of 2010? The day I filed my complaint, the bishop told me that Kevin was forbidden to offer pastoral counseling during the investigation. Two months later, he extended that ban for another 12 to 18 months. When a church’s senior minister is not allowed to do pastoral counseling, the congregation has a right and a need to know.  

Toward the end of last Tuesday’s meeting, the bishop had harsh words for the people of St _____’s. “I’m going to be brutally honest with you,” he said. “We’ve had two complaints in the past six years, and it has not been easy for those who have been the complainants. I think this community can do a better job.” What?!? How can the bishop blame the congregation for responding badly to something that officially “never happened”? Instead of disclosing the truth, the bishop left my reputation in the hands of the priest who was then writhing under the humiliating restraints of pastoral direction. What did he think Kevin was going to say about me? Now, six years later, he blames the congregation for not being nicer to me? I’m going to be brutally honest with you, bishop: you set those good people up for failure. You don’t owe them a scolding; you owe them an apology.

Finally, the bishop admitted that his official silence was no match for the real voices of hurting, angry people. “What I’ve come to realize is how broadly both Jones and the complainant had talked about the matter.” He shouldn’t have been surprised; this is exactly what I told him I would do. When he wrapped up my case, I warned him that I was going to tell my friends why I was leaving the church. “I can’t carry the burden of this toxic secret any longer,” I said. He told me that if I did, I would “lose control” of the information. He was right; my words to a few trusted friends triggered an ugly wave of ostracism. I stopped talking for a while; I now speak through this blog. Although I’m not writing for my old churchmates, it seems that a few of them read it. If my strong voice helped the bishop find his, then I’ve done something right and I’m proud.

The waters are starting to settle. In my next post, I’ll be sharing the power and beauty of a very different kind of voice in response to clergy misconduct. Stay tuned.

 

A Letter to Three Brave Women

I’ve been trying to explain to my friends what it’s like to be unexpectedly freed from the bishop’s long public silence. It’s as if I’d been paraplegic for six years and suddenly started feeling sensation in my legs; as if I’d lived six years with cancer and suddenly went into remission; as if a loved one had been missing for six years and was suddenly found. These metaphors aren’t quite right, but they give a notion of how big this change is. My world is different now. Finally I have a defense against malicious hearsay — but I have more than that. I have the beginning of welcome. On Tuesday night, several people went out of their way to greet me. One offered an apology, two crossed the room to greet me, and one wrapped me in such abundant warmth that I never felt the fear I had expected. The welcome may not have been universal, but it was enough and then some.

My outer world has changed, but it will take longer to rebuild my inner. For six years I’ve built my life around the fact of silencing and shunning. Some of my adaptations — like finding home in a new church — are permanent. But others can be changed. I can learn to release the sense of exile and begin to accept the hand of friendship. 

I have more to say about Tuesday night’s meeting, but first I need to acknowledge that these events aren’t about me. I am only free because “Kevin” harmed three women badly enough to lose his ordained ministry. I cannot celebrate while these women and their families suffer. So today I offer these words to the three who found the courage to come forward, speak truth, and demand justice.

          Dear Sisters,
          I don’t know who you are. You each have a name, a face, and unique roles in your family and church and community, and I know none of those things. I don’t know what kind of pain led you to seek Kevin’s help. I don’t know how he violated your trust, nor what you risked to come forward against him.
          But I know that you suffer. I know how brave you are. I can imagine how special and safe he made you feel (safe — the irony!!) I can imagine the crippling burden of the secret you had to carry; the heartbreak of losing friends when you began to share your story; the heavy cost of enduring the church’s process.
          Did the three of you come forward together? If not, I pray you are together now. For survivors, sisterhood (and brotherhood) is solace and strength. I pray you already knew that you weren’t the first, that you aren’t suffering a new shock reading these words. I always expected I’d learn about other women like me; I just thought they’d be in Kevin’s past. It breaks my heart that they — you — were in his future.
          Now, we are all part of his past. God willing, there will never be another.
          Sisters, I am praying for you. If it feels right to you, you are welcome to get in touch. You can find my email here. If that feels too close to home, I understand. I hope you have people in your lives who can help you heal, and that you’ll consider contacting The Hope of Survivors. They have wonderful resources and volunteer counselors to help you begin to move forward.
          God bless you as you walk the path of healing. Perhaps one day we will be in each other’s lives. Until then, may you walk in God’s protection.
          In sisterhood,
          Catherine

Can We Stay at Our Church After Abuse?

A few weeks ago, a survivor sent me this note: “Being at church is such a struggle for me lately. I keep wondering whether it’s even possible to heal successfully while remaining at the church where the offending behavior and aftermath occurred. Do you happen to know? Do women generally find they have to leave their churches, or do those that leave heal faster than those who don’t?”

I wish I knew the answer. I wish I could point and say, “If you go this way, you will definitely heal faster.” But healing from clergy sexual abuse is a long and painful journey, no matter how we do it. I have some preliminary data from the current Baylor study, which reveals that most women abandon church altogether after an experience of clergy sexual abuse, and that only a small minority of women stay in the same church. But I don’t have data on how these women have fared. Did their choice — old church, new church, or no church at all — affect their healing?

Some of us have no choice but to leave. Even while my church was investigating my complaint, a high-ranking priest on the bishop’s staff told me that my offender would likely be staying. “You might want to find a new parish,” she said. Heartbroken, but needing to belong somewhere, I chose a different church in the same diocese. There, I thought I’d be safe from the vicious gossip. Then one Sunday, a retired priest — with whom I’d had a friendly connection — blatantly shunned me during the passing of the peace. After this, I left the denomination altogether. It took several months to feel at home in my new church, which has a very different style of worship, and it took me several years to feel fully welcomed and safe. But at my new church, I have healed. If I’d tried to stay at my old church, the ongoing trauma might have done me in.

Fellow survivors, what is your experience? Did you stay in the same church? Was your offender gone, or was he/she still there? Did the congregation know your role, or did you keep your identity hidden? Did you move to a different church? Did you leave church altogether? Do you feel you made the right decision? Is there anything you regret? Do you have any wisdom for survivors who are now facing this choice?

Thank you for anything you can share. Your story may offer a key to healing for a fellow survivor.

Unitarian Universalist Association: Awakened by One Bold Survivor

Plenty of churches get it wrong when it comes to clergy sexual misconduct. Who’s getting it right?

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is blazing a trail that other churches would do well to follow. They just wrapped up their 54th annual General Assembly, “Building a New Way.” In a move that may be unprecedented in any faith tradition, the UUA GA program included not one but three workshops on clergy sexual misconduct, as well as a plenary address by UUA trustee Susan Weaver on the church’s new initiatives.

These were the workshops:
* In Sexually Safer Congregations: Building a New Commitment, the Rev. Debra Haffner, co-founder of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, shared the UUA’s new process, goals, and model policies, and urged UU congregations to renew their commitment to preventing misconduct and abuse. UU World senior editor Michelle Bates Deakin had written in 2013 about early steps in this effort.
* In Building Restorative Justice in Cases of Clergy Sexual Misconduct, the leaders of the UU Safety Net described the steps they are taking to improve the church’s process for dealing with clergy sexual misconduct. UU World senior editor Elaine McArdle summed up this workshop here.
* In Clergy Sexual Misconduct: Breaking the Silence, clergy and lay leaders shared the Sacred Listening Process that leaders in Nashville are developing along the lines of the StoryCorps model.

The UUA’s 2015 program reflects decades of dedicated hard work. The church in the 1970s “could feel like a carnival or a Roman Bacchanal” in the words of UU minister Deborah J. Pope-Lance. By the 1990s, things were beginning to change. Individual UU ministers were beginning to write about the need for appropriate boundaries and standards of sexual ethics, as Pope-Lance did here, and as the Rev. Sam Trumbore did here. At the 2000 General Assembly, then-Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery offered a public apology to victims and survivors of sexual misconduct by UU clergy. Over the next two decades the UUA moved forward in many areas.

But according to survivors, only in the past decade has the UUA made real progress. In this effort, no survivor has been more influential than Anna Belle Leiserson of Nashville. In 1993, disappointed with the UUA’s response to her complaint, she asked church leaders for changes in the process. She stayed with the church and became a leader, speaking at General Assemblies and serving on panels. Eventually, the quiet resistance of church leaders wore her down. In 2006, she writes, “I gave up. Or so I thought.” But a few months later, she suddenly realized that her congregation — First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, or FUUN — had “a powerhouse of potential activists.” In 2007, Leiserson led this team to create the UU Safety Net. After a slow start, which Leiserson writes about here, the Nashville effort has become a model for the national church.

One of Leiserson’s partners in this effort was FUUN’s minister, the Rev. Gail Seavey. She had served as an after-pastor in several settings early in her career, and had inexplicably thrived. She talks about her surprising success here, and about the lessons she learned from the challenging role of after-pastor. Another Safety Net leader, Dr. Doug Pasto-Crosby, has written about why the church tends to ignore and discredit the voices of survivors. He also writes about the traumatic impact on congregations after an instance of clergy sexual misconduct. Pasto-Crosby insists that the congregation can only heal when they help the survivor to heal. “Restoring the connection between survivors and their church community is the most important work a congregation needs to do after ministerial misconduct.”

When I named this blog “Survivors Awaken the Church,” I imagined it as a future event. Together, we survivors will awaken the church. But the awakening has already begun. Thanks to the brave and persistent Anna Belle Leiserson, the Unitarian Universalist Church has opened its eyes.

“Silenced and Marginalized”

“In the spring of the year, when kings go out to battle…” began the liturgist at worship last Sunday. My ears perked up: I know this story well. We studied it in healthy boundaries and sexual ethics classes at my former and current churches. In the season when kings go out to battle, David stayed home. With no real work to do, he entertained himself by sexually violating and impregnating one of his subjects. To cover the pregnancy, the king ordered Bathsheba’s husband home from battle, but Uriah refused to sleep with his wife. So David staged his murder and claimed Bathsheba as his own.

I know this story well. Preachers often use it to show that even when we mess up, God still loves us. But Pastor Scott’s sermon – I now saw in the worship bulletin – was called “Silenced and Marginalized.” Was he really going to preach the truth? Not only about David’s sin, but about Bathsheba’s wound? Would Pastor Scott acknowledge how women suffered then and now, even in the church, because leaders abuse their power? I dared not let myself hope. I prepared myself to hear the usual script.

Then Pastor Scott got up to preach. Normally he launches right into his text, but this time he began with prayer. I could hear the trepidation in his voice as he asked for God’s guidance. He seemed to feel he was setting a risky course. I began to realize that this might be the moment I never thought would come: when a pastor openly called out the church’s abuse of power not only against individual victims of sexual offenses but against all women, simply because of our gender. Would he name the way that leaders abuse their power against – predominantly – women? Would he call out the church’s complicity in silencing the victims of abuse? Most important, would he acknowledge the bleeding wound in our hearts and souls?

Pastor Scott began by praising two women — both seminarians — who had preached during his two-week absence. “The Christian Church has not looked kindly upon women beyond Sunday School teaching, baking cookies for memorial receptions, and heading out to mission fields,” he admitted. “Too often women have been given a resounding ‘NO’ when it comes to preaching or serving on the altar. Or worse still, they have been used — or abused, marginalized and objectified by the more powerful men who for too long have controlled the ecclesiastical structure for their own benefit. I include myself in that oft-forgotten privilege.”

Tears began to flow. This was real. I pulled out my handkerchief, but I wasn’t about to leave. Nothing could have pulled me away from this message. Here’s the sermon that rocked my world.

No, this is not going to be one of those “feel good” sermons where you leave church feeling so much better than when you arrived. Sometimes reality is not that polite. Even a casual reading of the lesson from 2 Samuel will not allow it. This is one of those dark passages in the Bible that we rarely read and frankly ought to be ashamed of. There is no good news here. Any attempt to twist the message to make “Good King David” look – well, good – is a mistake. But if we really name what is going on here, we just might learn something about David, about ourselves, and about how not to live.

It’s hard to miss what is going on here. Like many charismatic leaders, David became a victim of his own success. He was riding a very powerful wave. Following the miserable two-year tenure of King Saul, David had begun to unite the people by centralizing his power – which he felt came directly from God – in Jerusalem. The people believed in him completely. They put their trust in him. He was seen as the king who could do no wrong. He was God’s representative. And David began to believe his own press. He actually believed that he was doing God’s will in every decision and in every act.

The problem was, despite his being divinely appointed and inspired by God, he was human. And the funny thing about us humans: we are rarely satisfied with what we have. We always want more.

And so that fateful night. David’s men were away fighting foreign threats to “God’s kingdom” (where he himself should have been, but he elected to stay home) when he spied a beautiful woman — Bathsheba — bathing nearby. He inquired about her and learned that she was the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Now David already had seven wives, but evidently that wasn’t enough. He wanted more. He wanted this “delight to his eyes,” Bathsheba, despite the fact that she was married to one of his officers who was out in the field fighting on his behalf. 

So he sent guards to “take” her. They brought her to him.

And David raped her.

Now, the scriptures do not say that specifically, and scholars have long debated whether this was rape. But if it’s not rape, what do we call it? It was certainly not a consensual relationship. It could never be. The guards did not have the power to say “no” to the king. Bathsheba certainly did not have the power to say “no.” David had all the power, and he abused it to get what he wanted. So I think it’s high time we name it what it is.

But the story gets even darker. When Bathsheba informs David with the only words she is given in this passage, “I am pregnant,” he summons Uriah home expecting that he will sleep with his wife and the child will be mistaken as his. But Uriah makes David look even worse when he will not sleep with his wife while engaged in battle despite David’s attempt to get him drunk.

So David sends Uriah back to the front lines carrying his death orders in his own hands! Astonishing – what one will do when one has the power to do whatever one wants.

It’s difficult for us to look at stories like this because, I know, for many of us in this room, we know all too well the plight of Bathsheba. And the memories are painful: the inability to speak; the shame involved; the fear that “no one would ever believe me if I did speak my truth”; and the false notion that many have erroneously adopted that “it was all my fault.”

At this point Pastor Scott stopped and looked out at the congregation. “Many in this congregation, mostly women, have suffered this fate. I know this story may be painful to hear, and all I can say is, I’m sorry.” These compassionate words opened a dam. My tears began to flow faster.

Pastor Scott continued:

This is not just an occurrence that happened several thousand years ago. This is happening every day, and it is critical for the church to name it and be willing to help those who fall victim to such atrocities as they begin to reclaim their voice and seek the healing they so desperately need.

It’s no wonder Bathsheba says next to nothing in this story. Think, for a moment, of the position she is in. Who would believe her? She was a throwaway in King David’s harem and he had deployed the perfect cover-up. No one would ever know or believe he could do such a thing…

This story, if it is ever addressed, is almost always told from the perspective of David, but I want us to come at it today from that of Bathsheba. Doing so requires going beyond the text to some degree because it is not much interested in Bathsheba’s feelings, does not identify the rape as a crime or sin against her and shows no word from God directly to her or through any intermediary.

Professor Wil Gafney of the Brite Divinity School states, “In the aftermath of the rape, the text says that Bathsheba purified herself after her ‘uncleanness.’ Many translations render this as ‘after her period,’ which is a possibility accounting for the ease of conception as she would be fertile then. But any vaginal discharge, [including] the act of intercourse, also required the bathing ritual before which a woman was ‘taboo,’ a better translation than the traditional ‘unclean.’ Read in this light, Bathsheba does what many rape victims do; she washes as much of the rape off of herself as she can. Both text and culture support this.”

Bathsheba is forced to live in the house of David, to lie repeatedly with her rapist and to eventually have more children with him. The one she bore as a result of this rape dies. But later, one is born named Solomon. Bathsheba and [the prophet] Nathan work together to get Solomon on the throne. In Bathsheba’s last appearance in the scriptures, Solomon installs her on a throne at his right-hand side, gets up off of his throne and bows down before her.

Saying these words, Pastor Scott stepped down from the chancel, turned toward an imaginary Bathsheba on the chancel steps, and – as if he were Solomon – bent low to honor this woman who had suffered so much. He stepped back into the pulpit and continued.

This text is an important supplement to Bathsheba’s rape narrative in 2 Samuel 11 because she survives the rape of David and thrives in spite of what it — and he — has done to her. Not all women are so lucky. And neither does this in any way make up for the emotional and psychological damage she incurred.

So our story is a powerful challenge: perhaps a painful reminder to many, but, I hope, a wake-up call to most. We cannot turn our backs on those who can so easily be objectified in our culture — those who have been marginalized, those who have lost their voice at the hands of the powerful, the privileged, the ones who appear to be in control.

But we also must be aware of how easy it is to justify our own wrong-doing, how easy it is to rationalize our use and, at times, abuse of power based on our privileged position in society. It begins with honest personal reflection and recognition and confession of our complicity in such a system of dominance by the privileged. It’s important to sit with the passage and really name it for what it is, and to recognize it as a piece of our Judeo-Christian history and a part of our story today.

So I invite you to let these words from Samuel stir in your soul this week. Listen to what God wants and needs to reveal in you as we seek to be faithful in our following as people of integrity, justice, compassion and peace.

Amen.

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 26, 2015 by the Rev. Dr. Scott Landis at Mission Hills United Church of Christ, San Diego. As soon as the link is available, I’ll be listening to it again. I’ll share the link here.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: