Sunday, 21 October 2018

Rape Culture, #MeToo, and the Bible

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
21 October 2018

Acts 8.26-39 
Judges 19.1-30  

It’s now just over a year since allegations against Harvey Weinstein began to emerge,
            giving rise to what has become known as the #metoo campaign.

It began when
‘actor Alyssa Milano tweeted:
            “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 the problem.”
Since then, #MeToo has either been used
            as a statement of solidarity on social media,
or attached to harrowing accounts of harassment and abuse
            recorded by men and women.’[1]

What the #metoo campaign has done, possibly for the first time,
            is to provide a global context and platform
            for victims of violence, particularly sexual violence,
                        to speak up and speak out.

For most of human history,
            the voices of victims have been systemically silenced,
with their abuse denied, minimised, or justified
            by those who have presumed to speak on behalf
            of those who have not been allowed to speak for themselves.

So, a year on from #metoo,
            a number of men associated with the entertainment industry,
            are now in prison, awaiting trial, or no longer working.
Stories of abuse have been heard and believed,
            and some measure of justice has been achieved.

But then we still live in a world
            where Brett Kavanaugh can be appointed
                        to the Supreme Court of the United States,
            despite the multiple credible allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

Clearly, despite #metoo,
            the silencing of victims,
            and the diminishing of their testimony, is still rife;
with none other than the President of the United States,
            arguably the most powerful man in the world,
publicly and frequently mocking the #metoo movement,
            and denigrating Professor Christine Blasey Ford
                        who spoke out so courageously to bring allegations of sexual assault
                        against Trump’s friend Brett Kavanaugh.
In a recent article analysing President Trump’s attitude towards women,
            the American news network CNN says the following:

‘During the 2016 presidential campaign,
            at least 13 women accused Trump of misbehaviour
            ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault.
They came forward in the wake of a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape
            that was released in October 2016
in which he is caught saying on a hot mic:
            "And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. ..."’[2]

            It goes on, but I’m not going to repeat from the pulpit what he says next.

And so we come to scriptures,
            and f you find yourself wondering
                        why a horrific story like that of the Levite’s concubine,
            should sit within the pages of our holy book,
I think the answer may be found
            not only the words of Donald Trump,
            but in the story of another biblical woman.

In the book of Esther, the eponymous heroine finds herself elevated
            from the Persian King’s harem to the royal bedchamber,
            with the King unaware that her ethnic identity is Jewish.
When he passes a law to destroy the Jews,
            Esther’s uncle challenges her to speak out, and remain silent no more.
He suggests, problematically, that maybe her experience
            of sexual exploitation at the hands of a powerful man,
was, as he puts it, ‘for such a time as this’. (Esther 4.14)

For both Esther, and for the women of the #metoo campaign,
            the time came to speak out and put an end to silence.

In this we need to note that speaking out is always difficult, and possibly dangerous,
            and that in no way should it ever be used, as Esther’s uncle attempted to do,
                        to justify or redeem the abuse.

The abused should not be forced to speak out if they are not ready.
            But it remains true that the voicing of victims is vital,
                        if cultures of silencing are to be overturned.

And so we come to the Levite’s concubine,
            who is, herself, never permitted to speak in the biblical narrative.

What can this silenced women, from thousands of years ago,
            say to us today?

What is her message, for such a time as this?

In order to explore that, I’m afraid we need to take her story
            into the next couple of chapters from the book of Judges.

To avoid reading them out in full,
            I’m going to use the words of Jenni Williams to summarise them for us.

She takes up the story:

‘Cutting her body up and spreading the pieces across Israel
            might be deemed as terrible as the gang-rape,
for it denies her the chance for burial
            - and not to be buried is the worst fate in Israel,
            as in the case of Jezebel (2 Kings 9.35-37).
But the violence does not stop there:
            the tribes of Israel then begin a war
            against the men of Gibeah to punish them.
The Benjaminites come out for Gibeah, which is in Benjamin.

‘For two days the Benjaminites have the upper hand
            and 40,000 Israelites die.
On the third day Benjamin is defeated
            and over 25,000 of them die in battle,
            plus the whole city of Gibeah.

‘Once the fighting has died down
            the Israelites become concerned for [the future of the tribe of] Benjamin,
            as they have sworn never to marry their daughters to a Benjaminite,
                        so there is now a real chance
                        that the tribe of Benjamin might die out.
Their solution is to find a town
            that did not [fight with Israel against Benjamin, called] Jabesh-Gilead.
Everyone [there] is executed except 400 young women who are virgins,
            or at least unattached girls of an age to be married.
They are sent to Shiloh and married off to the remaining Benjaminites.

‘Any Benjaminite who did not get a wife
            is encouraged to watch for the girls of Shiloh
            when they come out to dance at a festival
and then perform what is commonly called marriage by rape.’[3]

Just when you thought the story couldn’t get any worse!
            The violence done to the woman
                        at the hands of the men of Gibeah and her husband,
            leads to widespread warfare, mass killing,
                        and further widespread sexual violence against women.

And whilst this story is both surprising and shocking,
            and certainly little-read and preached-upon in our churches;
it probably shouldn’t surprise us that in ancient times, as now,
            violence against women was rife,
            both within the home and within society.

I recently completed some training from the Baptist Union
            about domestic violence;
and the figures are frightening.

According to the Home Office
·        1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime
·        1 in 6 men will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime
·        1 in 5 children are exposed to domestic abuse

The average number of assaults suffered
            before a domestic abuse victim first calls the police is 35,
and two women per week are murdered in the UK
            by their partner or ex-partner.

And I’m afraid that if Christians tell themselves
            that domestic violence doesn’t happen in Christian homes,
not only are they deceiving themselves,
            but they are participating in the silencing of victims,
            and in perpetuating the culture of abuse.

The Baptist Union say,

‘We would hope that Baptist churches
            demonstrate a culture and environment where all people are safe
                        and where anyone is able to express any fears, anxieties and concerns
                        they have without the fear of ridicule, rejection or judgement.
Churches should be places of refuge and safety
            where victims are supported and cared for
            without pressure or hurrying.
They should be communities that condemn violence and abuse
            and that challenge and support perpetrators to change their behaviour.
Sadly, churches have not always responded well
            to incidents of abuse when people have found the courage to ask for help.
This has partly been due to a lack of understanding
            about domestic abuse and its impact,
and partly due to the misguided use of the Bible
            to justify and perpetuate abuse,
            particularly against women.’ [4]

We live in a culture where sexual violence is normalised,
            and where assaults are written off as ‘domestics’.
Within Christian culture, too often we see
            the outworking of a warped view of biblical headship
                        where the woman is in effect the property of her husband,
                        and the man is seen as having a godly right to discipline his wife.

To get behind this, we need to analyse it further,
            and I want to introduce here the phrase ‘rape culture’.

This term was originally coined by feminists in the 1970’s.
            And was designed to show the ways in which society
                        blamed victims of sexual assault
                        and normalized male sexual violence.[5]

Emilie Buchwald, author of Transforming a Rape Culture,
            describes that when society normalizes sexualized violence,
                        it accepts and creates rape culture.

In her book she defines rape culture as:
‘a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression
            and supports violence against women.
It is a society where violence is seen as sexy
            and sexuality as violent.

In a rape culture,
            women perceive a continuum of threatened violence
            that ranges from sexual remarks
                        to sexual touching to rape itself.

A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism
            against women as the norm . . .

In a rape culture both men and women
            assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable . . .

However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable
            is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.’[6]

Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music,
            advertising, legal jargon,
                        laws, words, and imagery,
that make violence against women and sexual coercion
            seem so normal, that people believe that rape is inevitable.

Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change,
            people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape
            as “just the way things are.”[7]

And, I am afraid to say,
            our culture, here in the UK, in many areas, is a rape culture.

Those of us who would identify as middle class Christians,
            may be removed from much of what goes on in the wider world around us,
but those who know what it’s like in schools, gangs, and on the streets of our city,
            tell us that sexual violence against women is rife.

The story of the Levite’s concubine
            starts to sound more contemporary by the moment.

This unnamed and unvoiced woman’s story
            echoes down the millennia to us,
as she screams in pain at us through the pages of our scriptures,
            forcing us to confront the horrific realities
                        of our own time, our own culture,
                                    our own friends, maybe our own lives
                                    and our own families.

And her dismembered body challenges us, as it challenged Israel of old;
            asking us what we are going to do
                        about the grim reality of sexual violence, domestic abuse,
            and the systemic silencing and shaming of victims.

A key determining factor in our response, I think,
            will be where we see God in relation to this issue.

The Israelites in the story saw God as being firmly on their side,
            as they went to war with the Benjaminites
            to avenge the death of the Levite’s concubine.

Their self-righteous crusade to rid the land of evil,
            ended up compounding not only the sexual violence against women
                        by a factor of over 400,
            but also triggering mass warfare
                        and the death of tens of thousands.

We need to be very careful before we think that God is on our side,
            if we are the powerful, setting out to avenge someone who has been wronged,
because we will almost certainly be blinded to the darkness of our own hearts,
            and end up magnifying rather than correcting the evil.

This is why I remain very cautious about the culture of scapegoating
            that we see in our society,
where individuals who have transgressed are targeted,
            and become the focus of our communal angst at their wrongdoing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that men who abuse women are prosecuted,
            I’m glad that victims are discovering a voice,
            and are speaking out the truth of what has been done to them.

But that doesn’t let the rest of us off,
            and pointing vehemently at the evil ‘over there’
can simply be a deflection mechanism f
            or the abuse that we’re ignoring ‘in here’,
                        in our own institutions, lives, and families.

You see, God is not on the side of the righteous avenger,
            God is always on the side of the victim.
God is with the voiceless, the silenced, and the abused,
            fare more than God is with the powerful and the self righteous.

Do you remember the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch,
            and their conversation on the road outside Jerusalem,
            not so far from where the Levite’s concubine was raped to death?

Philip hears the Eunuch reading from the prophet Isaiah,
            and asks him if he understands what he is reading.

The passage is from what we would call
            the suffering servant song of Isaiah (cf. Isa 53.7),

Acts 8.32-33
"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."

The Eunuch asks Philip a key question,
            ‘About whom’, he says, ‘does the prophet say this,
                        about himself or about someone else?’

And in this he captures the problem that Christians have had
            in interpreting this passage from Isaiah ever since.

You see, it’s not about Jesus,
            but it is about Jesus.

In the context of Isaiah, at the time he was writing,
            the suffering servant is the nation of Israel.

The silenced victim, humiliated like a lamb before its shearer,
            is Israel in exile in Babylon.

The one whose life is taken away in violence,
            is Israel, God’s people.

And so Philip starts to speak to the Eunuch,
            and he uses this scripture to speak about the good news of Jesus.

And he, like we, sees in the life and death of Jesus,
            the activity of God in the vulnerable and the victimised,
he sees God present in the violence against the innocent,
            he sees God on the cross,
just as Isaiah saw God in the exile of Israel.

And if Philip and the Eunuch had turned the pages of their scriptures a few pages back,
            and the Eunuch had read the story of the Levite’s concubine,
I wonder if Philip would also have said,
            that in her too is found the presence of God.

Maybe the good news of Jesus that Philip proclaims on the road outside Jerusalem,
            is that God is present, in Christ, with all those who are victims.
They may be silenced, but God is listening to that silence,
            hearing the silent screams of those who cannot speak out.

God is present in Christ in agony on the cross,
            God is present with Israel in exile in Babylon,
            God is present as a young woman is raped to death outside Jerusalem,
            God is present as 400 young women are given to men as their wives,
            God is present as women who have gone to dance at a festival
                        are taken away and raped into marriage.

And God is present when women are raped and killed
            on the streets and in the parks of our city,
and God is present when women are abused
            in homes, even Christian homes, by their husbands,
and God is present whenever a victim is silenced.

And as the people of God in our age,
            we too need to learn to hear the voices that cry out in silence,
            and we need to learn that God not on our side,
                        but rather is present with, and in, and through,
                        all those who face violent and voiceless futures.

We cannot ignore this story from our scriptures,
            and we cannot turn away from the reality of our world,
because to do so is to perpetuate a culture of violence,
            that Christ came to change.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Incest and Lot's Daughters: Who do you think you are?

A Sermon preached at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
14 October 2018

Listen to the audio here:

John 8.2-11
Genesis 19.30-38

On Monday evening this week,
            I went to the launch of a new book, entitled
            ‘Confronting Religious Violence: A Counternarrative’

In this book, Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi,
            talks about the way in which, as humans,
            we are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves.

This is true both at an individual level,
            and also at a collective or communal level.

He says that,

‘We come to know who we are
            by discovering the story or stories of which we are a part.’

This is because, he says, we are narrative creatures.
            We respond to, and are defined by, the stories that shape us.

Who we are in the present, for both good and bad,
            is the product of the stories that we have taken deep within ourselves.

And this is true for us both personally, and communally.

At a personal level, the stories of our families
            will have a huge effect on the kind of people we are.
And understanding the legacy of our family systems,
            can be a vital part of learning to understand who we are,
            and why we are the way we are.

I think that the dramatic rise in people taking the Ancestry DNA test,
            coupled with the huge popularity of Genealogical research,
            and TV programmes such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’
speaks of a growing desire in our culture
            for us to construct personalised stories
            that give us meaning and identity.

A few weeks ago I got the results of my Ancestry DNA test.
            It turns out that I’m
                        18% Norwegian,
                        23% Irish or Scottish, and
                        59% English or North-western European.

Apparently this is a very English profile.
            And whilst it may account for my hair and skin colour,
                        I don’t think I can blame my Home Counties accent on my DNA.
                                    I suspect my upbringing in Kent has something to do with that.
                        And I’ve never noticed any residual ability
                                    to speak Viking or Glaswegian coming through.

So whilst this is all very interesting,
            it doesn’t really tell me who am,
But I could, if I chose to, use the story of my DNA, or my family tree research,
            to construct a narrative for me to live by:
                        So I could use my DNA profile to become an English nationalist!
                                    Or not!!!
                        In fact, part of me wondered whether being 23% Irish
                                    and having the middle name of Patrick
                        might qualify me for an Irish passport in a post-Brexit world,
                                    but I think that’s wishful thinking.

There’s a wonderful video on the internet
            of people getting their DNA results
            and discovering that their genes don’t match their perception of their identity.[1]
So the English Nationalist rather delightfully discovers that he’s mostly German,
            and others are similarly shocked by the way their stories of origin
            are altered by the story locked in their DNA.

And in a world of ever greater fragmentation,
            where nation states and federations are under threat,
the importance of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves
            will become ever more important to us.
At a communal level,
            the importance of stories for understanding religious violence
is that the way different religious communities relate to each other
            will be determined by the stories they tell of themselves.

So whether I think God wants my tribe
            to go to war with a different tribe,
will be determined by the founding stories, the master narratives as they’re called,
            that our different tribes have been shaped by.

And often these master narratives
            are to do with issues such as the ownership of the land,

If you want to understand the current tensions between Israel and Palestine,
            you need to look long and hard at the founding stories of the two nations,
                        the historic claim that each believes they have to the land,
            and the way they tell their ancient stories
                        to justify and shape who they are
                        and how they will act in the present day.

And this is nothing new.

In fact, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible,
            many of the stories we encounter
            would fit in this category of master narratives.

The Ancient Near East was a land of tribes,
            and it was a land of tribal warfare,
            as people fought over property and trade routes.

Different tribes would come together in alliances,
            and then split apart again,
and their tribal stories, their master narratives,
            would amalgamate and fracture
            to express these changing affiliations.

And it’s in this context
            that we need to begin hearing stories such as our passage this morning
            about Lot and his daughters in the cave.

This is story that is preserved within the scriptures of Israel,
            who are, according to their master narrative, the descendants of Jacob.

If we take a look at this genealogy of Jacob’s family,
            we start to get a picture of how they understood their relationship
            to the various other tribal groups in their area in the ancient world.

Here we see that Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel
            is the brother of Esau, who is the ancestor of the Edomites.
He’s also cousin to the 12 sons of Ishamel,
            and it’s famously a ‘hairy bunch of Ishmaelites’
                        to whom Jacob’s sons sell Joseph into slavery.

Jacob is also second cousin to Ammon and Moab,
            who are the founding patriarchs of the Ammonites and the Moabites,
                        Israel’s ancient enemies.
And it’s the story of the origin of Ammon and Moab
            that we meet with the incestuous story
            of Lot and his daughters in the cave above Zoar.

So, at one level, this story is making a clear point:
            which is that the Ammonites and the Moabites are,
            quite literally, a bunch of bastards.

Although, of course, not so alienated
            that one of the books in the Hebrew Bible couldn’t be named after a Moabitess,
                        as Ruth from Moab gets written back into the story of Israel
                        as no less than one of the ancestors of their great mythic king David.

And here’s the complexity.
            It’s not clear-cut.
Enemies become friends, and friends become enemies,
            tribal alliances form, and they fail.
And the stories reflect this.

As John Rogerson put it:

‘One of the purposes of Genesis was to link these ancestors together by means of genealogy and story and then to plot this unified story onto a larger genealogical canvas. To call this ‘fiction’ is not to describe it as deceit or fraud. Genealogies, for ancient Israel as for many other peoples, were not a type of history: rather, they were the expression of a need to plot existing social realities onto a chart that explained them in terms of a comprehensive scheme.’ - John Rogerson.

And, of course, we need to remember that these stories
            were not written down at the time in the form we have them preserved.
There is a thousand or more years of oral traditioning
                        from the time these stories are set
            to the point where they get preserved in the 6th-7th centuries BC.

But is this all we can learn from this story,
            that it’s a master narrative to define the Israelites as the true heirs of Abraham,
            over against the Moabites and the Ammonites?

I think there’s more to be gleaned.

If you were here a few weeks ago,
            you might have heard Luke preaching on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah,
and in his sermon he helpfully addressed
            the way in which this story has been incorrectly used
            to condemn homosexuality.

He reminded us that it is actually a story of the abuse of hospitality,
            and challenged us to think about who our society abuses rather than welcomes.

During the course of his sermon, Luke noted
            that there are a number of highly problematic aspects
                        to the story of Lot’s family in Sodom,
            which were beyond the scope of his sermon on that Sunday.

One of those problems is the way Lot treats his two daughters,
            and I want us to come back to this story today as we pick up the narrative again.

Do you remember the setting?
            Lot is at home with his family in the city of Sodom,
                        when two angels in disguise come to the door.
            Lot insists that they stay at his house,
                        and gives them dinner.
            But the men of the city are unhappy with this act of hospitality to strangers,
                        and want Lot to turn them out so they can be killed.
            Lot refuses - so far, so good.

            But then he makes a strange and horrific offer. He says,

‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ - Genesis 19.7-8

We’re not told what the daughters think of this offer,
            or indeed what their betrothed husbands-to-be who are also in the house think.
But in any case, the angels save the situation by striking the mob blind,
            and warn Lot to take his family out of Sodom          
                        to avoid the coming destruction that God is going to bring on it
                        because of its wickedness.
So Lot escapes, with his daughters,
            but their husbands-to-be ridicule his warning and choose to stay behind,
                        presumably to be killed in the destruction of the city,
            while his wife looks back and becomes a pillar of salt.

And so we pick up the story in our reading,
            with Lot and his daughters alone in the cave,
            convincing themselves that they, and only they, are left.

The big threat here,
                        from the point of view of the story’s role
                        in the history of the Ancient Near East,
            is that Lot may die without descendants.

Being child-free in the ancient world was not a valid lifestyle choice,
            it was a symptom of being cursed by God.

            And entire nations depend on his having two sons / grandsons.

And so the daughters get their father drunk two nights running,
            and one after the other, they have sex with him,
            and conceive their two sons.

The interesting question to ask here,
            is whether they were right or wrong to do so?

Certainly, in most of the history of this text’s interpretation,
            they have been criticised for initiating these two incestuous conceptions,
and the text is certainly at pains to show that Lot is so drunk
            that he is absolved of any personal responsibility for things.

Although, I might note, he’s clearly not that drunk,
            but anyway, moving on…

The interesting thing is that, within the text itself,
            the two daughters are not actually criticised for their actions.
Any moral judgment on what happens in the cave
            is very much left for the reader to decide.

And whilst, clearly, from a contemporary perspective,
            we would be very clear in condemning incest,
                        and sexual abuse of any kind.
From the perspective of the text,
            things are left rather ambiguous,
            certainly with regard to whether the daughters are condemned.

The first thing to note here, I think, is a number of key ways,
            Lot’s family is highly dysfunctional,
and the blame for that dysfunction
            lies squarely with Lot himself.

This wannabe Patriarch, the nephew of Abraham,
            who was the great patriarch of the Jewish people,
            keeps trying to behave in patriarchal ways, but failing.

Like his Uncle Abraham, he entertains angels unawares,
            Like Uncle Abraham, he offers to sacrifice his children.
But at every turn, it doesn’t work out for him.
            He comes across as needy, vicious, and vindictive.
Lot is not the hero of the Lot narrative,
            he’s the villain.

The family dynamics under Lot’s leadership
            are, frankly, horrific.

And there is something almost poetic
            in the fact that the father who offered his daughters
                        for gang rape at the hands of the village mob
            finds himself ultimately rendered powerless
                        and the victim himself of a sexual assault.

But my concern in all of these readings so far,
            is that they are very male-centric.

The unnamed daughters remain unnamed and unvoiced,
            and their actions are mere cyphers for the male stories
            of patriarchy, progeny, and inheritance.

I think we need to hear the voices of these two women, if we are able,
            speaking to us through their silence and through their actions.

The biblical scholar Sandra Collins[2] says that,
‘these are women of survival and invention, as heinous and despicable as their actions might be.’ - Sandra Collins

She suggests that we need to make the effort to read the story
            from the point of view of the women, rather than the men,
and that when we do this
            they move from being archetypical evil women
                        who sexually abuse their own father,
            to become women who are themselves the victims
                        of sexual violence and constraint,
            and whose actions are acts of great courage in the face of great threat.

Does this make you feel uncomfortable, I wonder?
            Are you starting to question or undermine what I’m saying?
If so, then good,
            because it means that the invitation to hear the text differently is working,
            and our implicit assumptions about male power are being challenged.

Ask yourself, for a moment, what choice these women had?
            In a world where it was better to be dead than childless,
                        where their father had threatened them with rape,
                        where their husbands had been killed by God,
                        where, as far as they knew,
                                    the only man left alive on the earth, was their own father.
            What choice did they have?

And who would condemn them?

Christian history is full of stories of women condemned for sexual deviance,
            as female voices are silenced and male choices are privileged.
From the tradition of a male clergy,
            to the ongoing evangelical obsession with husbands as the head of their wives,
the church that bears Christs name has an appalling record
            of female subjugation and gender based violence.

This is not a problem that is ‘out there’.
            It is a problem that is ‘in here’.

The story we heard earlier of Jesus, and the murderous crowd of men,
            and the woman caught in adultery,
has startling resonances with the story of the daughters of Lot and their father:
            yet another powerless woman, once again at the mercy of men.

And we could write their story a thousand times in every generation.
            Lot’s daughters continue to face impossible choices in our own time,
                        as women have to figure out how to survive
                                    in impossible situations,
                        with impossible choices forced on them by powerful men.

Just last week I read in the Guardian the story of Nadia Murad
            the Iraqi woman who was sold as an Isis sex slave,
                        who has just won the Nobel peace prize
                        for her campaigning against human trafficking.[3]

And the current President of the United States
            is on record as saying that his daughter is ‘hot’
            and that if she wasn’t his daughter,
                        he’d probably be dating her.[4]

If the violence, misogyny, and objectification is ever to end,
            then we have to change the story.

We have to hear, unflinchingly, the stories of the past,
            and allow the suppressed voices of the victims to speak.

We have to resist the temptation to scapegoat and condemn,
            and we have to learn to not rush to judgment.

Instead we have to allow these uncomfortable stories
            to shape us in ways that challenge our own assumptions
            about power and gender.

These stories are in our tradition for a reason,
            and suppressing them is not the answer.

As Jonathan Sacks rightly said,
            ‘We come to know who we are
            by discovering the story or stories of which we are a part.’

[2] Collins, S L, Weapons Upon Her Body: The Female Heroic in the Hebrew Bible, PhD, Pittsburg, 2009.