If I Had Known Then What I Know Now: Pastoring and #MeToo

The Blog That Speaks: If I Had Know Then What I Know Now: Pastoring and #MeToo

The statistics in the US are grim concerning sexual and domestic violence:

  • Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted;
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime;[1]
  • More than 20 percent of black women are raped during their lifetimes;[2]

  • American Indians are twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races;[3]
  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States;[4]
  • An estimated 51.3% of black adult female homicides are related to intimate partner violence;[5]
  • 55.5% of Native women experience physical intimate partner violence in their lifetimes; 66.6% experience psychological abuse.[6]

It may be easy for some to scan such figures and perceive them only as nameless, faceless numbers, having very little impact on their community and personal lives. Yet, as one who has pastored and who is also a survivor of sexual violence, these statistics have a definitive shape. They move from cold digits that are nameless and faceless to personal lives with real names, real faces, real wounds. In one particular church that my husband and I previously pastored, which averaged approximately 50 attendees on any given Sunday, I can recall the names and faces of seven congregants plus me, who had previously experienced sexual or domestic violence . . . And these were the ones that I knew.

Real people. Real stories. Real wounds.

Despite such daunting statistics on domestic and sexual violence, Lifeway Research found that only about half (55 percent) of the pastors surveyed were “familiar or very familiar with domestic violence resources in their community.” And half stated that they didn’t “have sufficient training to address sexual or domestic abuse.” [7] As one who teaches pastoral counseling for a pentecostal university, this is unsettling. Personally, I carry a sense of responsibility to ensure that my students are exposed to the subjects of domestic and sexual violence and develop a plan as to how they will respond. I guess you could say that I am teaching the course I wish I would have had prior to being ordained. If I would have known then what I know now, I would have done some things differently.

If I had known then what I know now. . .

I would have been among the 16% of pastors who had heard of #Churchtoo (and among even the smaller percentage of those who would have heard of #pentecostalsisterstoo). I also would have been among the 24% of pentecostal pastors (in comparison to 57% of Methodists and 52% of Presbyterian/Reformed pastors) who would have been more inclined to preach on sexual and domestic violence after being made aware of #metoo.[8]  

If I had known then what I know now . . .

I would have taught the congregation about domestic and sexual abuse. The congregants would have heard that rather than healing being a one-time event or even being completely finalized, healing for the sexual abuse survivor is a “long-term project.”[9] Dan Allender, a Christian counselor, seems to agree when he comments that in the survivor’s grief, which is part of the healing process, he/she faces his/her “irretrievable” losses, such as the inability to be completely comfortable “in another’s care without at least a hint of discomfort and anxiety.”[10] Grief is important, then, because, as Allender says, it “admits there are scars that can be removed only in heaven.”[11]

If I had known then what I know now . . .

I would have related how many survivors, be it domestic or sexual violence, have been silenced and are in need for someone to hear the stories of abuse. Many of both types of survivors have been threatened into silence, so they have refused to speak due to fear. In some families, the survivor would be breaking an unspoken rule to speak about the abuse. Both types of survivors may be filled with shame so that they are unable to communicate about the abuse. In childhood sexual abuse, this may result in the repression of it.[12]

If I had known then what I know now . . .

I would have invited congregants to help break the silence by becoming people who listen. I would have offered ways to cultivate the characteristic of listening, a path that demonstrates a power with the survivor instead of a power over the survivor. Such an invitation would have been framed theologically as participating in the ministry of Christ, being present to others as Christ is already ministering his presence to them in and through his very being.

If I had known then what I know now . . .

I would have taught that while cultures throughout the ages have asserted power over women, God demonstrates that the divine is with women in the person of Jesus, providing dignity, equality, and mutuality. This is repeatedly seen in and through the very being of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Gospels.

Let’s take for instance the opening chapter of the first Gospel. Matthew begins with a genealogy, which may appear at first glance to be rather mundane, compelling us to bypass name after name after name, many of which we cannot pronounce. Like reading the above statistics, it is much easier to allow our eyes to gloss over the list of names without seeing real people with real faces. But if we do, we miss an important message.

Matthew uses this genealogy to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is a King within the Davidic royal line, but it also implicitly indicates that Jesus’ reign is in contrast to David’s. Unlike many genealogies of antiquity, Matthew includes four women, five if you include Mary. Their inclusivity is distinctive since women were not normally placed in genealogies, making them nameless and faceless in familial generations. Furthermore, these four women have less than honorable reputations in contrast to women of the patriarchs, such as Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel:[13]

1) they are of Gentile descent,[14] and

2) questionable sexual connotations are contained within their stories.

  • Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law, Judah, after he failed to give her his youngest son as a husband as was the custom when the first two sons had died; as a result, she bore her father-in-law a son, continuing Judah’s line (Genesis 38);
  • Rahab was a prostitute who preserved the lives of two Israelite spies (Joshua 2);
  • Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet (possibly legs) and laid down beside him (Ruth 3). The uncovering of feet is sometimes used as a euphemism for genitals. At the very least, Ruth may be seen as breaking the cultural gender rules by proposing marriage to Boaz through her actions;
  • The wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) was summoned by King David, who exerted power over her by having sex with her. When she became pregnant, he arranged to have her husband killed (2 Samuel 11-12).

The unique placement of these four women in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew bids to us to pay attention to their stories. The insertion of their names, thereby their stories of inequality, injustice, and even sexual violence, undercuts patriarchy. Their involvement in Jesus’ genealogy signifies, to use Carolyn Curtis James’ words, the “radical countercultural message of the Bible.”[15] As Anne Clements remarks, the incorporation of these women in Jesus’ line points towards a different kind of inclusion in the people of God. It challenges the commonly understood beliefs of patriarchy, ethnicity, and gender in the purposes of God, as exemplified in King David’s reign[16] while simultaneously inviting the reader to participate in God’s reign on earth—that is, one of equality, mutuality, dignity, and justice.

Such inclusivity of Gentile women in Jesus’ genealogy indicates Jesus’ identification with women. According to Matthew, Jesus is the King who is with them, Emmanuel (1:23). Their stories are a part of his story because their names and faces are part of his genealogy. Their wounds of injustice and inequality are a part of Jesus’ multigenerational family system and therefore a part of him. Because Jesus is fully human, their wounds echo down through the generations to him. Yet, these wounds are unable to have an intergenerational traumatic impact upon him because of his divinity. As when Jesus touches and heals a leper without becoming unclean (Matt. 8:2-3), so Jesus’ very being embraces and heals the intergenerational trauma of women throughout the ages without himself being marred. Since Jesus is fully divine, Jesus’ healing power ensues and surpasses each echo of inequality, injustice, and sexual violence against women.

By using the lens of a multigenerational family system then, I may say that Jesus takes within his very being the injustices against women, the power imposed over them while simultaneously healing them, by being a power that is with them—Emmanuel, God with us.

If I had known then what I know now . . .

I would have invited Christ’s followers to participate in this healing ministry. To sow equality, mutuality, justice, dignity, and inclusivity. To be present. To be with. To listen. As his followers, it is to this that he has called us, to be radical disciples by embracing the radical message of the Gospel.

If I had known then what I know now.[17]

If you are interested in assisting in a conversation among pentecostals/Charismatics, I am conducting a research/project on healing from sexual violence. For more information, please see the blog Tell Me the Story of Trauma.

[1] RAINN, “Scope of the Problem: Statistics,” https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem.

[2] Jameta Nicole Barlow, “Black Women, the Forgotten Survivors of Sexual Assault,” American Psychological Association, February 2020, https://www.apa.org/pi/about/newsletter/2020/02/black-women-sexual-assault.

[3] RAINN, “Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics,” https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence.

[4] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Statistics,” https://ncadv.org/STATISTICS.

[5] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Domestic Violence and the Black Community,” https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/dv_in_the_black_community.pdf.

[6] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Domestic Violence Against American Indian and Alaskan Native Women,” https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/american_indian_and_alaskan_native_women__dv.pdf

[7] Bob Smietana, “Pastors More Likely to Address Domestic Violence, Still Lack Training,” Lifeway Research, September 18, 2018, https://lifewayresearch.com/2018/09/18/pastors-more-likely-to-address-domestic-violence-still-lack-training/

[8] Ibid.

[9] Sheila A. Redmond, “Christian ‘Virtues’ and Recovery from Child Sexual Abuse,” in Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse: A Feminist Critique, eds. Joanne Carlson Brown and Carole R. Bohn, (New York:  Pilgrim Press, 1989), 72.

[10] Dan Allender, The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1990), 228.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Sarah Rieth, “Scriptural Reflections on Deafness and Muteness as Embodied in the Healing Journeys of Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse,” Journal of Pastoral Theology 3, (1993): 39, http://www.luthersem.edu/library/auth_resource.aspx?resource_link=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000869829&site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed March 4, 2013).

[13] Craig Keener writes, “Genealogies need include only men, so the unexpected appearance of four women draws attention to them . . . Had Matthew merely meant to evoke the history of Israel in a general way, one would have expected him to have named the matriarchs of Israel: Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel”; see Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999), 78.

[14] Ibid., 78-80.

[15] Carolyn Curtis James, “Dismantling Patriarchy and Discovering the Blessed Alliance,” March 25, 2021, as she quotes from her book, Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World, https://carolyncustisjames.com/2021/03/25/dismantling-patriarchy-and-recovering-the-blessed-alliance/.

[16] Anne E. Clements, Mothers on the Margin?: The Significance of the Women in Matthew’s Genealogy (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 275, Kindle.

[17] Parts of this blog will be published this fall in an article called “How Jesus Communicates #MeToo: A Perspective on Intergenerational Trauma and Healing in the Atonement,” in Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology, https://digitalshowcase.oru.edu/spiritus/.

2 thoughts on “If I Had Known Then What I Know Now: Pastoring and #MeToo

  1. Thank you, Pam. Appreciate you blogs so much. This was so relevant to me right now. As ever, Ramona


    1. Ramona, it is so good to hear from you. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I am so appreciative that this blog spoke to you and that you took the time to let me know. Blessings to you. Pam


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