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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Ruth Everhart

Tell us about yourself. What have you been doing and what are you working on during this COVID-19 lock-in.
I’m an author and pastor, although I find it difficult to be both at once! This fall I’ll celebrate my 30th anniversary of ordination, and for the last nine years I’ve put a lot of energy into writing while pastoring part-time.
Two of my three books could be classified as “spiritual memoir.” Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land (Eerdmans, 2012) takes the reader along on a transformative pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine. Ruined (Tyndale, 2016) tells the story of a traumatic experience of sexual violence when I was 20 years old, and explores how that shaped my life and faith through the next decade. 
My new book (InterVarsity Press, Jan 2020) is The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct. In this book I widen my lens to tell other people’s stories as well as my own, and intertwine those stories with scripture. 
So far during this Covid-19 lock-in, I’ve been following up on podcasts and articles related to my #MeToo book launch. My speaking engagements have been cancelled, of course, so I’m doing more videos and webinars than I had planned to do.
I would love to begin to think about “the next thing” but it’s been challenging to find mental and emotional bandwidth during a time of global distress!

2. Which aspects of your work past and present might be particularly interesting for supporters of the Shiloh Project?
My memoir Ruined explores how my religious upbringing shaped my response to a brutal rape by two African-American strangers — and the response of the Calvinist faith community in which I was submerged. The title is a synonym for shame, which engulfed me. My viewpoint alternates between the 20-something Ruth who felt ruined, and the self who became a pastor and found healing in a larger faith tradition.
My more recent book is The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct. The interplay between current and ancient stories of abuse may be of particular interest to the members of the Shiloh Project. In the introduction I itemize the lenses I bring to the work: “My interest in sexual assault and faith is not academic. I wrote this book because I felt called by God to do so, and could find no excuse to refuse (although I did search for one). I bring certain lenses along with me. As a rape survivor, I am passionate about justice for victims and accountability for victimizers. As a former “good girl,” I am conversant with the conservative subculture. As a committed Christian, I am tenacious about loving Jesus, who first loved me. As a pastor, I spend my days swimming in Scripture. As a wife, I am one half of what turned out to be an egalitarian marriage, thirty-five years and counting. As a mother, my heart walks around outside my body with two daughters, a fact that will keep me poking and prodding the church toward greater gender equality as long as I live. Most of all, as an author, the response to my earlier writing about assault has softened my heart and thickened my skin. I will not be bullied by blowback or made callous to the plight of my sister survivors, and brothers as well. It is time for a reckoning.”

3. How are you bearing up and what’s helping you most?
I am in a very fortunate situation. I am “locked-in” with my husband, with whom I am very companionable. There is plenty of room and quiet for each of us to pursue our own work. We are doing yoga each day and going for walks in the fresh air as often as possible.
We are very grateful for technology which allows us to see the faces of our loved ones — our two grown daughters who each live alone about an hour’s drive from our home, and our two aged mothers, each living in a facility a great distance from us.
Every one of us is living with a great deal of pain and loss right now, on a personal level and a societal level. I find that naming these losses — even trivial ones — and then naming that for which I am grateful, helps me feel more centered and settled during this most unusual Lent. Because I tend toward the contemplative, the practice of praying for others is also essential.
I also look forward to a few ounces of tawny port and a dose of Netflix each evening!

4. Send us a picture to capture you or your work in these COVID-19 days.
I do quite a bit of supply preaching, and had agreed to help a local Presbyterian congregation for a few weeks, which turned out to be the beginning of lockdown. The picture, taken by my husband, is of me preaching via FB Live in my study, with an improvised worship space created by a purple stole, a cross on the wall, and a few sprigs of forsythia.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Adriaan Van Klinken

The first week of this lockdown I spent closely following the news with updates about the pandemic across the globe, which became depressing. I also felt sad about having to cancel a trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe, where I had a friend’s wedding, a holiday with my husband, a conference and two book launch events lined up – a trip I’d been planning and looking forward to for months. After that first week or so, I decided to only check the news twice a day, and to take a distance from social media, especially WhatsApp where groups were constantly buzzing, and instead to make the most of “working from home”. 

I’m lucky that I’m on research leave at the moment – so I could ignore the many emails that the University sent about student education related matters, while feeling sympathy for my colleagues who suddenly had to experiment with online teaching methods. My planning for research leave has been greatly affected by the current crisis – in addition to cancelling the South Africa trip, I also had to postpone a trip to Kenya in May to launch an AHRC funded research network, not knowing when I can reschedule; I’m also uncertain whether or not I should start preparing for my inaugural lecture that’s planned for June. In recent days I spent quite a lot of time planning the sessions of the African Religions unit for the AAR annual meeting in November, with on the back of my mind the idea that the meeting may soon be cancelled. 

With all the uncertainty, I decided to prioritise a couple ofprojects I can actually easily do from home: preparing the launch of a documentary film, completing a book manuscript, and processing and analysing the data of a research project. Each of these projects might actually be of interest to Shiloh readers! 

The film is called Kenyan, Christian, Queer, and is related to my book with the same title that was published last year. The film features an LGBT church in Kenya and the work they are doing to create an affirming space for LGBT Christians in a mostly conservative society. The actual production of the film is done by Aiwan Obinyan, a British-Nigerian film maker who is a friend of mine. I’ve been giving feedback on drafts, communicating with relevant stakeholders, and preparing educational resources for using the film in classroom settings. Unfortunately the African Studies conference where the film was to be launched has been cancelled, so we’re currently making alternative plans. 

The book I mentioned is titled Reimagining Sexuality and Christianity in Africa, and I’m authoring it with Ezra Chitando, a colleague in Zimbabwe. It’s aimed at a non-specialist audience of students, religious leaders and activists, thus requiring a more accessible writing style than the typical academic monograph. The book seeks to interrogate the dominant narrative of Christian homophobia in Africa, demonstrating how Christianity also serves as a site to imagine alternative possibilities of sexuality in African cultures and societies. Thereto we discuss a number of African thinkers, ranging from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to feminist theologian Mercy Oduoye, but also a range of creative and cultural expressions, such as novels, films and poetry.

Then, with my Leeds colleague Johanna Stiebert I’ve been working for the past year on a British Academy funded project for which we work with a group of Ugandan LGBT refugees based in Nairobi, Kenya. It focuses on the life stories of participants, and how biblical stories can be used to narrate and signify their experiences, struggles and hopes. The group we are working with is truly amazing – in terms of their creativity and resilience – and so is Johanna as a very inspiring colleague and collaborator. Going through the transcripts of interviews and focus group discussions brings back many wonderful memories. The creative bible studies we did, about Daniel in the lion’s den and about Jesus and the “adulterous woman”, resulted in drama plays that have been video recorded. This project is also supposed to result in a book, and the lock down gives us the time to start working on it. 

So, after the initial setback I’m now managing reasonably well. I intersperse my working hours with gardening – hooray for the goldfish that we were able to buy the weekend before the lockdown started, which make the garden pond so much livelier –, with a daily run along the canal, and checking in with friends and family nearby and far away to try and help them cope with the current situation. The reports I get from friends and colleagues in Kenya and other parts of Africa do worry me – the lockdown there has an enormous impact on people’s livelihoods. The whole situation makes me aware, again, of my own privilege and makes me reflect upon what solidarity means in these times. As much as it’s true that the virus does not discriminate, the effects of the pandemic are felt most severe by communities that are already vulnerable and marginalised. (On that note: If anyone reading this is able to offer some support to the above mentioned group of Ugandan refugees, who really struggle economically in the current crisis, please get in touch.)

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Simon Phillips

I am Simon Phillips, Community Engagement Officer at West Yorkshire Police, responsible for strategic engagement with hard-to-reach and minority communities. This includes faith communities and migrant communities, and I have been, and continue to be, involved in work in the area of domestic violence and abuse.


I have been working from home a few days a week anyway for the last 5-6 years, although the Coronavirus pandemic has meant that I am now working from home completely. As a result, little difference has been made to my working pattern, although a lot of my normal work has been put on the back burner due to various pieces of work connected with the crisis – notably monitoring community tensions and producing information on police powers and engagement in other languages.


My wife is also working from home alternate days. She is an optometrist, and needs to go into the practice every few days to see patients who might otherwise need to go to A&E for eye-related issues. So, she is reducing the demand on the NHS.


It’s actually been amazing spending so much more time with her, although I appreciate that lots if women (and men) aren’t as fortunate and I really worry about victims of domestic abuse during the lockdown. 


I suppose what I’m missing is human contact in terms of face-to-face meetings. Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp are great, but I miss being in the office. Mind you, I must be saving on fuel costs! 


I also worry about what the future holds. 


So, for victims and potential victims, I would remind people that if they call 999, they can just type 55 into the phone and the police Contact Centre will know that it’s a silent call and that the caller is unable to speak. I would also recommend the Bright Sky app. This is a free app, which looks like an app to look at the weather forecast. However, behind the front screen is a wealth of information relating to recognising and reporting abuse.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Helen Paynter

  1. Tell us about yourself. What have you been doing and what are you working on during this COVID-19 lock-in? I have a number of roles, which I’m trying to juggle effectively in these strange days. As Director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence at Bristol Baptist College, I’m continuing to work on books we’re editing, and a reading group I’m convening. I’m also, rather distractedly, trying to get on with writing a paper on retellings of the conquest narrative. Since the lock-down started, I’ve also been appointed Biblical Studies tutor at Bristol Baptist College, to start in August (DV). My other main role is that I’m a Baptist minister, sharing the care of a local church. So my colleague and I have been discovering the joys of online services, zoom leadership meetings, and trying to offer pastoral support to people over the phone. Most importantly, I’m doing my best to be a non-anxious presence for the congregation, and to help people to stand firm in their faith in these scary times. Some of this will be shifting around soon, however, as I’ll be returning to work as a doctor in one capacity or another, three days a week. I hung up my stethoscope 13 years ago, so this is a rather scary thought, but the NHS is offering intensive retraining and good support, and once a doctor always a doctor! So this will probably mean that my research will have to be put on hold for a while, though I will continue to serve the church as their minister.


2. Which aspects of your work past and present might be particularly interesting for supporters of the Shiloh Project?
I think they might be interested in my recently published book on a terrible act of sexual violence in the Bible (Telling Terror in Judges 19: Rape and Reparation for the Levite’s Wife), and my forthcoming one on the use of the Bible in domestic abuse (The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So: Why you don’t have to submit to domestic abuse and coercive control).
I’m very concerned about the problem of domestic abuse in these days, as people are trapped in homes with abusers, and frustration and anger are riding high. I understand that nine women were killed in their home last week. I’ve been trying to help raise awareness of this issue, and to highlight that refuges are still open and that this constitutes an acceptable reason for leaving lockdown.


3. How are you bearing up and what’s helping you most?
I’m doing okay most of the time. I’m incredibly grateful that we have a garden, and we’ve been playing a lot of swingball! I’m trying to keep a good daily and weekly routine, which includes writing the day in large letters in our hall(!), making sure I always get dressed, and exercise regularly. There are five of us at home here – I’m very grateful that our two student daughters have been able to come home to be with us. We’ve been having some great family times, including a riotous quiz evening, board games (if you’ve never played Terraforming Mars, it’s utterly addictive), and recreating famous works of art very badly! (See pictures.)
Above all, I’m appreciating regular a rhythm of prayer throughout the day, which really helps me to recentre myself. In the mornings, I ‘gather’ with colleagues from the Baptist College to pray. After our evening meal, as a family we have been using the Northumbria evening prayer together – great words for a time of darkness (see here). And at bedtime I’ve been streaming an Anglican church’s evening office. Three very different traditions, and all very helpful.

(Helen is also during self-isolation giving a ‘Tour of the Bible’ in daily short recordings. Here is her recording of Judges.)

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Chris Greenough

Like many introverts, I think I’ve been practising social distancing for many years! But, as an academic, these aren’t times where you can knuckle down to work, wrapped in a comforting cocoon of your own reading, thoughts and writing. Coronavirus brings a real, present and threatening worry that breaks concentration, interrupts everyday activities and the anxiety is real. But, if anything, the social aspects of my life have picked up through making a conscious effort to stay in touch with people and check in on how they’re doing. Ironically, therefore, being connected and being in touch with others are helping me most.

While work sometimes pales into insignificance, there has been an urgent need to move teaching online, to stay in touch with students in new ways, to get to grips with technology I’ve never used before and to continue to supervise students. I’ve learnt that I’m less of a luddite than I thought. I’ve much appreciated and been touched by the genuine exchange of good wishes and the warm relationships we have with one another – whether we are lecturers, students or colleagues.

There have been some days where I’ve found research to be a helpful distraction, too. I’m currently finishing off my volume for the Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible series entitled The Bible and Sexual Violence Against Men. Working with Caroline Blyth, Katie Edwards and Johanna Stiebert as editors has been such a rewarding experience. The book examines social and cultural myths around sexual violence against men: that boys and men can be sexually abused, and this has nothing to do with their gender, sexuality or how masculine they are. At least 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused or assaulted. I’m grateful to feminist criticism in biblical studies that has drawn attention to sexual violence against men in the Bible, and in my work, I’m exploring Lot’s daughters’ sexual assault of him (Genesis 19), Joseph’s rebuttal of unwanted sexual attention from Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39) and the attempted rape of men in Genesis 19 and Judges 19. As it is Eastertide, it is relevant to mention how I am also looking at the stripping of Jesus as an act of sexual violence.

During the times I’m unable to concentrate or just need to stop, I’ve been able to benefit from the garden, the intermittent sunshine, my companion dogs and rabbit, my hilarious partner and wine.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Meredith Warren

Tell us about what you’re doing and what you’re working on during this COVID-19 lock-in.

I admit that I have been fairly distracted since I started effectively self-isolating around the 10th of March. I’ve got only a few days, if not hours, left before I go on Maternity Leave with my first baby, so keeping my household healthy and safe has occupied a lot of my brain space. 

That said, I had some pretty tangible goals that I wanted to achieve before stopping work, so I’ve been working as much as I can on those. I’ve been adjusting a workshop that was set to meet in-person in July, on embodiment and the senses called What the Body Knows, which now has funding to hire a PhD helper — the workshop is going to be online now, so it has taken some creativity in figuring out how that will work! I am very pleased that the second issue of JIBS, on transgenderqueer and genderqueer perspectives on biblical studies was released last week, guest edited by Caroline Blyth. I’ve also just finished up an article co-authored with Sarah Rollens and Eric Vanden Eykel, for JIBS’s forthcoming issue on Activism in the Classroom, guest edited by Johanna Stiebert. I’m also chipping away at a text book that Sara Parks and Shayna Sheinfeld and I are co-authoring, on Women in Ancient Religions, and an essay on angelic eating in Good Omens

2. Which aspects of your work might be particularly interesting or relevant for Shiloh Project readers?

The textbook that Sara Parks and Shayna Sheinfeld and I are writing might be of interest to friends of the Shiloh Project. It’s based off of a class the three of us used to teach when we were finishing up our PhDs at McGill University. Our aims in the text book are intersectional, trying to look at overlapping identities that women held in antiquity while providing an accessible and progressive introduction to the topic that will make teaching it easier for those who would like to do so. We invariably will have to wrestle with texts and images which depict or advocate sexual violence given the nature of women’s lived experience then and now.

3. How are you bearing up and what’s helped you most?

It feels good to be working on collaborative pieces right now, and having regular contact with my colleagues (as well as with friends) has been really helpful in keeping my head above water. Work is sometimes a welcome distraction from the chaos outside. I’m also doing a lot of baking, taking my state-sanctioned daily walks in the nice weather, reading non-academic books, and trying to spend quality time with our cat Button while he is still an ‘only child’. 

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Deryn Guest

These days, most of us will be having to live such different lives than we are used to – keeping self-isolated, working from home,juggling commitments to our family, work, and research, as well as caring for the health and wellbeing of ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be asking some of our Shiloh members and supporters how they are dealing with this “new normal”way of life. We hope this helps to keep our community connected with each other, and can serve to inspire us, reassure us we’re not alone, or even distract us a little from everything else we are dealing with right now.

Our series kicks off with one of the greats of biblical studies, Deryn Guest. Deryn teaches Biblical Hermeneutics in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham and is a trailblazer in the areas of gender theory, queer theory, and psychological theory as these relate to the Hebrew Bible.

Co-editor of The Queer Bible Commentary (SCM, 2006), co-author of Transgender, Intersex, and Biblical Interpretation (SBL, 2016), and author of Beyond Feminist Biblical Studies (Sheffield Phoenix, 2012), all of which break new and important ground in the discipline, Deryn has published extensively on the book of Judges in particular. At present, Deryn is writing an Earth Bible Commentary (Bloomsbury) on Judges. Deryn’s is a totally distinctive voice, blending whip-smart scholarship and integrity and never compromising on either.

So, what’s up, Deryn Guest?

Gosh, even introverted home birds miss social contact. Such was my realization as the morning work schedule kicked in during week one of lockdown. I was no longer filling up my kettle at the water cooler with office staff and colleagues, chatting about moments of hilarity on the Great British Bake Off, or the over-crowded commute that morning, or, of course, the perennial topic of the weather. Bonhomie at the water cooler – a convivial, social start to the academic day.

I rely now on my usual pre-commute morning ritual: a lit candle, a steaming cup of tea, some quiet moments of contemplation. After that, I’m ready for organizing the day into varied activities that keep the body oiled as well as the mind. A couple of hours on research, break for half an hour gardening, answer emails, take exercise, create some online teaching material, skype supervisions for postgrads. And I’m bearing up well. The quietness of being at home is good for my soul. The office of choice is the garden where I am accompanied by the chatter of birds communing socially at their own water coolers based at strategic points in the garden.  When wet, I work in the kitchen where I can see the garden through the patio windows. Either function well for writing an ecological commentary on the Book of Judges, which is the current project.

Fresh in my mind as I work on the story of the abducted women in Judges 21 is the capture of the Yazidi women taken into sexual slavery against their will by ISIS soldiers, dislocated from their place of home and family. Warfare, ancient or modern, always has severe consequences for the bodies of women. Writing ecologically, I think of how the land can act as witness to atrocities; how the sacred energies of a place are desecrated; how, in Judges 21, the pulsing, whirling of girls’ feet was suddenly felt no more, leaving the earth bereft of its place in the dance.  Being in the garden, watching the birds, listening to their singing and scolding (of cats), I wonder what the sounds of the places called Shiloh and Sinjar were in usual times, what were the sounds during the abduction, and then, with sadness, I ponder the sound of the aftermath.

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The #MeToo Reckoning: Book Review

Reflection on and review of The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct, by Ruth Everhart (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020).

This is not the kind of book I usually pick up – but I’m glad I did. Why might I not have picked it up? The author, Ruth Everhart, is a Presbyterian pastor, and she writes of Jesus as a presence and of the Bible as instrumental in addressing sexual abuse and misconduct in today’s churches. I am not drawn to church, and for me, doing something ‘because of Jesus’ (the title of one sub-section early on in the book), or treating the Bible as a kind of how-to for protecting the most vulnerable (signified by ‘the little ones’ of Matthew 18), as much as I applaud Everhart’s purpose, is utterly unfamiliar. Like humanizing one’s pets, or talking to the dead, I see nothing wrong in theory with believing in Jesus’ active presence, but at the same time it’s just not ‘me’.Moreover, I’ve tended to see the Bible as more part of the problem in matters sexual abuse than part of the solution.

Some of Everhart’s writing struck me as too ‘churchy-preachy’ to warm to. Hence, I almost put the book away when I got to, ‘[Jesus’] love changes everything. He is the divine one who came into this world via vagina. To Jesus, women’s bodily experiences matter. To Jesus, all humans bear the image of God equally. To Jesus, the voices of victims crying out for justice is a beatitude sung by a chorus. Stop and listen. Push past the fear. Unleash the energy. The Spirit is here’ (p.15). But I pushed past, persevered, perhaps in part, because Everhart had said at the outset that the book was addressed to victims, survivors, allies of victims and survivors, pastors, lay leaders and also to non-Christians. 

I had ordered Everhart’s book, because I came across it as forthcoming while researching my own book on rape culture and #MeToo. In my book I make much of the enduring influence of biblical texts, particularly in faith communities. And yet, can I really say this with authority, given my own remove from such communities? I preordered Everhart’s book and began to read it soon after it arrived, hot off the press. It is a book that – much to my own surprise – engaged me; a book I admire and warmly recommend. It has taught me much and given me some insight into new perspectives. Here are a few things I particularly like about this book.

Everhart knows what she is talking about and sticks to what she knows 

Everhart is a rape survivor. She has written a memoir about her ordeal, when she and her roommates, all young students at a Christian college, were held at gunpoint and raped by two intruders. The memoir is called Ruined(Tyndale House, 2016)because this word captured her perception of herself following the rape. Feeling ruined can be traced back in part to the purity culture in which Everhart was raised and immersed. Her intimate understanding of both purity culture and of trying to understand rape against the backdrop of faith in a loving God also contributes to her acutely sensitive and empathetic depiction of the stories of others who have encountered sexual abuse and mistreatment in church settings: like Melissa, raised and home-schooled in a conservative Christian culture that deprived her of the language to disclose or speak about rape; Stephanie, the pastor who had to recognize and resist the sexism that was creating a rape-supportive environment in her own faith community; Kris, the young man exposed to a sexual abuser who was protected by church structures and secrecies.

Ruined follows Everhart’s spiritual journey moving through and past rape, past feeling ruined, and her choice of remaining in the church and following her calling to become a pastor. I have not read Everhart’s memoir, only her allusions to it in this book. Like other first-person accounts of rape, Everhart’s albeit brief descriptions stay with me. The two book-length autobiographical accounts of rape I have read – and yes, sadly, rape memoirs are a genre –  are Jill Saward’s Rape: My Story (Bloomsbury, 1990) and Joanna Connors’ I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her (Fourth Estate, 2016). 

With both of these accounts, as with Everhart’s, the victim is easily identified as ‘innocent’. Of course no victim of rape is anything other than blameless; rape is always a dreadful crime, regardless of who the victim is. But it is no revelation that not all rape victims receive sympathy or support. Instead, some victims are blamed – on account of being drunk, or being perceived to have been sexually provocative, for instance. There exists a hierarchy of respectability with some victims deemed ‘more innocent’ and ‘more undeserving’ and others as‘rapable’, their violation ‘understandable’, occasionally even deserved. 

This hierarchy is amply infused with perceptions regarding purity, as well as with racism and other forms of discrimination pertaining to class, for instance. Moreover, it is affected by the identity of both victim and perpetrator – and Everhart is well aware of these toxic dynamics. Early on she alludes to the inequalities of rape, including those pertaining to race (pp.7-8), which she returns to repeatedly (e.g. p.49, pp.222-23). Everhart also unpicks the subtle workings of purity culture and its intersections with rape culture (pp.108–32) and the multiple vulnerabilities of class-based inequalities (passim).

Everhart, Saward and Connors’ accounts are all by white women. Everhart and Saward were both very young at the time of their rapes and both were devout Christians – Everhart a student at a Christian college, Saward a vicar’s daughter. In all three cases the rapists were strangers, in two (Everhart’s and Saward’s) there was more than one rapist and the rapists were armed intruders. In both Everhart and Connors’ cases the rapists were black men. All of these factors – that the rape victims were young, white, Christian, and the assailantsviolent, armed, black, strangers – serve to render the victims ‘more innocent’ in terms of the hierarchy of respectability and the rapists ‘more deplorable’ in the hierarchy of perpetrators than if the victims had been black, sexually experienced, older, or sex workers, for instance, or if the rapists had been their victims’ husbands, acquaintances, or famous, handsome, white. 

This is due to networks of rape myths and how theseshape stereotypes, expectations, prejudices, values and it explains why some rapists – such as good-looking, or wealthy, white men, boyfriends or celebrities – are more likely to get away with rape and why black victims, or sex workers, or disabled victims while, according to statistics especially vulnerable to sexual violence, more often than not do not get a hearing, let alone justice in court, or even representation or acknowledgement of their disproportionate suffering in popular culture.

Everhart comprehends this fully and reflects this in her writing. She chooses, however, wisely in my view, to hone in on the rape culture context she knows and understands best. As she writes, ‘Because I have become a progressive Protestant, this book focuses on stories within that world. I feel a call to clean the dirt in my own house…’ (p.9). Everhart makes no bones about who she is – ‘a rape survivor… a former “good girl,” … a radical feminist’ (p.6) and she takes a clear-eyed look at the church to which she belongs and feels indebted but which she also recognizes as ‘the culprit… the place where culpability hides’ (p.4).

The book contains a variety of stories and gives insight into the complex reasons why abuse is common in churches 

This book is substantial in length and demonstrates considerable narrative agility. It combines accounts ofEverhart’s personal experience, stories of others who have encountered church complicity in sexual abuse and misconduct, news reports (including about the testimony of both Anita Hill and Christine Blasey-Ford), excerpts from written correspondences, and careful examinationsof a wide range of biblical texts: among these, Leviticus 15 (detailing the menstruation purity laws), Numbers 27 (about the daughters of Zelophehad), 2 Samuel 11–13(the stories of Nathan’s parable and the rapes of both Bathsheba and Tamar), Psalm 55, the book of Lamentations, Matthew 10 and 18 (about Jesus and the children, or ‘little ones’), Mark 5:21-43 (the stories of two daughters – Jairus’ daughter and the woman healed of a continuous discharge), Luke 18 (the story of a persistent widow – a text I hadn’t known about prior to reading Everhart’s book), and 1 Corinthians 12 (on theinter-dependent body of the Church).

Everhart is superb at telling and at connecting stories that show in multiple ways that churches foster environments in which sexual misconduct and abuse thrive. She tells her own story, of working in a new congregation and of the inappropriate attentions of a church leader, culminating in his forcibly kissing Everhart. She talks of her efforts first to forestall and then to address this incident and of the many obstructions she encountered. She speaks of how this revived past trauma and also, how her past trauma was used against her.

Alongside this, Everhart tells others’ stories that have been entrusted to her. Some of these describe cases of severe physical abuse (Melissa’s rape by two men, one a stranger, one a trusted friend from church; Kris’s violent assault by a church-assigned chaperone), others of apparently less serious encounters (the misogynybrewing in Stephanie Green’s congregation). Skillful and effective here is how Everhart constructs a church-specific picture of a rape culture pyramid, in which it isclear that the serious crimes that happen in church settings (and which have begun to make the news with horrible regularity) are under-shored by networks and tributaries of rape-supportive attitudes, complicities and suppressions. As Everhart argues persuasively, none of these, even if seemingly small or jocular, are harmless and – if left unchallenged – transpire in the protection of abusers and the multiplication of victims. Atmospheres where sexist jokes are accepted as ‘banter’ diminish and silence women; small sexualized transgressions when dismissed can embolden perpetrators. Everhart tells of the sexualized ‘jokes’ of Big Joe, which go on to influence a vulnerable attendee of his soup kitchen, who then begins to stalk Stephanie, and of Ginni, who is tooready to forgive a sexual predator in spite of his not taking accountability or accepting any punishment. Everhart’s stories are vivid and familiar – even to those not part of a church community. This is because the church setting she describes is a microcosm that, for all its distinctive features, echoes broader social patterns. 

Everhart’s examinations of biblical texts are also compelling – and here I feel on more familiar ground. I, too, have interfaced biblical texts with contemporarycontexts. Everhart describes her approach as hearing stories of the Bible and the present ‘in tandem, the twin halves of a double helix’ (p.11). She uses the Bible as an inspiration for seeking justice: Jesus’ advocacy for ‘the little ones’ calls her to speak for victims and survivors and to heal the church; she appeals to David’s exposure of guilt, as well as to his acknowledgement of fault and acceptance of punishment to act as a model for seekingperpetrators’ accountability.

But Everhart is not uncritical of the Bible by any means. Hence, she notes, for instance, David’s mourning for his sons, Amnon and Absalom, but not for Tamar, his daughter: ‘David’s silence speaks volumes: Tamar’s life is not equal in value to those of her brothers. How painful to be confronted with the sheer expendability of females in Scripture – yet this is our religious heritage’ (p.34). Everhart finds inspiration in the Bible – for women’s solidarity in the story of Zelophehad’sdaughters, and for persistence in seeking justice in the parable of the widow and the judge – but she is not blind to the Bible’s misogyny and she is aware of how it has been used against women. 

Everhart has clearly studied and reflected on the Bible in considerable depth. I have too – but I learned from Everhart. I found her reflection on the ewe lamb in Nathan’s parable insightful, for instance. Hence, Everhart suggests that the man’s affection for the lamb might point to a particularly tender relationship between Uriah and Bathsheba. I did not know and agree with Everhart that it is meaningful, that Bathsheba, though not named here, is referred to as the wife of Uriah in the New Testament (Matthew 1:6). I also concur that the image of the lamb emphasizes Bathsheba’s youth and vulnerability: Everhart asks, ‘Due to stark disparities in status, power, and age, was meaningful consent possible in the story of David and Bathsheba?’ (p.144) We are agreed that the story is one of rape. 

Everhart’s adept and lively narration of stories – both personal and biblical – makes this book enjoyable to read. Her careful analysis of texts from the Bible is balanced with vividly related accounts of actual people from her own circle. The parallels between the two make the Bible stories relevant and alive but without obscuring their toxic potential. As Everhart recognizes ‘Scripture says many things, including many contradictory things. … We must be aware of the temptation to “baptize” what feels good and right because it’s known and comfortable’ (p.36). Everhart avoids this temptation and delves into much that is uncomfortable and painful.

Ruth Everhart

The book not only identifies and explains problems but offers hope and church-compatible ways and incentives to resolve them

Everhart is clear where she stands: she is in the church and intends to remain there. She recognizes the church’s potential for facilitating abuse and wants to be part of the solution for bringing this to an end. She is motivated by feminism and enthusiastic about #MeToo, identifying it as a time to speak up and to bring the church into a movement for positive change. 

Among the problems Everhart identifies and seeks to resist are Christian complicity ‘in championing a patriarchal masculinity that marginalizes women and protects abusers’ (p.11); the manipulation of turning the willing sacrifice of Jesus into the exploitation of self-sacrifice, or into sacrifice of the truth (p.35, p.204); the prevalence of a purity culture and a conservative view on sexuality, which can prepare a seedbed for driving sexual abuse underground; the church’s ‘tremendous pull toward institutional self-preservation’ and the ‘intricate web of relationships within the church’ (p.53); and disciplinary processes that do not acknowledge, let alonehonour harms done (p.90ff., 104–06). 

Over and over again, Everhart, while drawing on discrete examples, agues that these problems lie not with a few ‘sick individuals’ but with systems (e.g. pp.80-81). She advocates for transparency and speaking out (p.106) and for making churches ‘safer and braver’ (p.212). Hence, rather than holding meetings about abuse behind closed doors or foregrounding privacy and anonymity, Everhart advocates for public laments, in line with the large-scale, public strategies of #MeToo. Shame, she points out, lies not with victims but with perpetrators and resisting sexual abuse is not a women’s issue but a human issue. Without active resistance, she warns, churches will lose all the remaining trust they still have and go under. 

Everhart’s book ends on a note of hope, optimism and activity – with a list of strategies for effecting positive change within congregations.

I was left, after reading this book, feeling sombre but also more knowledgeable, and very grateful for people like Everhart and others, including several who have featured on this blog – Jayme ReavesRosinah GabaitseMusa DubeDavid TombsMegan RobertsonLaurie Lyter-BrightHelen PaynterJoachim KueglerGerald WestEricka DunbarJoyce BohamJo Sadgrove… – for fighting the fight in the churches. 

I hope many of you will read this book, whether you are Christian, church-going, or not.

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Supporting The Nature Network

Kia kaha, kia māia, kia manawanui. Be strong, be brave, be steadfast.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused multiple tributaries of tragedies, not least in communities that are already and multiply vulnerable. Two refugee communities struggling right now are The Nature Network, who featured recently in a Shiloh Project report on a project in which I am involved (see here), and Team No Sleep.

Both are communities of LGBT refugees (predominantly hailing from Uganda) who are living in Nairobi, Kenya, awaiting resettlement in safe countries. Life for them has never been easy, a piecemeal existence in constant proximity to discrimination, financial insecurity, at risk of violence, sexual assault, and ill health.

Far from succumbing to melancholy or resignation, the groups have mobilized and adapted their campaigns to reduce the spread of HIV and tuberculosis to include also COVID-19. But they are having a very hard time just meeting basic needs and expenses. The only way to send funds is directly, online, through Western Union.

If you can help, even with a small donation, let me know and we can add your donation to the next transfer (j.stiebert@leeds.ac.uk).

And in the meantime, take the advice of The Nature Network: we wash our hands!

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Self-isolation support

Kia kaha, kia māia, kia manawanui. Be strong, be brave, be steadfast.

As many of us are currently living in various forms of self-isolation, we will be confronted by new and continuing challenges to our lives, or hear of others (colleagues, friends, students, family members) who are finding things tougher than ever. Self-isolation can exacerbate so many social and mental health issues (including family violence, anxiety, depression, financial hardship), it’s reassuring to know that there are services still ‘out there’ who can try to assist.

As our Shiloh team are co-located in both South Yorkshire UK and Auckland NZ, we thought we would start the ball rolling by sharing a list of support services and helplines that remain open in these regions at this time. This is not an exhaustive list, and some of the services listed are nationally available.

If you would like to add to this list, or have us post similar services open in your region (wherever that may be in the world) do contact us and we will share the information here.

Help lines and support services open at the moment in Auckland and wider New Zealand

In an emergency, call 111.

Financial support

Student hardship fund – A fund for University of Auckland students impacted financially by Covid-19

AUSA hardship grants – to assist University of Auckland students in hardship with the basic necessities of life.

NZ Govt advice on financial support

Helplines and support services for victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and family violence

HELP Auckland crisis service remains open 24/7 – 0800 623 1700

Rape Crisis – 0800 88 33 00

Safe to Talk helpline – 0800 044 334, text 4334, email: support@safetotalk.nz, or live web-chat on their website.

Shakti Crisis Line – 0800 742 584 (for migrant or refugee women living with family violence)

SHINE – for family violence advice and support 0508 744 633

Women’s Refuge Crisis line – 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)

Counselling and mental health support helplines

Lifeline – counselling and support. 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP).

National Mental Health Line – 1737

OUTLine – support for LGBTIQ+ people 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463), 6pm-9pm every evening.

Samaritans – 0800 726 666.

SPARX – online e-therapy app created by the University of Auckland and free in NZ. Suitable for people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression.

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Youthline – Free call 0800 376 633, Free text 234. Or Facebook messenger via website.

Homelessness

Auckland City Mission is still providing services during the country’s self-isolation period, but some of their services have changed in light of COVID-19.

Donating to support services

The NZ-based Givealittle website lists various groups and projects in need of support right now, including food banks, refugee support, elder care, and the Red Cross.

Help lines and support services open at the moment in Yorkshire

In an emergency call 999

Helplines and support services for victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and family violence

IDAS, Independent Domestic Abuse Service.  0808 2000 247 (National 24 hours helpline). IDAS has quickly adapted its services, providing video support sessions, WhatsApp messaging and online live chats, alongside keeping refuges and helplines staffed and running. You can read about IDAS’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and make a donation, here.

Leeds Women’s Aid – 24-hour helpline 0113 246 0401. LWA remain operational, although some services have changed. You can find out more on their website.

Domestic abuse helpline – 0808 808 2241. More information is available on the Sheffield Domestic Abuse Coordination Team website.

Doncaster Rape and Abuse Counselling Service – 01302 360421

Rape Crisis England and Wales have a number of support services available at present, including help lines, web chat, and live chat. Follow the link to their website for more information. Their national helpline is also still open: 08088 029 999 between 12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day.

Additional support services for victims of sexual assault and abuse in Yorkshire can be found listed here.

Mental health support services

The Samaritans can be contacted via telephone (116 123) or email (jo@samaritans.org).

Papyrus Hopeline UK suicide prevention group have a helpline (0800 068 41 41) that is open and their website also has some valuable resources.

Mind mental health charity can be contacted for information via telephone (0300 123 3393), email: info@mind.org.uk, text: 86463.

The Mix – a great website offering support for under-25s. There is a lot of material there relating to anxieties around COVID-19.

Homeless services

St George’s Crypt in Leeds is just one charity of many providing help for the homeless in these particularly difficult circumstances. The Crypt is currently running an additional shelter out of a city hotel, providing food and beds. You can read about their work and make a donation, here.

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