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Premiere of Kenyan, Christian, Queer

Premiere of Kenyan Christian Queer: 5 Days To Go! poster.

This coming Friday (31 July 2020) is the world premiere of the film Kenyan, Christian, Queer: Struggle for Faith, Hope and Love, directed by Aiwan Obinyan. 

You can see the trailer here

For an earlier Shiloh post on the book of the name Kenyan, Christian, Queer, by Adriaan van Klinken, see here.

About this Event:

Is it possible to be African, Christian and queer? The members of the first LGBTQ church in Nairobi Kenya certainly believe so. The Cosmopolitan Affirming Community (CAC) seeks to promote an inclusive and progressive form of Christianity, in the midst of a rather conservative society.

The screening link will be live from 9am to 12midnight (Eastern Africa Time/Kenya Time) with a live Q&A at 2pm BST (= British Summer Time) / 4pm EAT (= Eastern Africa Time) / 9am EST (= Eastern Standard Time).

The Q&A will feature:

  • Aiwan Obinyan (Film Director)
  • Pastor David Ochar (CAC)
  • Bishop Joseph Tolton 
  • Prophetess Jacinta Nzilani 

Book your ticket now, to receive the link & password for the secure film screening and Q&A.

You can book your free tickets here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/kenyan-christian-queer-premiere-tickets-113871003236?aff=CACAdriaanTFAM

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Privilege Beyond Bounds: A Response to the Conviction of Jan Joosten

A view of Oxford Cathedral.

On Monday 22 June 2020 the news broke of the conviction of Jan Joosten for downloading thousands upon thousands of images and videos of child abuse and pornography. I first read about it in an article in The Guardian. There are numerous other reports in other papers, too: the Daily Mail , The Timesof Israel, and Euro Weekly. The images that accompany these articles show the protzy façade of Christ Church, Joosten smiling, Joosten mid-lecture. An older, white male scholar who has blended right into the various biblical studies conferences he’s attended over many years – Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), Society for Old Testament Study(SOTS), International Organisation for the Study of the Old Testament (IOSOT)… I’ve seen him there, talked to him, received his recommendation for a publication of his to read and for references to chase up.

As the newspaper articles report, Joosten is a former pastor, who taught for 20 years at the University of Strasbourg before, in 2014, taking up “the prestigious regiusprofessorship of Hebrew at Oxford.” Until his suspension, Joosten was based at Christ Church, renowned for its academic excellence, Old Master paintings, and for being home to Oxford’s cathedral. Until recently, Joosten was editor-in-chief of Vetus Testamentum, according to its site, “a leading journal … generally recognized to be indispensable for scholarly work on the Old Testament,” publishing articles in English, French and German, all languages in which Joosten is fluent. 

The lashings of respectability, status and privilege that have until recently enveloped Joosten – “pastor”, “Regius Professorof Hebrew” (founded in 1546 by Henry VIII), “Christ Church”, “University of Oxford”, “Princeton Theological Seminary”, “Hebrew University, Jerusalem”, “father of four”, “married”, “one of the most distinguished biblical scholars of his generation” – add force to the shock and outrage that havemet the revelations of Joosten’s conviction. Shocking, too, is the sheer volume of images (27,000) and videos (1000) depicting abuse, including rape of children, which Joosten downloaded. The brilliant man falling from his high pedestal: as a German, I think right away of the legend of Faust. Such hubris and such hypocrisy. Did Joosten think a different law applied to him? Did he believe he was too clever ever to get caught? 

Joosten did get caught and his reputation is shot. His sentence, however, is paltry: one year in prison, placement on the sex offender register in France, a three-year programme of treatment, and a ban on any activity bringing him into contact with minors. Furthermore, Joosten has not gone to prison (yet?): his sentence will be “supervised” and “may be amended.” The Guardian reports that “Joosten was yet to decide whether to appeal on Friday” (he gets to decide that?!). His family “were aware of his offences” and argued Joostenshould not be imprisoned, “because he was a first time offender” (hardly: he was caught for the first time – he is now known to have been offending thousands of times for six years), “presented little risk of reoffending” (how so?), and “had sought psychiatric help voluntarily” (albeit only following arrest). In court, so it is reported, Joosten declaredthat he was relieved to be arrested. He described his addiction as “a secret garden, in contradiction with myself.” To many ears, including those of biblical scholars, this expression is particularly jarring and repugnant. It conjures up imagery from Song of Songs, of eroticism and lovemaking (e.g. “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride…” Song of Songs 4:12). But this is brutal child pornography that is at issue! And watching such is not a victimless crime. Child pornography is no “virtual reality”; it depicts suffering, severe and profound damage; the demand for it proliferates this; in some casesconsumption of violent pornography leads on to committing sexual abuse.

As would be expected, the general public and the scholarly community to which Joosten belonged have been vocal in their outrage and repulsion. Twitter is abuzz. People are “reeling”, “shocked and horrified”. A terse comment on the SBL website, stating that the Society had requested Joosten’s resignation, evoked protest on account of being woefully inadequate – rather like the Christ Church statement that “Our thoughts are with anyone affected by this news” (reminiscent of the “thoughts and prayers” routinely following school shootings in the US – in lieu of doing anything). A petition led promptly to a fuller statement sent to all present and past members of SBL. SOTS followed with their statement soon after, resolving to build “a more inclusive and ethical Society” and expressing concern “for the unknown children who are the ultimate victims of such crimes” as well as for Joosten’s family, colleagues and supervisees. One of Joosten’s co-authors has expressed feeling “shocked, shattered and disgusted” – he is donating all royalties of the book, past and future, to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. Another scholar has set up a GoFundMe page “Biblical Scholars Against Child Abuse”. There is a powerful piece out deploring “himpathy” for Joosten (that is, excessive sympathy that is directed at perpetrators of sexual violence and abuse) and there are many expressions of contempt for a situation where “*reputations* of men are more important to keep safe than the *bodies* of women, children.”

When I read of Joosten’s conviction I, too, was reeling, shocked and horrified. I probably shouldn’t have been. Sadly, I know many people who are survivors of child abuse and of rape. The statistics of The Office for National Statistics do not strike me as exaggerated. And when you know there are so many survivors, you know there are very, very many perpetrators, too – the numbers have to add up. Even taking into account that perpetrators tend to abuse multiple victims, the numbers of perpetrators must still be very high. The same goes for the abuse that is consumption of child pornography. The amount of child abuse material is staggering – so, really it isn’t surprising that I know people who are revealed to be abusers. I also know that – for all the stereotypes and rape myths about rapists and pornography users (“creepy men in raincoats” we used to jest) – there is no “type” – so a depraved person can be an Oxford don (clearly). Having worked in universities for over 20 years, I’ve twice known of cases where a member of the university community was charged with child pornography. Two people I have encountered in my community have been charged with possession of child pornography (one committed suicide). I had already reeled a few years back at the conviction of Holt Parker, who received a four-year prison sentence for offences not dissimilar to Joosten’s. I had admired Holt’s work and wrestled then with the question of “do you cite scholars who have done appalling things?” (I still wrestle with that question – as compelling as I find Stephen Young’s article, I also see some of the complexity so well articulated by Sarah Scullin. Do I read a biography of every author before I cite their work?) 

Fact is, in my earlier work I have cited Joosten. I met Joosten in 2011 in South Africa. We were both attending a meeting of the Old Testament Society of South Africa (OTSSA) (my first far-flung work trip since my younger child was born). I had not met Joosten before and I was mostly preoccupied with dear friends from my years in southern Africa. But on some bus trip or other we sat together and had one of “those conversations” about research that you have at these kinds of conferences. He was friendly but quite intimidating. One of those scholars who can quote in multiple languages and recall titles and years of publication of articles on any topic that arises in conversation. I was working on my book on fathers and daughters in the Hebrew Bible at the time and told Joosten so when he asked me. He told me he had published an article on the missing daughter in the laws of Leviticus 18 – but it was in French: did I read French? I admitted that my French is pretty lousy. Not much more was said, as I recall it.

Shortly after I returned home, there was an email from Joosten. (I have been re-reading the short exchanges he and Ihad in 2011 and 2013 and they make me uncomfortable now.) It said, “It was nice to meet you at the conference. While browsing through my computer I came across an English translation of my paper on the missing daughter. I attach it herewith.” I was touched. It was a nice thing to do. I thanked him. I read the article and found it helpful for my research. In the book I published I thank Joosten. That’s what you do. 

Two years later I received another email: “While searching for something else on the internet I came across your recent book on Fathers and Daughters. Congratulations! And thank you for the generous reception of my article on Lev 18.” (Two short emails, in each a mention of a computer or the internet. Of course, I thought nothing of it at the time – it only reads as sinister in retrospect.) After 2013 I did not communicate with Joosten again. I did cite his work in my next book.

When I read about Joosten in the paper, I felt deeply troubled. I couldn’t shake it. I searched for and found the emails from years before and eventually decided to write to him. 

I wrote of the revulsion I felt and of wondering how manyhands of “respectable men” I had shaken without fathoming what they were capable of, of being repelled at the “secret garden” obfuscating, even romanticising and eroticising the brutal abuse of frightened and utterly vulnerable and helpless children. I wrote that I cannot comprehend why, if he acknowledged the harm he had done, he would not willingly go to prison, “Why should you not go? What will you do now, I wonder?”

To my astonishment, Joosten wrote back very soon after. He said my words hurt but that he deserved them. That he had always known his “doings” were not victimless, that they were “sordid and destructive”. He wrote that he “came across” the images and videos looking for pornography and that they were “freely available and easily accessible”. He describes how this became an addiction from which he could not break free, that he did not want to make excuses but did want to heal, with the help of a psychiatrist. He spoke of the support of his family who accepted him with his defects, characterizing them as an ugly “stain” on a beautiful painting. Ever the linguist, Joosten explained the expression “jardinsecret” as “a mental and emotional space one doesn’t wish to share with anyone” but that he had not intended to evoke anything positive but rather that “the world of those images and videos and the real world” in which he lived his life were “completely separate”. He closed by saying he felt deep regret for what he had done, could not undo it and had to look to the future. The closing words were, “I hope one day you will be able to forgive me.”

The email troubled me. (A part of me was very surprised that Joosten clearly had access to a computer and to his University email address.) The sheer eloquence troubled me – but of course he is eloquent: he is a linguist, scholar and prolific writer. I was troubled that he wrote of “coming across” horrendous child pornography (is it that easy and happenstance?), and of the addiction and harm that he acknowledged as a “stain” and something to “heal” from, as if it were somehow separable from him, a “secret garden” apart from his “real life”. There is nothing “unreal” about the violence depicted in child pornography – enacted on real children whose lives, psyches, futures, potential, are deeply harmed. 

As I read Joosten’s email I found myself recalling a correspondence I had over many years with a prisoner in the notorious Angola penitentiary in Louisiana. It started when a letter addressed in meticulous handwriting to “The Bible Department” landed in my office at the University of Tennessee. The writer, “E.”, had found Jesus in prison, where he was incarcerated for life. He had also taught himself Hebrew. He had questions about grammar and points of translation. It was enjoyable finding ways to explain features of Hebrew and reasons for translations that might not match the Hebrew text. E. was always eager to learn. Years passed. I moved to England. In time, we came to write about more than the language riddles that had brought us together. E. spent hours in the prison workshop and made my daughter a wooden box and some metal earrings with her (Hebrew). name engraved on them. I wrote about my children growing up, juggling work and family life, travelling; he wrote about his past, including (eventually) the crimes that transpired in his incarceration. What began to unfold was an early life of chaos, deprivation, struggle and petty crime. Next came an act of violence done to him by a sheriff, when he was put in a cell overnight for marijuana possession. E. was cagey about what took place but I was able to find newspaper articles, which reported that the sheriff was found guilty of sexually abusing young men in his custody. If that is what happened to E., he could never bring himself to say so, stressing instead how many girlfriends he’d had in his youth. He never used this as an excuse for the violent crimes he went on to commit. What struck me was how hard he tried to do something good – even from within prison where he spent most of his time in solitary confinement or labouring, with only one library book to read each week. He had written to all his victims; he was always worried about his mother and the pain he had caused her; he wrote to his son, who seldom replied; he worked hard at learning Hebrew; he tried hard to convert me to Christianity, earnestly believing that if he didn’t, I would not be saved. 

Unlike E., Joosten has enjoyed enormous privileges. He still does. Life must feel frightening for him and his prestige and reputation will never recover. But he has his freedom, the support of his family, access to a psychiatrist, even access to a computer and his email account. He also has a first-class education and tremendous talent. 

I feel the same anger as many of my colleagues on Twitter and Facebook. Condemnation is right; outrage at the light sentence is right; donating to organisations that support vulnerable children is right. But what more? The SOTS statement goes some way towards pointing out that more must be done within our discipline, too. A legitimizing patina of respectability has for too long shrouded a great deal of ignominy. What Scullin says of the discipline of Classics is true also of biblical studies: both have “a troubled history (that, unfortunately, continues to the present) of participation in various oppressions.” Just as the BLM protests have led to a flurry of statements and self-searching, that momentum must be harnessed and taken much further. The cracks in the patina have become very visible in recent days and weeks. It is no surprise at all actually that Joosten was able to persist in his “doings”. In large part, his respectability and his privilege have enabled it. They have also, I have no doubt, cushioned him from a harsher sentence. E. would have stood no such chance in the same court room. 

It is one thing – in the case of Joosten – not to read or cite his scholarship, to evict him permanently from all societies he has belonged to, and to support his students. But what more? Even if Joosten receives a prison sentence that reflects the gravity of his offence, is that then adequate? Eventually, he would leave prison. It is not possible “to lock up all paedophiles and throw away the key.” 

What I see in E. and find myself missing with Joosten is any attempt at restitution. I do hope that as Joosten looks to the future he will apply all his abilities – his mastery of languages, his research and writing skills, his experience and insight gained from therapy – for helping other addicts and for helping victims of sexual violence and human trafficking. If I can help with that, I will.

The forgiveness he says he hopes for from me is not mine to give. Vladimir Jankelevitch writes, “forgiveness is not for swine” and the first step towards forgiveness is full admission of wrong. Today Joosten may appeal. I hope he takes full responsibility and does not. 

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Dawn Llewellyn

I’ve never used the phrase ‘these are strange times’ as often as I have over the past few weeks! On the day my Department closed its doors, I went into my third year class at 2pm and when it ended at 3.30pm, I was told we were being sent home and had to leave the building by 6 o’clock. I quickly grabbed books and papers that I thought I might need, rescued my office plants, and colleagues and students said goodbye to each other without the usual hugging! For the final year undergraduates, they have been deprived of the traditional ‘end of year’ closure – the stress and celebrations that go along with writing up dissertations and their last assessments, and all  students felt the abrupt end to the academic term. In some ways, I’m enjoying working from home, pottering in our small back yard, undertaking a bit of DIY, doing on-line exercise classes, keeping up with household chores that never get done (yep, the skirting boards and shower tiles are gleaming), but I know it is a privilege to live with my partner, Bran, and for us to be relatively safe and secure, and to continue working. I am, of course, missing our lively Department and the bustle and business of term time, but we’re staying in touch with virtual coffee every day (we do this in real time too!). I’m so impressed and heartened by the way our students are adapting and coping with studying at home, some of them in challenging and very difficult circumstances during a very anxious time for them and their families. They are supporting each other and us  brilliantly,  and with good humour that brightens up the day. Yesterday, during a 3rd year catch up on TEAMS, two of them turned up with superimposed images of Trump and Johnson on their heads…they sort of know my left-leaning politics.

Like everyone, my usual routine is out of kilter. This coincided with the spring vacation, when I took some annual leave and switched off email, admin, and writing for a week or so.  In January, we had arranged to remodel our kitchen during March and April, and before the lockdown we had ripped out our existing cupboards and cabinets, and unplugged the dishwasher and oven; it’s a shell of a room at the moment. For five weeks we’ve been cooking on a two-ring camping stove on our living room floor, washing up outside, and contributing heavily to the local Chester foodie scene by relying on the places that are offering take-aways. I keep telling myself we’re glamping and it’s an ‘adventure’.

I’ve got a few projects on the go. I’m working on a chapter on methodology in the study of religion and gender for a Handbook edited by Emma Tomalin https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/142/professor-emma-tomalin and Caroline Starkey https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/1161/dr-caroline-starkey  – I’m a qualitative researcher so enjoy getting my methodological geek on. My new book, Motherhood, Voluntary Childlessness, and Christianity explores women’s religious reproductive agency in Christianity and their narratives and experiences of ‘choice’,  and I’ll be getting that finished for Bloomsbury during my research leave later on this year. I’m also working with Sian Hawthorne https://www.soas.ac.uk/staff/staff31080.php and Sonya Sharma https://www.kingston.ac.uk/staff/profile/dr-sonya-sharma-57/ on the Bloomsbury Studies in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality series https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/series/bloomsbury-studies-in-religion-gender-and-sexuality/ , and we’ve just launched a call for chapters for a new Bloomsbury Handbook on Religion, Gender, and Sexuality that we are editing together. We’d be delighted if Shiloh readers and members considered contributing! https://bloomsburyreligiongender.wordpress.com/

How am I coping? Well, I’m a swimmer and usually train about 4 times a week. April is the start of the open water swimming season when the rivers, lakes, and seas start to warm up enough to stretch out in ‘skins’ (just a swimming costume, no wetsuit). Normally, I’d be prepping for  5km and 10km events in the summer but instead I have taken up some surprising hobbies. I’ve started taking our friend’s dog, Sidney, for walks (they’ve just had a baby) and have found him to be an excellent listener as I talk at him (he’s great on career advice); I’ve discovered Radio 3; I have found out that I really like trashy TV (Making the Cut and Next in Fashion, anyone?); I’ve bought a hoola hoop; and I’ve completed a jigsaw. I barely know myself.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview: Susannah Cornwall

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Susannah Cornwall, Senior Lecturer in Constructive Theologies at the University of Exeter. I’m the author of various books on Christian theology, sexuality and gender, of which the most recent is Un/familiar Theology: Rethinking Sex, Reproduction and Generativity (Bloomsbury, 2017).

What have you been doing and are you able to work during this COVID-19 lock-in?

I’m Director of Education with responsibility for all our undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes in Theology and Religion and Liberal Arts at Exeter, so this has been a spectacularly busy time, working out details of changes to assessments and exams, moving teaching online, and ever-changing contingency planning in response to the latest advice. We are also working out what will happen with admissions over the summer, and helping our students with a wide range of academic and pastoral issues raised or exacerbated by coronavirus. As ever, I’m in awe at their resilience, patience and good humour.

Work from home is really challenging now that it also involves full-time childcare: my husband (also an academic) and I are doing alternate work and childcare shifts. I’m fortunate to be in an institution that has made clear that it appreciates these are exceptional circumstances and that something has to give, and is encouraging us to prioritize our own and our dependents’ wellbeing. I have colleagues elsewhere who are being told that the expectation is that there’s no drop to their productivity during this time, which is terribly unrealistic and inhumane. However, there’s no getting around the fact that a constantly shifting mode and getting no uninterrupted time to work is going to have knock-on effects, and I hope institutions are going to take seriously the fact that there are equality, diversity and inclusion implications to all this that will impact on many academics’ pay, progression and job security for years to come.

Which aspects of your work past and present might be particularly interesting for supporters of the Shiloh Project?

I’m currently working on a constructive theology of gender diversity, and coronavirus is highlighting the fact that lots of the precarities trans people face are even more heightened in a pandemic. These are extreme times and big decisions are being made centrally for the sake of what we’re told is a common good, but of course there’s going to be collateral damage. This is a time when life looks almost unrecognizable, so there are all kinds of possibilities. People are learning about ways of life they didn’t know before; new relationships are being forged that didn’t exist before. So that’s exciting, but it also means there’s even more marginality and precarity than there was before.

But it’s an opportunity, too. When the world goes back to normal (will the world ever go back to normal?) what will gender look like? How will things be for trans and intersex people? What do all of us, cis and trans, endosex and intersex, want to carry over into our new world?

How are you bearing up and what’s helping you most?

I have it so much easier than many people: I have secure employment, a safe place to live, more than enough food, a garden, internet, and more. I live within walking distance of green fields and the edge of countryside. I’ve started running again. I’m enjoying doing more “slow cooking” (but not slow-cooking!) than normal, and my son is revelling in having everyone at home. He’s very used to one or other parent being away for several days or having had to leave early before he gets up in the morning. So I’m enjoying the fact that he’s enjoying it! I think I’ll also look back with gratitude at having had this unexpected extra time with him at home every day before he starts school in the autumn.

I love the small creative acts of kindness that people are doing around the neighbourhood: setting up WhatsApp groups to ensure everyone is okay and has enough shopping; some kids in the next road have set up a pop-up library (with hand sanitizer!) outside their house; people have been chalking murals and adventure trails on the pavement for children to enjoy during their walks; someone has made their front garden into a safari zoo with toy snakes, orangutans, birds and big cats to spot. All that said, I’m also finding it really hard. I feel sad that my son is missing out on so much time with his friends and amazing teachers. I’m feeling lethargic, powerless, and like I have only just enough energy to tread water and survive, when I somehow want to be making the most of this weird time. I’m feeling frustrated that I’m too exhausted to be creative or generative, or even think about grand schemes like “theology in the time of coronavirus”. I’m feeling angry that it’s taken this situation for people to realize how scandalous it is that nurses, care workers, supermarket workers, food producers and distributors are the people on whom society really relies and yet continue to be underpaid and badly treated.

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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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A second volume in the Routledge Focus series ‘Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible’ is out today! Congratulations to Helen Paynter!

From the Routledge site…

Telling Terror in Judges 19 explores the value of performing a ‘reparative reading’ of the terror-filled story of the Levite’s pilegesh (commonly referred to as the Levite’s concubine) in Judges 19, and how such a reparative reading can be brought to bear upon elements of modern rape culture. Historically, the story has been used as a morality tale to warn young women about what constitutes appropriate behaviour. More recently, (mainly male) commentators have tended to write the woman out of the story, by making claims about its purpose and theme which bear no relation to her suffering. In response to this, feminist critics have attempted to write the woman back into the story, generally using the hermeneutics of suspicion. This book begins by surveying some of the traditional commentators, and the three great feminist commentators of the text (Bal, Exum and Trible). It then offers a reparative reading by attending to the pilegesh’s surprising prominence, her moral and marital agency, and her speaking voice. In the final chapter, there is a detailed comparison of the story with elements of modern rape culture.

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#MeToo Jesus: Naming Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse


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by Jayme Reaves and David Tombs

Since giving a Shiloh Project Lecture at SIIBS, the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, in January 2018 we have been continuing our work on ‘#MeToo Jesus’. Our paper ‘#MeToo Jesus: Naming Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse’ has now appeared in the International Journal of Public Theology (December 2019) and is available on Open Access here. In the article we explore ways that recent readings of Jesus as victim of sexual violence/abuse might connect with #MeToo, and vice-versa. 

We start with Matthew 25:40, ‘You have done this to me too…’ as affirming a metaphorical connection between the experience of abuse survivors and the experience of Jesus. We then look beyond the metaphor, and discuss more literal and direct readings of Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse. We consider the work of David Tombs (1999), Elaine Heath (2011), Wil Gafney (2013), and Michael Trainor (2014), who each read Jesus as a victim of sexual violence and we note similarities in their work. The last part of the article tackles a question that we are sometimes asked about this reading, ‘Why does it matter?’ or ‘What good does this do?’. Exploring this question has been at the forefront of much of the work since the lecture, as part of the ‘When Did We See You Naked?’ project. We are particularly interested in how this reading might help to address the victim-blaming and victim-stigmatising which often accompany sexual violence. You can read more about the ‘When Did We See You Naked?’ project here, and listen to David’s interview (4 mins) with Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report (18 April 2019) here.

To examine this, we have been working with another colleague, Rocío Figueroa Alvear, at Good Shepherd College, Auckland (New Zealand). In 2018 Rocio interviewed a group of male sexual abuse survivors on their responses to naming Jesus as victim of sexual abuse. You can read the report on interviews with male survivors here. It is striking that this group of survivors were split on whether the reading is helpful for survivors, but they all agreed it was important for the church. 

Rocío and David are currently interviewing nuns and former nuns who have experienced sexual abuse. This has involved discussion of an abridged version of David’s article ‘Crucifixion, State Terror, and Sexual Abuse’ (see here). The shorter version was first published in Estudos Teológicos in Portuguese, and is now available from the University of Otago also in English, Spanish, French and will soon be in German. We hope to share our findings from the interviews next year.

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David and Rocio have also been part of a New Zealand group led by Emily Colgan, which includes Caroline Blyth and Lisa Spriggens. We are developing a tool-kit for use in churches on understanding sexual violence. It was really good to pilot some of the resources in November at a workshop with Anglican clergy and church leaders in Auckland.

During 2019, David has also had a research grant to work with Gerald West, Charlene van der Walt, and the Ujamaa Community at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on a contextual bible study on Matthew 27:26-31. This looks at how the stripping and mockery of Jesus might be read as sexual violence in a South African context. It has been interesting to see the difference that translation can make to responses, and to hear from students how the bible study was received when they used it.

Jayme Reaves has been leading workshops with church groups, activists, and clergy both in the United States and in the United Kingdom.  While these workshops are not aimed at victims/survivors of sexual abuse, they are facilitated sensitively with the understanding that there are no guarantees as to who is in the room. Building on this work and on the workshops conducted by Rocío and David elsewhere, Jayme is forming plans for a potential project in Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia and is currently seeking funding and local partners that will expand the work in two areas: working directly with victims of sexual violence in conflict contexts and their support networks, and building in an ecumenical and interfaith dimension with a view to developing a faith-based resource towards addressing the stigmatisation of victims of sexual violence.

Looking ahead, we are excited to have two books in preparation. The three of us (Jayme, Rocío and David) are co-editors for the book When Did We See You Naked?’: Acknowledging Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse with SCM Press (forthcoming in 2021). We are delighted to be working with a fantastic group of international scholars on this collection. Meanwhile, David is writing for the Routledge Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible Series on The Crucifixion of Jesus: Torture, Sexual Abuse, and the Scandal of the Cross, for publication in 2020.

To promote further discussion of #MeToo issues, Jeremy Punt (Stellenbosch University) is planning a session on ‘#MeToo and Jesus’ in the Political Biblical Criticism Session (see here) at the 2020 International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Adelaide, Australia (5-9 July 2020, see here). The Call for Papers is here and still open until 29 January 2020. We plan to be part of the conversation. If you are going and interested, why not send Jeremy a proposal? Or come along and join the discussion: we would love to hear what you think. 

David is also looking forward to seeing Shiloh colleagues and others in Dunedin in August 2020. The New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions (NZASR) are hosting the 22nd Quinquennial World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). Colleagues in the University of Otago Religion programme have been working hard on all the organisation. It promises to be a great conference in a beautiful setting, so why not plan to come to Otago in 2020?

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 13 – Amanda Pilbrow

Tēnā koutou.

My name is Amanda Pilbrow. Like you, there are many parts to who I am. Creatively interwoven are strands of being an artist, a theologian, a speaker/presenter/guest lecturer, a mum, a wife, a tattooed pixie-cut introvert that loves gin and single malt whiskey. Open water gives me a sense of breadth, room to breathe, a sense there is more to life, a hope for the future. I can do small talk but prefer real connections, listening to peoples lived realities. I’m an x-pastor, who through her breakthroughs and breakdown, discovered a loving, inclusive, pursuing God. I have recently completed my master’s in applied theology: Navigating Faith, Sexuality, and Wholeness in Aotearoa New Zealand: Seven LGB-Christian Narratives. While this is finished, I sense it is just the beginning of my next chapter.

Breaking down stereotypes that form and contribute to a sense, or indeed a lived reality of second-class citizenship glues my soapbox firmly to the ground. I grew up believing, without any opportunity to question, that men ruled – they had the last say, the deciding vote, the position of privilege. Don’t get me wrong – I love men – one fine man in particular for over 30 years. He holds a mighty high standard for others to meet. In saying that, we have been on this journey together, discovering equality, mutual respect, honour, and believing the best of each other.

The journey was not without incident, without debate, without apology. How do you unlearn so much that has undergirded your upbringing? Moreover, how do you crawl out from under that second-class citizen rock, find the courage to climb up, and even more, stand in the place you were always meant to be – equal – wholehearted – authentic? How do you help the other crawl out? To lift some of the burden? To cheer them to climb further.

For me, I can only describe this painful process as a holy conviction, an invitation, an awakening that changes how I see – forever. As a woman who was meant to know her place, God, or the Divine, or the higher power – whatever fits well with you – called me to discover who I was. And here’s the catch. Once you discover or is it uncover, the dark shadow of imposed second-class citizenship it becomes impossible not to see it in other places; in other people; woman and children. It is also impossible to not recognise the structures and belief systems that enforce, intentionally or otherwise, power and cultural structures that secure and support inequality, that enable violence, that ensure subjugation, causing some to exercise power and control over others.

This ‘seeing’ became so uncomfortable for me; it formed into ‘righteous’ anger. A sense of disorder that continually left me feeling off-balance. An anger and disorder that became an unrelenting hunger to learn, to read, listen, interview, and write and ultimately change. A hunger to discover peoples lived realities as they found themselves in marginalised and un-equal situations, violent or simply overlooked.

From this place, my master of applied theology thesis was conceived, gestated, and delivered. My sense ofmarginalisation forced me, in the very best way possible, to see the marginalisation of others. And while the theme ‘orange’ is focused on violence on women, as we crawl out from this particular rock, find the courage to stand and be heard, may our voices reach and be heard far and wide and high to other areas of marginalisation and diversity. As we uncover and expose the culture and power structures that enable and even incite violence against women, may we too be caught into seeing violence towards otherness and be righteously angry, disordered and off-balance so that we have to act? So that we can peel and take a bite of the orange on behalf of others.

I’m not sure I ever considered myself an activist until now. Perhaps more a peacemaker – as opposed to a peacekeeper. A resistance fighter if you like, rather than a status quo bystander. But what if an activist is a better fit? What if acting on my righteous anger and discomfort means standing on that rock and claiming equality and equal citizenship for others, for all. What if, by exposing the culture and structures that divide people causing such destruction, wholeness and authenticity prevail making us all safe, valued, equal, seen, and known? These thoughts continue to invite and awaken me to act in 2020. I hope to extend the invitation into righteous anger, discomfort, and a sense of being off-balance. I hope my research will encourage and permit others to listen to the lived realities of others. I hope to promote the unlearning necessary to re-learn and re-discover equality and hope.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 11 – Laurie Lyter Bright

Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?

I’m Rev. Laurie Lyter Bright – mom of two, writer, Presbyterian (USA) minister, doctoral candidate in education, non-profit executive director, and activist.  All of that keeps me busy, but in my free time, I like to feed my curiosity about the world by traveling with my husband and little ones!

How does your research or your work connect to activism? Be sure to mention your proposed volume for the Routledge Focus series and your PhD research, as well as work you may be doing in the church.

Both my personal life and professional work center on the celebration of humanity in its fullness, and a desire to create a more just world. The focus of my dissertation is on the church as a site of co-creation of rape culture, and as a potential site of disruption of rape culture, using pre-existing pedagogical pathways in the church. My proposed volume for the Routledge Focus series is examining the prophetic nature of #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement. While my desire to create a world without rape culture has been an inherent part of my work since high school, my newer role as a mom (my daughters are two and two months) has only increased my desire to co-create a world that honors women and respects the autonomy and humanity of all people.

Why is activism important to you and what do you hope to achieve between now and the 16 Days of 2020?

Activism matters to me because it is a chance to use the privilege and platforms I have access to to amplify the experiences of others, to draw attention to spaces of injustice, and to encourage the complacent toward involvement. As a pastor, I advocate in my preaching and teaching, particularly examining the radical inclusivity practised by Christ. As a non-profit executive director of an interfaith organization in Israel and Palestine, I practice activism by challenging the assumptions in the U.S. of a complex and frequently misunderstood part of the world. And as a scholar, I am an activist in my writing and research. In the next year, I hope to complete my dissertation, stretch my own knowledge and understanding, and invite new communities into conversation about the ways we historically/currently support rape culture and the ways we can help dismantle it instead.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 10 – Helen Paynter

Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?

I am a Baptist minister and an Old Testament specialist. I teach Old Testament and Biblical languages, based at Bristol Baptist College. In particular, I am the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence.  The CSBV is a study centre dedicated to working in the area of the interpretation of biblical texts of violence. It exists to promote and conduct high-quality scholarship, and to serve the churches in the UK and internationally by offering accessible resources to equip them to read the scriptural texts of violence well, and the challenge the ways in which the Bible is sometimes weaponised for the promotion of violence. We hope thereby to enable the church to offer counter-violent counter-extremist narratives in situations of conflict or tension.

 

How does your research or your work connect to activism?

One of the areas that I am passionate about is the interpretation of biblical sexual violence, which has been interpreted – at various times in the history of the church – in some very disturbing ways. I have recently completed a book on the dreadful story of the Levite’s wife from Judges 19, called Telling Terror in Judges 19: Rape and Reparation for the Levite’s wife. This will be coming out soon in the Routledge Focus series. In this book, I offer what is known as a ‘reparative’ interpretation of the text; that is, while acknowledging the horrors it presents and the ideology that may lie behind it, seeking to read for some suprising positives that the narrative offers. As part of this work, I did quite a lot of research into modern situations of sexual violence with which this ancient text has contact, particularly the horrific Delhi Bus Rape. I draw these comparisons in the book.

Another project I have been involved in was the #SheToo podcast series, produced by Rosie Dawson for the Bible Society. I was a consultant and contributor for this series, wherein Rosie interviewed various female scholars from different faith perspectives on some of the narratives of sexual violence in the Bible.

The other arm of the CSBV, which looks at the weaponisation of the Bible, has led me to write a second book this year, to be published by BRF in 2020. The title is still under negotiation, but the current working version is ‘The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So: Why submitting to abuse is not a Christian wife’s duty’. Tragically, domestic abuse is sometimes sustained by abusers through appeal to various biblical texts, and churches also sometimes contribute to this by the misapplication of biblical principles. As a Christian minister, I am not only deeply disturbed by this, but feel a sense of responsibility to attempt to address it, and this book is intended for that purpose. It is aimed at women who are trapped in abusive marriages where the Bible plays a part in their abuse, and also at those who seek to help them, and at church leaders. I am hoping that it will reach an international market as well as a domestic one, and that through it, women will find themselves empowered to find places of safety and resist manipulative attempts to keep them trapped in situations of abuse.

 

Why is activism important to you and what do you hope to achieve between now and the 16 Days of 2020?

I think I’ve probably covered the first question above. Between now and the beginning of December next year, I hope that both of these books will have been published, and that I will be able to speak on the subject at various national and possibly international platforms. In particular, I am hoping to be in a position to attend and contribute to the Baptist World Alliance quinquennial meeting in Rio next year, where there will be a specialist subject stream on gender based violence.

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