Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Dealing With Dinah


The Bible is not a book of morality. In fact, more often than not, it presents a boldly eye-opening and unflinching look at immorality and the sin of our fallenness. As I am currently reading my way through the book of Genesis right now, I am coming across chapters that are stark and frank in their depiction of the darkness that has rejected the very light that God spoke into being at the start of that book of the Bible. One such chapter deals with the "defiling of Dinah," as it's called in my translation. In chapter thirty-four, the writer begins with Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, going out to "see the women of the land." Jacob had purchased land to pitch his tent in Canaan, so Dinah went out to meet the women who lived there. She's a stranger in a foreign land going out by herself.  Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite (who is the prince of the land), sees Dinah, seizes and rapes her. The story unfolds into one of revenge by Dinah's brothers. 

It's hard to grapple with such texts. I know I would often prefer to skip such passages and go to more affirming and uplifting parts of scripture, but God does not offer us that luxury. We are meant to view the reality of the world we now live in with all of its brokenness and suffering. 

But how do I view such a text?

Early Church commentators, like Jerome, put the blame on Dinah and warned that women should refrain from going out into public but remain in private. Sounds a lot like many in our culture, including Church culture, today.

The story of Dinah brought to my mind, the story of Bathsheba. Like Dinah, Bathsheba was noticed lustfully by a man, this time by the king of Israel (David). Just as Shechem did, David committed rape. Bathsheba was not only a woman (which meant no power or status in that culture) but how could she refuse the king, who had all of the power and who could take her life for refusing him.  

From there, my mind considered the contrast in Christ. When he went into Samaria to talk with a Samaritan woman by a well. She was a woman considered a "whore" or "slut" by even the other Samaritan women. She was the lowest of the low. The truly powerless. She had been with five men and was living with a man who was not her husband. That was why she was at the well at the hottest point of the day - to avoid contact with others who would judge, mock and demean her.  Yet Jesus saw past her sinfulness to her heart desperate to be loved and accepted; to be shown mercy and grace. He extended this same compassion to the woman caught in adultery and whom the pharisees hoped to stone to death (interesting that they did not drag the man who was also committing adultery with this woman into the public square before Jesus). 

Jesus saw these women with compassion. In Hebrew, the word usually translated as "compassion" is the plural of a noun that, in its singular form, means "womb." Compassion is connected to the womb of a mother. I don't think this is accidental, as Jesus has high regard for women in an oppressive culture that didn't. He valued them and they were a vital part of his ministry. Unlike the men of his society, he did not see them in terms of being property or merely objects for conquest and pleasure. He not only interacted and talked with them, but even allowed degraded and "unclean" women to touch him, give him water to drink, and become part of his followers. Yet how little of the Church reflects Christ's attitudes towards women and more those of the religious establishment of his day?

The more I reflected on Dinah's story, the more I wondered what kind of a reaction would she get from most churches if she told anyone her story?  How does the modern church treat those who have suffered sexual assault and rape? In our current culture, outside of the Church, we have seen how women who come forward find themselves victimized again by those who doubt their stories or somehow try to shift the blame onto them (What were they wearing? How much alcohol did they drink?) Society dismisses what's happened as "boys being boys." 

We live in a rape culture where men have long objectified women to the point where even advertising for hamburgers are sexual. Pornography is billion dollar industry. 1 in 8 searches on the Internet are for porn. 1 in 5 searches on mobile devices are for porn.
88% of scenes in pornography are aggressive sexual acts. How can constant viewing of such acts not affect how men view women? 

In a study done by the Barna Group, they discovered how prevalent pornography is in the Church. Half of all youth pastors and 37% of all pastors admitted to visiting porn sites. 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors admit to struggling with porn. More than 12% of youth pastors and 5% of pastors admit to being addicted to pornography. Youth pastors also said that they are seeing an increase in viewing of pornography in their students. Those who admit to viewing porn:
92% of high school boys
57% of middle school boys
23% of high school girls
10% of middle school girls
1 in 4 males said they viewed pornography before the age of puberty.
Over half of them said they were shown pornography as kids when they didn't want to see it. 

Many would dismiss pornography as not harming anyone, but statistics do not bear that statement out. The increase in pornography viewing has caused an increase in sexual trafficking (this ranges from prostitution to working in the porn industry to strip clubs). There are 27 million adults and 13 million children trapped in sexual trafficking worldwide. 80% of all human trafficking is sexual. 80% of humans trafficked are women and girls, though there has been a 50% increase in the trafficking of young boys. The average age of girls who enter sexual trafficking is 12 to 14 years old. 
Within sex trafficking, 70-95% girls were physically assaulted and 8 out of 10 were raped.
Those who were sold into trafficking were, on average, bought for $90 or less. A single sex slave earns her pimp $250,00 a year.
65% - 95% of girls who ended up in trafficking were sexually molested as children.
85% were abused before ending up in trafficking.
Over 50% of girls who age out of orphanages end up in sex trafficking. Most of them will not make it to the age of twenty.
300,000 girls and women in sex trafficking die from abuse, torture and neglect each year.

So it is a blatant lie to say that pornography doesn't hurt anyone.

Is it any wonder then that Christ was harsh on even looking on a woman with lust? He understood that real dangers that lurk in seeing someone only in terms of sexual desire. 

The Church is too often silent on these issues and pastors are afraid to address the subject with their congregations. Yet silence perpetuates the injustice. Perhaps pastors are afraid to speak up because then they would have to address their own addictions and struggles. Maybe they are afraid of the shame and possible loss of their ministry if they admitted to viewing pornography. Yet in silence comes shame and in shame comes one's distancing oneself from God (after all, look at how King David handled his rape of Bathsheba). 

Pornography dehumanizes women, so that one no longer sees that they are created in the image of God, but are seen only for sexual services they can render or for parts of their anatomy. Pornography causes a rise in sexual trafficking, violence (especially sexual assault), infidelity and divorce. Sex, which was created holy by God within the context of marriage, is degraded into one of consumerism. 

Over the years, I have met many women who have been either sexually assaulted or raped. Some of those were at the hands of young men who were in youth groups with the young women. The women did not speak out for fear they would be blamed or shamed by those in authority. "What did you do to entice him?" was a question they feared they would be asked. When we put any of the blame on the girl or woman who was attacked, we are victimizing them again. Like Jerome, we are blaming Dinah and not Shechem. How much of this goes on in Church culture? Certainly in more conservative churches, it's always about the woman's appearance and manner of dress without ever confronting the men about their attitudes and the sexual fantasies they secretly harbor and feed through the viewing of pornography.

The Church must value women as Christ did. We must not demean or diminish their roles within the Church body. They cannot, in any way, be seen as less than or not as important as the men; after all, 
how can our daughters see themselves as "beloved" of God if they are treated as inferior to boys within the Church or if their voices do not matter as much as those of our sons?

For those women, of any age, who have suffered assault, rape, or molestation, the Church must be Christ-like in their handling of their hurts with tenderness, understanding and compassion. We must listen without judgment and, more importantly, we must come alongside of them and be their strongest advocates. The Church must not revictimize these women. 

For those trapped in sexual trafficking, the Church must be a voice for these voiceless girls and women. Like William Wilberforce who advocated for the end of the slave trade (He wrote, "Let it not be said that I was silent when they needed me.") and now, with men like Gary Haugen who founded International Justice Missions, the Church must work tirelessly to end modern slavery.  We must cry out like the prophets for justice to roll down like a river. Our Churches must partner with organizations like Thistle Farms (http://thistlefarms.org), International Justice Missions (https://www.ijm.org), or Hope for Justice (http://hopeforjustice.org) to help those caught in the sex trade or slavery.  As Gary Haugen wrote in Good News About Injustice, "God's people are his plan to respond to the needs of the oppressed in our world." That means we are to speak out for those in sexual and human trafficking, victims of assault and rape, wives in abusive marriages, orphans, widows, and anyone who is powerless to fight against injustice.

As Christ stood up to those who would condemn and murder the woman caught in adultery, so, too, must his Church speak up for those who are victimized by the hands of men (including those within the Church walls). We cannot afford to be silent on women's issues any longer if we are to claim to be called the Bride of Christ. 

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