Sexualized Violence, the Bible,
and Standing with Survivors
Sexualized Violence, the Bible,
and Standing with Survivors
A Review by Dwight A. Moody
It is astounding that a scholar so young, so near the beginning of her life journey can display so much courage in writing her judgments, so deep an understanding of Holy Scripture, and so broad an awareness of what is going on the world. I am stunned. And you will be also when you read this book.
Dr. Susanna Larry is now assistant professor of biblical studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She was barely 30 years old when she wrote this book and younger still when its material formed the bulk of her dissertation at Vanderbilt Divinity School and University. I knew her back then, and before, when she was a young participant in the Academy of Preachers.
I am not a scholar of Hebrew Bible; but I have done my studies and kept up my reading, and I know a scholar when I read one. This is the real stuff: learned, creative, relevant, powerful.
She introduces this phrase—sexualized violence—early on to refer to violence that has a sexual component: like rape. The event is not about sex; it is about power, and she explains this repeatedly, in relation to violence against women and against men. It is not about sex, homosexual or heterosexual; it is about power and control and domination.
The Hebrew Bible is the primary arena of her writing in this book; and she examines such familiar stories as (among others) Genesis 16 (Hagar), Genesis 34 (Dinah), 2 Samuel 13 (Tamar), Genesis 39 (Joseph), and Judges 16 (Samson). There are considerations given to traditional “homosexual” passages, to the book of Lamentations, to the gospel story of the woman taken in adultery (as we normally frame it), and finally, the story of Mary the mother of Jesus.
All of it done in the context of the recent (and current) #MeToo movement. In her treatment of the Hagar story, she writes: “The God whom Hagar encountered in the wilderness and boldly named El-roi, the God who sees, is the God of the survivors who bravely told their stories—at great cost to themselves—and said #MeToo.”
This book, she writes, is for you “if you were abused as a child…if you haven’t forgiven those who abused you…if you were drunk before an assault…if you were silent during an assault…if you chose not to report your abuse…if you are still in that abusive relationship…if no other person has believed you…if you loved the person who hurt you… if you want to minister without doing more harm….”
Then she writes: “This book is for me, too.”
And for me, a minister near the end of his career with so little experience of sexualized violence, with even less expertise in how to minister in such fraught situations.
Dr. Larry has an entire chapter on men as victims of sexualized violence. She writes: “A great fear that people anticipating incarceration harbor is that they will be raped in prison.” This sentence, read by me while riding across the Appalachian Mountains with my often-incarcerated son, precipitated a lengthy conversation about that very situation in his own experience. I suspect reading the book will provoke you (or free you) to talk about these things with people you know and love.
There is another chapter on families of victims and their role as perpetrators, as witnesses, as victims, as survivors. It made me wonder about this in my extended family and formed my resolve to introduce the subject at the next gathering with my three siblings. (Would that even be a good thing?)
I appreciated so very much her description of the Bible as a conversation among its authors about the issues deep and wide that still dominate our minds and imaginations: right and wrong, power and privilege, guilt and shame, and who is to blame and what the Bible has to say about any of it. She writes frankly about the Deuteronomic tradition in the Bible—that perspective that connects sin and suffering in a cause-and-effect way. I have sought to speak about this theological tradition, so deeply embedded in both scripture and our moral imagination, in the various ministerial contexts in which I have served. There needs to be more of this, and perhaps Dr. Larry’s book will help other, younger ministers with a lifetime of listening and speaking in from of them. To that end, Larry offers a five-point summary of her book (pages 213-216) and a powerful 82-word benediction that includes these words: “May God bless you with the sight of a world not yet realized. May that future world be free of the brokenness we see now.”
May it be so; and may this book help make it so.
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The End of White Christian America
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The Invention of Wings
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How the Early Christian “Third Way”
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Here are four books written by Dr. Dwight A. Moody, provided here (or in the near future) in both text and audio format. All are in various stages of production for this web site. Feel free to provide comment on these books using the response form at the bottom of each page.
This was a series of sermons preached by Dr. Moody at Third Baptist Church of Owensboro, Kentucky. It is inspired by (and follows the format of) the influential book by Buddy Shurden, Four Fragile Freedoms. The text here includes an epilogue written in 2018 that offers reflections on the book, 20 years after its publication. It is also the intent of Dr. Moody to provide an audio version of this book; to date, only the Preface and Introduction are available.
On the Other Side of Oddville: Stories of Religion and Everyday Life
For a number of years, Dr. Moody wrote and published in public newspapers around the country a weekly column on Religion and American Life (something he continues to do through this Meetinghouse initiative). This book collects 105 of these 700-word essays. You may purchase a sign copy of this book–$20 inclusive of shipping; simply request it through the Response Form at the bottom of each page of the website. (This text is in production.)
Its’s About Time: A Memoir of Ministry at Georgetown College
From 1997 to 2008, Dr. Moody served as dean of the chapel and professor of religion at Georgetown College in Kentucky. This is the narrative essay that forms the core of this book. Upon leaving the school to launch the Academy of Preachers, he produced this self-published book. The book also included sermons, prayers, letters, essays, and memos; it can be ordered through Amazon. (This text is in production.)
Nine Marks of a Good Sermon
During Dr. Moody’s tenure at Georgetown College, he taught a course in “Communication for Ministry” (and popularly called “Preaching). This material was developed during that ministry and continued during his years as founder and first president of the Academy of Preachers. It is published here without the illustrative sermons included in the book.