By Laura Ellis
A couple of months ago at my seminary’s weekly community lunch, the tables were covered with postcards. One of the students explained that the school donated the postcards, and he would personally pay for postage for anyone who wanted to write a note of encouragement to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
He was inspired to do so by Anita Hill, who mentioned the loving letters she received after her grueling testimony. The postcards, given by Boston University School of Theology, were adorned with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who attended Boston University. I wrote a letter on one of them while carrying a heavy heart like many other students after the result of the Kavanaugh hearing. The quote on the front of the postcard read, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Dr. Ford was not silent. But she was silenced. And among all of the screaming voices from all sides, I wondered where the church stood, or if it was standing at all.
With the explosion of the #MeToo movement, there seems to be an epidemic of sexual assault victims who are silenced and ignored. Often the Church’s opinions on sex seem to reach only as far as purity culture and queer exclusion. And yet when it comes to non-consensual sexual violence, the Church tends to shy away, believing problem is too big to tackle. At these moments, I think about Dr. King’s quote. And I wonder if perhaps the Church’s life begins to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. The #MeToo movement is breaking the trend of silence, yet we often see examples of women who are not silent but silenced. By ignoring this trend, we merely perpetuate it.
The stories of sexual assault from modern-day women are similar to some of the stories of gender-based violence in the Bible. The biblical writers silence the victims and survivors, and by ignoring these passages the church perpetuates their silence.
How can we expect ourselves to genuinely hear the stories of women today when we ignore the victims and survivors from our own tradition? Let us learn from feminist and womanist theologians and have difficult and honest conversations about the myriad of sexual assault in the biblical text.
Let’s read, struggle, and lament with Tamar, Hagar, Bathsheba, the concubine in Judges, Zilpah, Bilhah, and Dinah. These women are talked about in the Bible, but they rarely get to speak. And if they do speak, they are ignored and silenced. Let us see and lament for these women, and then let us see their sisters in modern day.
I believe that CBF has already started the journey of seeing, believing, and advocating for these sisters.
At the 2018 General Assembly, Suzii Paynter addressed the issue along with workshops on #MeToo and #ChurchToo. May we continue to notice the children, women, and men who survive sexual assault. And may we notice the atrocities in our sacred text and learn from them. Tamar, Hagar, Bathsheba, and Dinah are silenced by biblical writers, but as the people of the God of liberation, we cannot do the same. We must see them in their modern sisters. We must advocate for what the biblical women never got—a voice that is neither silence nor ignored.
Laura Ellis is a CBF Leadership Scholar and student at Boston University School of Theology. She is originally from Abilene, Texas.