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Kings, Queens, and #MeToo: A Sermon for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Apr 10, 2018 — Categories: ,

How many of you remember learning about Bathsheba in Sunday School or Bible class? Well, what I remember about Bathsheba was that she had tempted King David, causing him to sin. She was held up as the antithesis to Christian womanhood. I carried that notion until I was in seminary and read II Samuel for myself. The picture I saw there was very different. One thing I noticed immediately was that in the text we never hear Bathsheba’s voice. We hear David’s voice; we even hear Bathsheba’s husband’s voice. But never her voice.

Kings, Queens, and #MeToo: A Sermon for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune

Pleasant Hill UCC
April 8, 2018
Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune

 

 

"We are in for a very, very long haul… I am asking for everything you have to give. We will never give up… You will lose your youth, your sleep, your patience, your sense of humor and occasionally, the understanding and support of people that you love very much.

In return, I have nothing to offer you but your pride in being a woman, and all the dreams you’ve ever had for your daughters, and nieces, and granddaughters, your future and the certain knowledge that at the end of your days you will be able to look back and say that once in your life, you gave everything you had for justice."  - Jill Ruckelshaus at the 1977 National Women’s Political Caucus

 

How many of you remember learning about Bathsheba in Sunday School or Bible class?

Well, what I remember about Bathsheba was that she had tempted King David, causing him to sin. She was held up as the antithesis to Christian womanhood. I carried that notion until I was in seminary and read II Samuel for myself. The picture I saw there was very different.

One thing I noticed immediately was that in the text we never hear Bathsheba’s voice. We hear David’s voice; we even hear Bathsheba’s husband’s voice. But never her voice.

So listen now to Bathsheba’s telling of her own story:

Reader 1

I am Queen Bathsheba.  David is my King.  I’ve never told this to anyone before.

It was spring; my husband, Uriah, had been sent into battle with Joab.

As was usual, I had been bathing on the roof of our house.

Afterwards, a messenger from King David came to our door.  I was afraid it was news of Uriah.  But no; it was a summons to come to the palace.

I went and was taken before the King.  He said, “You are very beautiful and I desire to have sex with you.”  I was afraid; I was married and loved my husband; I was purifying myself; I did not want to have sex with King David.  But what choice did I have?  He was the King!  After he had sex with me, he sent me home.

A month later I realized I was pregnant.  I sent word to King David but heard nothing in response.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was ashamed.

Several months later, another messenger came --- this time with the news I had feared for so long.  My husband, Uriah, had been killed in battle.  I was devastated.  He was my dearest love, my rock.  And now he was gone and I was alone and pregnant with the King’s baby.  What was I to do?

Several weeks later, the King’s messenger came again and summoned me to the palace.   This time David said that he would make me his wife; I was shocked but again I had no choice.

Then I bore him a son.  At least I believed that my son and I would be taken care of.

Only later did I find out that, in fact, when David found out I was pregnant, he sent my husband, Uriah, into the front of the battle in order to ensure that he would be killed.  He did this to hide the fact that he, David, had committed adultery with me and I had become pregnant by him.

But alas, months later my son became very ill.  David begged God to spare the boy.  But my son died.  I was distraught but so was David.  He blamed himself; I blamed him too.  What he had done to me and to Uriah was wrong.  He had violated many of God’s commandments and God was not pleased.

Through all this, no one ever asked me how I felt or what I wanted.

Gives us a little different perspective, doesn’t it?

A woman approached me after I had given a lecture on violence against women in the Bible.  She said with deep feeling, “These stories of violence against women in the Bible are so painful.  I think we should just remove them.” I pondered her suggestion for a moment. I understood that she simply wanted to avoid the pain that these stories remind us of.  But I responded, “No, I don’t think we should remove them. They are a powerful witness to remind us that what women suffer today is not new; it is part of our faith tradition to tell these stories, to tell the truth about women’s lives.” The question for us is, what do we learn from these stories?

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Every year we focus on our efforts to address sexual harassment, abuse and assault. This year in particular, April magnifies the #MeToo movement.

As you may be aware, the #MeToo movement was actually begun over 10 years ago by an African American advocate, Tarana Burke, who was trying to connect with other women of color who were survivors of sexual assault. It was then picked up last year by a number of actresses who came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of harassment, abuse, and rape.  Subsequently it went viral and women from all walks of life have responded with “#MeToo”.  We offered a group gathering here at the church and at least 15 of you responded to a chance to share your #MeToo moments. This group continues to meet for support and will be meeting again Tuesday at 5:45 pm.

The major impact of the #MeToo movement has been to give voice to victims and survivors and to encourage people to HEAR and BELIEVE survivors and stop BLAMING them. The sheer number of women and also men who have come forward is astonishing and from every segment of society.

Actresses and actors, domestic workers, staffers on Capitol Hill, legislators around the country, clergy women and lay women, farmworkers, factory workers, students, and on and on.  No institution is without the problem exemplified by King David: powerful men taking advantage of less powerful people in their lives. And doing so for years without consequences. In fact, generally being protected by the corporations and institutions in which they work.

Today’s King David list is long and growing: Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Roy Moore and on and on.

But remember that Bathsheba’s story is not the end of David’s story. There is a part two. Enter God, who is upset with what David has done.

So God sends Nathan to confront David. Nathan tells a story, a parable: There were two men in a city, one rich and one poor. The rich man had many sheep. The poor man had only one lamb which he had raised in his family and regarded as a pet. A guest came to visit the rich man and rather than take a sheep from his own flocks, he took the poor man’s one lamb to serve for dinner.

David is livid in response to this story: “the man who has done this deserves to die. He should restore the lamb fourfold because he had no pity.”

Nathan says: “You are the man. God says ‘I have given you everything. You murdered Uriah and took his wife. I will take your wives and cause you trouble. And your child shall die.’”

Consequences. Finally. And finally we are beginning to see some consequences for the rich men, the powerful men, the entitled men who have preyed on the powerless for so long.

Some other women have had an experience different than Queen Bathsheba. Queen Vashti was one. How many of you even know who Queen Vashti was in the Bible? There’s a reason so few of us knew about Vashti and DIDN’T learn about her in Sunday School.

She appears in the Book of Esther; she was the queen before Esther. Again in the biblical text, we never hear her voice, only her story. So let’s hear Queen Vashti tell her own story:

Reader 2

I was Queen Vashti, wife of King Ahasuerus.  In those days, the King was very rich and ruled over the land from Ethiopia to India.

The King decided to give a banquet for all the men in his court.  It was very lavish:  fine linens covered everything; gold and silver couches; gorgeous mosaic floors; and wine flowed freely, a no-host bar with no limit.  This wild frat party went on for a week.

Actually, I also gave a party during this week for all the women in court.  We had a lovely time swimming, relaxing, getting massages, having our nails done.

But on the seventh day, my drunken King sent for me.  He said I should  come before him, wearing my crown, and parade myself before his cronies.  He thought that I was very beautiful and he wanted to “show me off” to them.

I considered his “request” for a brief moment and sent word back, “No.”  I expected this would anger him and it did.  But I refused to be leered at by the King’s drunken friends.

I heard that the King consulted his lawyers:  what should he do now that the Queen has said “no” to him?

There was much wringing of hands because what if other women in the kingdom heard about this and thought it possible to say “no” to their husbands?  Oh my!

So basically, I was fired; I was relieved of my duties as queen and never again had to appear before the King.  What a relief!

In order to protect the status quo, the word went out from the King that all women would give honor to their husbands.  But it was too late; the word had already gone out on the grapevine that I had said “no” to the King and lived to tell about it.

So I live my life quietly now away from the drama of the King’s court.  Never again will I be humiliated and exploited by any man.  I am happy.

And I hear that the King has a new Queen named Esther.  I wish her well but I do not envy her.

Vashti was the Queen who said “no” to her King. Now do you understand why you have never heard of her?  God forbid that we teach our young women that it is okay for them to say “no” a date or a husband or a boss or a pastor or anyone who tries to exploit them.

So Vashti lost her job as Queen; she seems happy with that. But here is the rub for so many women and some men. Saying “no” to someone in power, especially a boss, usually has significant consequences: it can end a career or a job. And for a single mom with 3 kids to support, this may not be an option: she’s in the Bathsheba camp; no real choice.

But some women have said “no” and lived with the consequences. And the #MeToo movement has begun to empower more women to say “no”, to join with others, to bring law suits, and to call out the powerful men who have demanded their submission.

So what does the Gospel text say about all this? Oh, yes. It’s in the book!

Pat read the parable of the Persistent Widow earlier. Jesus says that this lesson is to pray always and never lose heart. This woman goes to the unjust judge asking to be vindicated. We aren’t told her complaint but I would bet that she is a #MeToo woman, a survivor of some abuse.

But the judge really doesn’t care and can’t be bothered. Sound familiar? He sends her away.  She returns.  He sends her away. She returns and finally the judge says, “Alright I will vindicate you just so you will stop bothering me!”

So what was the widow asking for and what did it mean? She asked to be vindicated. The word “vindication” means to set free. She is asking to be set free from the wound that she bears, the stigma of being a victim. She is asking for justice.

She is asking to be heard and believed... by someone who matters, someone with power in the public square, by a judge.

She is asking to be restored to her community...where she was not heard nor believed, and was blamed for what was done to her.

The vindication she received was a huge contribution to her healing. We are reminded that there is no healing without justice.

So how is the church responding to #MeToo? What does it look like?

In response to the #MeToo movement, men’s voices have been few and far between. Where are you? Are you talking to each other? Are you reflecting on your own ministry or work settings, remembering what you observed or what you participated in? Are you considering what you can do now to stand with survivors of sexual abuse?

How can we hear and believe? How can we better prepare our pastors and chaplains to be ready to hear and believe?

How can we be safe places for children, youth and adults? How can we strengthen our policies on misconduct and continue our education on healthy boundaries?

Here in our church, we have offered training for laity on healthy boundaries. We hope to offer a prevention curriculum later this year for our children.

These are our experiences right here in our congregation: our mothers and grandmothers; children and grandchildren. Sadly we know that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.

Sexual abuse is a reality that we will not hear about until we speak about it. We will not HEAR until we SPEAK. As parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers, coaches, etc. This is why leaving the stories of Bathsheba and Vashti, Tamar and Dinah, in the bible and preaching on these texts is important.

The church should be the first place that anyone who has been abused would come for help...because that person knows they will find a just judge and a compassionate community here. Because she or he will find a sweet cool drink of justice here. Let us strive to be that place.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.faithtrustinstitute.org
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Blessings on the woman of courage, Rev. Marie

Posted by Melissa Martin at Apr 17, 2018 02:34 PM
Rev. Fortune continues to be the voice crying out in the wilderness in support of women and against domestic violence and sexual abuse in sacred places. Marie is an inspiration to people of faith!