Bathsheba’s Story (Part 3): What Bathsheba Teaches Us About Sexual Abuse

nail polishEarlier this summer, four young men from North Carolina State University attempted to design a nail polish that would help protect women from date rape by detecting unwanted drugs in their drinks.

The nail polish (which unfortunately doesn’t seem to actually work) generated some concerns. While it’s good to promote steps to help women protect themselves, many point out that this treats the symptoms rather than the problem (i.e. teaching people to avoid getting raped instead of don’t rape). Advocates against rape also worry that this sort of thing may promote more victim blaming.

One advocate, Rebecca Nagle (co-director of the organization FORCE) pointed out in a news interview for the Chicago Tribune that victim blaming was actually one of the factors behind the “rape epidemic” in the US.

While researching for my thesis, I found this to be true—Our culture has the tendency to say women are responsible for men’s lust. I found several examples of rape or sexual abuse where the victim received partial blame for a perpetrator’s actions, even among Christian groups.

Part of the answer to this problem involves better education about what constitutes sexual abuse and how we can help victims instead of further hurting them (see the end of the post for a short list of resources).

It’s also important to teach biblical narratives accurately. When Christians describe the story of David and Bathsheba as an “affair” (rather than a case of rape), this language does not remain enclosed in the classroom. Similar language cannot help but make its way out into descriptions of current stories and events as well, perhaps even provoking more victim blaming.

Here are three main things we can learn from Bathsheba’s story:

  1. Sometimes spiritual leaders abuse their power. David slew Goliath. Composed well-known and heartfelt psalms. Forgave his enemy. Led the nation in worship. Scripture describes him as a “man after God’s own heart.” Yet, that didn’t stop him from abusing his power by raping Bathsheba and killing her husband Uriah.
    I wish I could say David was the only spiritual leader to abuse his power, but that’s simply not true. And just as we tend to let David off the hook by calling what happened an “affair,” we also at times let perpetrators off the hook through vicitim blaming or failure to listen to the concerns of others over a well-liked or respected leader.
    For example, in June 2014 Leadership Journal posted an article from a pastor convicted of felony against a student in his youth group. It generated feedback on several social media platforms with many using the hashtag “#TakeDownThatPost.”
    The editors for Leadership Journal did eventually revise the article, but it took awhile and blogger Heather Celoria points out: “Not only does the writer fail to see the reality of his crime since he frames it as an affair, the editors failed to recognize the white washing of child sexual abuse in the article. They published the piece along with the tags “accountability, adultery, character, failure, mistakes, self-examination, sex, temptation” showing a total lack of understanding and discernment in regard to sexual predation, child abuse and rape culture mentality.”
  2. We must not hide abuse, but instead speak out. David repented when the prophet Nathan brought his sin to light. That’s what is called for today as well. Rachel Marie Stone writes, “It appears that what made David’s sin possible was secrecy, and what brought forth his confession of guilt was the threat of exposure. For the sake of justice—and for the sake of healing—faith communities must acknowledge that compassionate attention and full apologies are needed.”
  3. We must not blame the victim, even in part. This means when a youth pastor sexually abuses a minor, we don’t call it an affair. When a young college student is raped, we don’t say she provoked it by wearing provocative clothes or forgetting to wear “date rape” nail polish. When a beloved Bible hero rapes a woman, we don’t say she asked for it by bathing on the roof (which she wasn’t even doing anyway).

 As promised above, here is a short list of resources:

Organizations:

RAINN (Rape, Abuse Incest National Network): Rape Information

WellWVU (West Virginia University’s Student Center of Health): Rape Myths and Facts

FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture — Resources

Online Articles:

Saving Bathsheba

  • Sarah, It’s so fun to find someone else who came to the same conclusions about Bathsheba that I did. I actually have an article coming out soon with many similar thoughts. I’ll make sure to share it with you. You are right that Bathsheba’s real story has been buried for too long – and not even just the reality of her assault but the fact that she had a much bigger story in Israel’s history than “the woman David slept with.”
    Dalaina

  • Sarah Bowler

    Thanks Dalaina! I think Bathsheba truly was a remarkable woman, whose story is often misunderstood. We also often overlook how she raised her son Solomon in a godly manner. I look forward to seeing your upcoming article.

  • Thanks for writing and posting these article Sarah. They dovetail nicely with realizations I’ve had on my own regarding evangelicalism in the US, Christian patriarchy, and other issues.

    However, I must take slight, and only very slight, issue with your language describing rape in the US as an epidemic.

    Advocacy groups have a vested interest in inflating numbers on their particular subject. This does not mean that all of them do, but it does mean that we should use alternate sources as verification of the claimed numbers. A chart on Wikipedia shows the rape rate has been steadily decreasing lately, dropping from 32 per 100,000 to 27 per 100,000 in the last decade.

    This is still 30 people per every 100,000 who experience something evil and wrong and terrible, but I would be reticent to call it an “epidemic”, especially considering it has been going down.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, and I’ll keep reading. Regardless of my quibbles about terminology, the conclusions you’re drawing are very good and something that we all, Christians especially, must consider.

  • Sarah Bowler

    Thanks very much for the feedback @music2myear! You make some good points. I realize I should have put the phrase “rape epidemic” in quotes, as that phrase was originating from the news interview with Rebecca Nagle. I’ve modified the post so the phrase now has quotation marks around it.