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Bondage

On October 24, 2012

It seems that everywhere we look today we see images of women in bondage. Whether it is CSI Special Victims Unit or a trio of poorly written novels with little plot and lots of pain, our culture is saturated with the idea that it is fun to abuse women. Increasingly themes of bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) show up in mainstream television and movies as acceptable sexual practice. The normalization of BDSM should worry all of us. The more sexual abuse is normalized in entertainment media, the more likely it is that consumers will act out what they have been watching. That is, desensitization toward BDSM deforms our conscience so that increasingly, we accept anything the vile imagination can conjure.

In Judges, an often a disturbing book of the Bible, we observe what it looks like when God’s people lose their conscience. The final story concerns a concubine who belongs to a Levite. She is everywoman who has suffered abuse. She has run away from him and is trying to find safety with her family of origin. Her master comes to claim her and to our growing horror as the story unfolds, her father turns her over to the perpetrator. That night as the Levite and the concubine stop in a town called Gibeah, a violent mob surrounds the house where they are staying. Like the men of Sodom, they demand to have the Levite in order to rape him. He gives them the concubine instead.

After a night of gang rape she falls on the threshold of the door, near death. The Levite finds her there, orders her to get up, and when she remains prone he takes her home. When he reaches his home, he proceeds to mutilate her and send her body parts around to the various tribal groups. A civil war ensues and many more women are raped and kidnapped, their homes plundered and loved ones killed. The bondage that takes the life of this concubine spews forth evil that multiplies into thousands of lives. Violence begets violence.

The point of this story, which is the climax of the Book of Judges, is that when God’s people lose their identity as the people of God, when we forget who God is and the kind of God, God is, we become capable of every kind of evil. Unspeakable violence against women is always the result.

In many ways the Bible offers us different perspectives on women. In Scripture we find a collection of stories of people like the concubine, Dinah, Tamar, and others whose lives are permanently scarred with sexual abuse and domestic violence. Though patriarchal interpretations of scripture have minimized and often ignored the women’s stories, the situation is changing. Today many of us who are survivors of sexual abuse and violence are speaking up. As theologians, pastors, and therapists we not only name, unmask and engage the evils1 of sexual abuse and domestic violence, we are bringing important new perspectives to biblical interpretation and theology.

May all of us who follow Jesus use our voices, our minds, our influence, and our lives to bring about freedom and healing for women who are still in bondage to sexual abuse and domestic violence. May we help to bring about the day when no one—women, men, or children—is objectified and subjected to sexual abuse or domestic violence.

You can find more resources on domestic violence and abuse, such as Responding to Abuse in Christian HomesBreaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence, and No Place for Abuse, at CBE Bookstore.

1 Walter Wink has written a powerful analysis of spiritual warfare from a systemic perspective. His trio of books on unmasking, naming, and engaging the powers is available in an introductory form: Engaging the Powers (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).

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