Today, advocates and activists from around the US will gather at the For Such A Time As This Rally in Dallas, Texas. The rally—led by abuse advocates and faith leaders such as Ashley Easter, Gricel Medina, and Mary DeMuth—will lament and challenge the Southern Baptist Convention’s inadequate response to sexual abuse and poor treatment of women. Leaders are urging SBC leadership to:
- Honor and respect women in the church.
- Create an SBC clergy sex offender database.
- Train all pastors and seminaries on abuse and sexual assault.
The gathering was certainly spurred by recent events surrounding SBC giant Paige Patterson. But for many Christian women and especially Southern Baptist women, it’s so much bigger than that. It’s a biblical response to centuries of silence and pain. It’s female protest in the tradition of Hagar, Tamar, and Rizpah.
Christians often feel uncomfortable with protest. To those without a biblical history of resistance, it can seem angry, divisive, and even unnecessary. It can feel antithetical to the Christian mantra of “turning the other cheek.” And yet, when we look to the Bible, we see a long tradition of social activism. We also see rich examples of female protest—of women bringing their pain and their protest to their Creator and then into the arena of the powerful.
In a recent podcast, theologian Walter Bruggemann and social ignitor Peter Block discussed our tendency to keep our pain private. They then asserted that we subvert empire when we resist that temptation and instead march our private pain into the public square. The conversation turned to the Exodus narrative.
According to the ancient text of Exodus, the beloved people of Yahweh were in captivity, forced into cruel and humiliating labor. Their hard-heartedness toward their God landed them in Egypt. But their cries did not go unnoticed. God promised their deliverance and commissioned an advocate, Moses, to march directly into the oppressor’s arena to demand their freedom.
Yahweh delivers, yes. But we must participate. Often, in order to upend oppression, we must gather our pain and boldly enter the arena of the oppressor. Women have been doing this since the beginning of time.
In Genesis 16, we meet an Egyptian girl called Hagar. She’s alone in the wilderness—pregnant and weeping. Taken as a slave, she’s been shamed and sexually abused by her oppressors. With no one to protect or advocate for her and her unborn child by Abraham, she’s overwhelmed. She’s been used and discarded, like so many abuse survivors today.
But then God descends into her isolation, calls her by name, and assures her that she’s not forgotten. She’s not invisible. She’s not inconsequential—far from it. God sees Hagar’s private pain. She no longer carries it alone. The God of the Israelites, her oppressors, steps in to validate her suffering and call out the injustice she’s endured.
In fact, God promises Hagar that she will outlast her present hopeless situation. The One Who Sees will deliver her and her son out of the shadows. But something is required of her. She must get up and re-enter a community that would prefer to erase her from its genealogy and history. A community that has already treated her unjustly. Why?
Time and time again in the ancient texts, the One Who Sees brings women out of the shadows and into the light. In the light, their private pain must be contended with. In the open, their stories have the power to disrupt. Hagar’s very presence in her community is arguably an act of protest.
Much in the same way, when we show up in church and demand justice, we’re drawing on a very old tradition. And when we rally publicly for change in our faith communities (like the SBC), we’re asserting that God sees our collective pain. That God emboldens us to make our pain known in our communities—so that collective wrong can be made wholly right.
Consider these powerful examples of female protest from Scripture:
Tamar was treated unjustly by her deceased husband’s family. Judah, patriarch of the family, denies her legal right to marry one of his other sons and become pregnant by him. Tamar then poses as a prostitute in order to achieve justice and is condemned to death for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. But she is able to expose the injustice, save her own life, and convict Judah in the process. She boldly marches into the arena of a powerful patriarch and demands a reckoning.
Rizpah is another incredible example. King David hands her two sons over to be killed and then leaves their bodies to the elements. Rizpah is clearly in agony, but she’s also defiant. She’s a mother in mourning, but she’s also an activist. Recognizing the power of private pain in public protest, she leverages her personal anguish to gain justice from a king.
And then there’s the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. She comes alone to a gathering place in order to avoid the shame and contempt of her neighbors. But she enters that public space nonetheless. And in the end, it’s her private story—her pain and the healing sense of being known by Jesus—that ignites the faith of an entire town.
There’s also the woman they wanted to stone. A group of self-righteous leaders drags her into the town square to be a pawn in their game of cat-and-mouse with Jesus. The woman doesn’t choose to enter that space and lay out her pain; that choice is taken away from her. And yet, Jesus validates and advocates for her in that space. In this case, it’s Jesus who marches her private pain into the public arena—to convict, instruct, and bring justice.
As I read these old stories, I am struck by their relevance for such a time as this. This is why we rally, march, write, speak, pray, and preach today. Because female protest is a vibrant biblical tradition.
Our private pain has great public power. When we gather in righteous protest and stand together for justice, we disrupt the status quo. With marching feet, loud lament, raised voices, and extended hands, we declare that God is for us. That God sees our pain and empowers us to enter difficult spaces and demand justice.
Women have lingered too long in the shadows, nursing our pain and waiting for a chance to make our suffering known to our brothers and sisters. The time to protest—to step out from the shadows and make our anguish known in the church—is now.
We encourage you to show your support for the leaders and attendees at the For Such A Time As This Rally today by following the rally on Facebook and Twitter. You can also tweet your support or simply pray for those gathering in Dallas.