Political tensions have been high this week with a limited FBI investigation into allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Democrats berate Republicans for not taking Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony seriously. Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to sully Kavanaugh’s name.
Newsfeeds and social media platforms explode with arguments on all sides, and survivors of sexual assault silently wonder if it will ever be worth it to come forward in a climate such as this. It is a tense time in the U.S.
As I look through my social media, I see political organizations, news channels and friends smearing Ford’s name.
They heatedly proclaim that she’s making the whole story up in order to keep a conservative off the Supreme Court (because she was paid off by the Democrats to do so).
If they aren’t saying that, they’re saying that she’s “making a mountain out of a mole hill” – that whatever happened wasn’t actually sexual assault.
These narratives sound not unlike other high-profile accusations of sexual assault that have monopolized our newsfeeds in recent years.
Many people have alluded to the infamous Brock Turner case, during which many people – politicians, religious leaders and lay people alike – stated that Turner shouldn’t have to forfeit his future athletic career for what his father called “a few minutes of action.”
I’ve seen meme after meme state things like “The Brock Turners of the world grow up to be the Brett Kavanaughs who keep the Brock Turners out of jail” and such.
These individuals grow weary of seeing the same news stories happen over and over with different names and faces.
On the other side, though, are those who side with the Turners of the world, stating that the women are lying about the allegations or, at the very least, overdramatizing them.
Interestingly, the same people who assertively state that these women are lying look and sound like the people who taught me to love the Bible.
Better yet, they look and sound like the people who taught me to love the women in the Bible: Rahab, the prostitute who protected some Hebrew spies; Esther and how she bravely stood up to the Persian king in order to save her people; Ruth, who sacrificed much to provide for her widowed mother-in-law.
The creme-de-la-creme, though, is that they told me the story of the Virgin Mary, who bore the Son of God.
Time and time again, the Bible shows us how important the courage of women is in order to spread God’s love and justice.
As I look upon the stories of these women and those who taught them to me, I feel confused.
The evangelical tradition that I loved as a child taught me these stories, yet those in that same tradition are the ones screaming most loudly that women are not to be believed when they come forward about sexual assault.
This realization initially struck me as a jarring disconnect. How could a tradition that taught me to value courageous women in Scripture continually tear down courageous women in today’s time?
Then, it hit me: We only trust the women our patriarchal society tells us to trust.
We only trust the stories of those biblical women because the male preachers of our youth told us it was OK to trust them. We only trust those stories because powerful men examined them and deemed them honest.
Moreover, those men made it seem like everyone else in the story believed those women too. But those women faced much opposition!
Take the Virgin Mary. When Joseph realized Mary was pregnant, he did not believe her and was prepared to abandon his now pregnant fiancé, setting her up to live the rest of her life in poverty.
He only stayed because the angel Gabriel literally appeared to him and told him that Mary was telling the truth (Matthew1:18-24).
Time after time, the women in these stories were not believed by the men in the narrative, but the men in the pulpit never addressed the men’s lack of belief.
We were told that these women were safe to trust, so we trusted the rendition of their stories our male pastors gave us.
They hailed these women as obedient servants of God’s will, and they expected us to aspire to the same.
The biggest disconnect between how those preachers celebrated these women and how they expected us to act was where the instruction of God’s will came from.
In nearly all of the stories, God or Jesus himself revealed his will to the women directly.
In the traditions I grew up in, “God’s will” came from the mouths of the powerful men behind the pulpit. They told us the vocations God could or could not call us to.
If we felt God’s call on our lives, our experience had to be corroborated by a man in the church before others would take us seriously. Our testimony alone was never good enough.
In the biblical tradition, we see three narratives about how to take the testimony of women.
- We see that Jesus himself waited until Mary and Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb to reveal that he had been resurrected.
He could have appeared before any of his male disciples and let them be the first to spread the gospel, but he chose two lowly Hebrew women.
Jesus himself believed these women were to be trusted with the most important news to grace the earth.
Not only that, but all four of the gospel texts tell us that the women were the first to see Jesus and the first to spread the good news of his resurrection.
The four gospels rarely agree on much, and the things they do agree on create the pillars of our faith. Why is trusting women the exception?
- We see the women returning to the disciples to share the news.
The Bible explicitly says the disciples did not believe these women, and it was not until Jesus appeared to them later that they believed Jesus was alive (Luke 24:1-12).
The testimony of those women by itself was not enough for those men, even though it was enough for Jesus.
- Perhaps most disturbing is the narrative in Matthew 28:11-15, describing what took place when the women had left the empty tomb and the Roman guards left behind were unsure of what to do.
The guards told the priests what had happened, and the priests paid guards to say that the women were lying. The practice of paying off others to undermine the testimony of honest women has been around for centuries.
Does it sound like today’s culture yet?
So, which tradition will we uphold? Will we continue to pay others to silence women who tell the truth? Will we continue to ignore the testimony of the women in our lives, even if they are proved true time and time again?
Or will we follow the tradition Jesus himself laid before us, of entrusting women of faith with the most important tasks in our tradition, of spreading the gospel and birthing the savior?
The tradition that shows Jesus himself says that the testimony of faithful women can stand on their own merit.
For me and my house, we will choose the way of the Lord.
A bivocational pastor, writer and spiritual director based in Atlanta, Georgia, she currently serves as the Pastor of Congregational Care at The Faith Community and works as a Spiritual Director at Reclamation Theology. Cawthon-Freels is the author of Reclamation: A Queer Pastor’s Guide to Finding Spiritual Growth in the Passages Used to Harm Us (Nurturing Faith Books), and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.