No. 412  |  July 27, 2013   DC RealTalk   Catechism   STUDY   Christian Living   The Church   Cover   Social Justice   Race & Ministry   Urban Violence   Zion   Donate

Judges Chapter 19: This Week In God's Word

Let's Go

In a story that reads like a first draft of the Sodom and Gomorrah tale, an unnamed Levite (a Jew’s Jew, the tribe of Levi were considered special and set apart for God’s service) travels to Bethlehem to retrieve his concubine who had run away from him. A concubine was a sort of legalized mistress who, for reasons of class or the man’s finances (men were required to pay a dowry to the father of the virgin he chose to marry) could not be officially married to him. She was, essentially, a willing sexual slave. The bible does not say why the woman ran off from the Levite, only that she had been unfaithful to him [Judges 20 v2], and the Levite traveled a great distance to, essentially, retrieve his lawful property. On the return trip, the Levite chooses to stay the night in a non-Israeli city where, as with the story of Sodom, the men of the town converge on the dwelling of the Levite’s host, demanding the homeowner—an old man—deliver his guest to the mob so they can rape him [v22]. As with Lot and Sodom, the old man honors the strict customs of hospitality by refusing to deliver his houseguest, but offers instead his young virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine to the men to, “…use them and do to them whatever you wish” [v24] This, the mob does, repeatedly gang raping the Levite’s concubine throughout the night while, presumably, the Levite and the old man enjoyed a restful night’s sleep (v27 refers to the Levite “getting up” in the morning). Exhausted and badly injured from the brutal and repeated rapes, the Levite’s concubine crawls back to the old man’s door in the predawn hours where she collapses. No one opens the door for her.

Ready to depart at sunrise, the Levite finally opens the door, looks down at his concubine—ravaged, presumably naked and bloodied—and says, v28, “Get up. Let’s go.” Hearing no response, he slings her possibly lifeless body (the scripture is not clear) onto a donkey and continues his journey home. Arriving there, the Levite cuts his concubine up into twelve pieces and distributes the pieces across Israel (v29) before using her rape as a rallying cry to convince Israel to invade and kill the Benjaminites. Accomplishing that, Israel moved to reconcile its extant tribe by offering them virgins—bear in mind that, in the bible, except in notable circumstances, when you read the word “virgin,” the scripture is referring to a child, 13-17 years of age—from slaughtered enemies to marry. When it was discovered there weren’t enough virgins for all of the eligible Benjaminite men, the Israelites hatched a plan to stake out a festival in Shiloh where they’d wait for groups of virgins to arrive, then rush out from hiding, grab these innocent girls and take them back to be “wives” [Judges 21:20-21], for the specific purpose of bearing them sons.

Yes, this is how the bible, specifically the Old Testament, treats women.

If I understand this correctly,

a 31-year old battered wife was just sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a gunshot into a wall. Not into a person, but into a wall. Trayvon Martin, on other hand, is dead, and prosecutors face an uphill battle trying to convict his admitted murderer, George Zimmerman. I presume the basic problem with the Marissa Alexander case is she left a living witness. Trayvon is not available to speak for himself, so there’s actually a possibility Zimmerman will go free. Marissa Alexander didn’t shoot anyone. She was being beaten and could not leave through the attached garage, so she was forced to re-enter the home where her abusive husband was, firing a shot into a wall as a warning to him to not approach her. I am forced to presume had Alexander shot and killed her husband and his sons, she’d be a free woman now. I guess that’s justice in the state of Florida. By the way: across this nation, people fire guns into walls, into doors, into buckets, into cars, a thousand times a day. If they are noticed at all, maybe they are fined for the weapons discharge or for noise or something. I have never in my life heard of anyone being given the equivalent of a life sentence for shooting a wall.

Throughout the bible, women were male assets, not much more than property. There are certainly love stories throughout the bible, but the bible was written by men and assembled into canon by men, all during ages of time where women were mercilessly and brutally repressed. This mentality continues to this day, with women routinely being discriminated against in the church. Yet, when I look around the building, 70 to 80% of the people I see there are women. In my experience, men have a far more difficult time submitting themselves to, well, anything, but certainly to God. Submitting yourself to God requires humility and self-awareness many of us simply lack. Bending a knee to anyone, even God, and apologizing—apologizing—for anything and for any reason, is simply too much to ask of us. So, here we are, Sunday after Sunday, surrounded by women whose femininity and emotionalism are typically despised behind closed doors by the very pastors they idolize. Pastors who routinely commit the ontological equivalent of tossing female ministers and servant leaders out into the street to be gang raped while he gets a good night’s sleep and then stepping over them in the morning, “Get up. Let’s go.” Idolatry is an abomination to God. In our tradition, we tend to make an idol of the pastor, which is sin. Pastors who allow this to go on are in sin, are causing their flock to sin. These men, demonstrably, do not know God. They know their church tradition, but they have no relationship with God because if they did, they’d have enough fear of God to put a stop to the Nutty Church Folk Cult Worship of the pastor.

Did this concubine worship the Levite? The bible is not clear about their relationship because their relationship is not what the story was about. The story was about the great battle and the reconciliation of the tribe of Benjamin. This distraction with the Levite was merely the catalyst, Act One of a three-act play. Neither the Levite nor the concubine even merited a name.

We all know the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife…” [Exodus 20:17], but even that is not about her, not about women. The commandment is about property. Church Folk Quotoligists quote that commandment out of context. The commandment is not, “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” it’s “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” It’s not about women, it’s about materialism, about becoming a slave to possessions, the woman being a prime possession and a male asset.

With rare exception, the bible treats women very badly. And, yet, there is truth even in that cruelty: the nature of men boils down to selfishness. Selfishness, by biblical example, is tempered only under threat (conduct restrained by force of law or other) or by divine intervention, the transformative power of God. What we miss, in the story of Jesus Christ, was a biblically unprecedented empowering of women. Jesus was not only kind to women, he treated them as equals and held them equally accountable. Mary Magdalene was never specifically named as a disciple, but she functioned as one, existing quietly in the background through most of the Gospels. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, “…the man you’re with now is not your husband…” [John 4:1-26]. He spared the woman caught in adultery, but told her to “…go and sin no more.” [John 8:11]. Even in chastising her, Jesus imbued her with a biblically uncharacteristic level of dignity, seeing her as a person and not a possession. As someone worth noticing and worth engaging with as a fellow human being. This is something many men simply can’t do. No matter how educated or even how wealthy a woman is, we tend to see women as a collection of childish emotions, ingerently unreliable because she’s motivated by per passion over her intellect. We see them as children. We are obsessed with having sex with her, even if we’re not attracted to her. For only in a woman’s ultimate submission can we find comfort and validation.

For these reasons, I presume men find women threatening because they seem to flourish on their own value system. Penis size, material wealth, physical strength, and other yardsticks we use to determine how successful we are can and often do mean very little to women, whose success is measured by the depth of the experiences rather than the clatter of scoreboard numbers flipping over. It puzzles and saddens me why the universal theme of pornography seems to be the degradation and humiliation of the woman. I am no porn expert—I mean, I’m aware there are female porn producers out there and, I would assume, there is a market for porno flicks made by women for women or for couples that do not contain the now ubiquitous on-screen abuse, but the majority of porn I’ve encountered (by whatever means, this is not an endorsement of porn) has repulsed me with a barrage of images of women degrading and humiliating themselves, subjugating themselves to some clueless idiot who calls her names and cusses at her, painfully sodomizes her while enjoying her suffering, only to reward her submisson to is masochism with the ultimate humiliation. This is what your kids are watching and watching routinely because you’re stupid enough to keep paying that cable and internet bill. These are the values being formed in young boys and teens: the woman stripped not just of her clothes but of her humanity. The Levite’s concubine.

This week, we see that tradition continue.

Was Marissa Alexander’s husband one of those boys who grew up watching women being humiliated and tortured for their prurient entertainment? Was his own father abusive toward him or his mother? Should that even matter? What’s the rest of that story? His two sons, for whom Alexander was charged with two counts of felony menacing, now admit they were never in any real danger, she never pointed the gun at them. She pointed it at her abuser—pointed it. Never fired it at him—in order to save her life.

I actually don’t know that that story is true. I don’t pretend to know Marissa Alexander or to even speculate on whether or not she is a good person. At the end of the day, what does it matter? Good person or not, she is a human soul, entitled to both dignity and respect and, certainly, accountability. As a person who has had a gun pointed at me in anger more than once, I can testify there is life well beyond that trauma. I would never envision a court sentencing my attackers to 20 years for something like that. And these were bad guys, people who intended me and others harm. The truth is, this nation is far too gun happy. Every movie poster features some “star” brandishing some kind of gun. We idolize guns. We’ve made a god of guns. Everybody I know owns a gun and carries one, legal or not, in the car or on their person. Here in the Wild West, you can buy guns at a drug store. Seriously—pick up your prescription, some ice cream, and a Glock-9. People wave guns around every single day. They treat them like toys, aiming them at friends and family as a joke. Most people who own guns are astonishingly stupid, which makes the more knowledgeable citizens buy guns to protect themselves from the stupid people who buy guns as toys. Here in Ourtown, open carry is perfectly legal. But, when I see some redneck enter a restaurant with a pistol on his hip, I leave. And I tell the restaurant manager why. I don’t know this man, I have no clue about his training with that weapon or his intentions, and I am no longer enjoying my meal at your restaurant. Of course, at least half the people in that restaurant already have a gun; this guy was just carrying it where I could see it. Aiming guns at people, firing rounds into walls or trees, happens every single day.

Regardless of her character or even the truth of her story, the injustice being done to Marissa Alexander is simply mind-boggling. Right now, I can get up from my desk, pull out my gun, and shoot every wall in my house. Worst thing that would happen to me is a neighbor *might* call and ask me to please quiet down. But I live out in the county where everybody’s packing, and where automatic rifle fire is heard on an almost daily basis from the nearby military base.

Maybe Marissa Alexander is *not* being punished for her race or her sexuality, but it will take several pots of coffee and a lonnnnng conversation to convince me of that. Saint, sinner, faithful, promiscuous, tolerant, abusive—whoever she is, she shot a wall. She should have gotten, at worst, a bitchy phone call from the neighbors. Maybe a fine or probation. She was the victim. And she spared her abuser’s life. This is absolutely ridiculous.

Christopher J. Priest
13 May 2012

No. 412  |  July 27, 2013   DC RealTalk   Catechism   STUDY   Christian Living   The Church   Cover   Social Justice   Race & Ministry   Urban Violence   Zion   Donate