The relationship of believers to Jesus and to the Bible is interesting. There are times there are conflicts that seem to come down to whether Jesus is subservient to the Bible or the Bible has to give way to him. At this time this challenge is very visible across the pond with the conflicting testimonies of a man being put forward for public office who is denying the claims of sexual abuse by a woman. There is the ‘he said, she said’ aspect to it. To be wrongly accused is a nightmare, to be disbelieved and blamed for not coming forward earlier is sadly too often the pattern. There is a further aspect that if this took place decades ago surely forgiveness has to apply and this cannot be held against him. Of course I cannot speak into the current situation as I do not know the ‘facts’. I do though want to take the opportunity to push into the inter-relationship of our faith in Jesus and our faith in the Bible as authoritative.
In Spain there is the now very famous case involving the self-named group ‘the Manada’ (wolf-pack) when the five men of the pack sexually assaulted a woman in a doorway in Pamplona in 2016. This was deemed not to be rape as there was insufficient evidence for violence and intimidation – so declared the judges, one saying she clearly did not fight back, there was no evidence that at any time did she, for example, try to bite any of the men on their privates to stop the attack. So the outcome pronounced by the (male) judges on the case was of no violence, no intimidation, therefore it was not rape! The woman in a dark doorway, five men, filming it on cell phones. Such a verdict normalises the objectivisation of women and the ‘what can you expect’ of the status quo. Indeed some people have suggested that if unwanted physical sexual advances that occurred in the context of school / college becomes the bar then so many men would have to rule themselves out of being fit for public office. Such a response unacceptably normalises the behaviour. Yes, forgiveness… yes people change… but there is a culture also that we have to change.
The challenge for believers is to get beyond the Bible to Jesus. If believers do not look to Jesus, how he treated women, his comments on lust, the inclusion of the divorce rights to women, the elevation of women to receive the same calling as men, his response to the woman caught in adultery etc., there will always be a pull to the default biblical culture, the culture of patriarchy. When we end there men will be cut a whole lot of slack, women will be disbelieved and in the majority of situations where they are brave enough to come forward they will still be labelled as they probably provoked it. Our issue with the Bible is it was written in a patriarchal context. Read the Bible without a Jesus-lens and we males win every time. Read it with a Jesus-lens and we have to critique what we read, for we have God speaking to us but the context of the writing is patriarchal. We must not allow the culture to dictate what the voice is saying or to silence the voice. Allegiance to Jesus demands this of us. Allegiance to Jesus relativises every other allegiance, he alone is the Lord exalted to the right hand of the Father. I can love my nation, marry the land and sow myself in but cannot swear allegiance; I can love the Bible, read it, devour it, but it is to the Jesus that the Bible bears witness to that I give my all. I cannot defend behaviour that is bibically-based but Jesus-denying.
I sympathise with anyone falsely accused. That is horrendous and even when acquitted the ‘there is no smoke without fire’ often remains. Finding a way through on the individual cases is not easy, but the culture has to change.
For the culture to change we have to hear Jesus, for only in hearing him does faith come. To hear him we have to hear those whose speech reflects his voice. In the situations I am writing about it will be all but impossible to hear him without hearing the voice of women. This is not tokenism, nor is it positive discrimination, it is to recognise that the clearest sound will be heard outside the established power structure.
In the Manada case the public outcry resulted in the government putting forward a commission that would review how rape should be defined (currently based on the two elements that have to be shown to be present: violence and intimidation). The members of the commission put forward – all males! Not a hope of there being anything other than a superficial shift in the definition.
Jesus did not come to bring about superficial shifts, but deep cultural ones. It is tragic when (male) believers are the main believers who speak up and the status quo is defended. We pray for transformation… that transformation has to include the diminishing of the patriarchal culture, the culture that is assumed and so defended in the Bible. That culture is what was carried to the cross by Jesus. The women at the cross saw a world coming to an end; the women in the garden saw a new world open up. And for us as Paul said ‘if anyone is in Christ there is a new world’…
A while back I was speaking to a Roman Catholic her in the Iberian peninsula and he spoke of his region that ‘even now there are some evangelicals being born again’. I laughed as one might expect. However, maybe that is what we all need, after all perhaps Nicodemus could be a type of the evangelical of his day and it was to him Jesus said you need to be born again (from above), for without it he would not see the kingdom. The Jesus of the Bible opens the door to new birth; the Bible without Jesus can simply confirm my acceptance of the unacceptable culture I contribute toward.