By Cathy Hird

Last week, the Violence Prevention Grey Bruce Committee hosted a round table discussion on preventing sexual violence in our community. This gathering of community people and professionals talked openly about a subject that we often find hard to bring to the surface.

In the gathering, I was reminded that the church has been complicit in this violence. Church leaders have been the perpetrators of sexual violence. Churches have not been good at listening to the disclosure of what men and women lived through as children and youth. Some church doctrine has effectively endorsed violence against women.

My point is not to make church people feel guilty. Too often, feeling guilty is the end of the story. Instead, we need to acknowledge our complicity in order to work toward a new way of being in our society.

It occurred to me that right at the beginning of Jesus' story, the fact of sexual violence is acknowledged. The texts that guide the church present the reality of sexual violence and can guide us as we work toward healing and rebuilding.

Most of us don't read the chapter that begins the New Testament. But if we skip the list of who begat whom, we miss the fact that five women are named. It is not that surprising that Mary is mentioned, but the others remind us of deep and painful stories.

Two of the women included in his genealogy, Rahab and Ruth, are foreigners who were brought into the family of Israel. Matthew could have just listed their husbands, but he named these women who expanded the bloodline of Jesus' ancestry.

The other two women, Tamar and Bathsheba, embody stories of injustice and sexual violence.

Tamar's husband died before she had any children. Her father-in-law, Judah, gave her to his second son in order to provide a child to inherit for the one who had died and to provide for Tamar. This man did not fulfill his duty. He died as well.

It seemed to Judah that Tamar was bad luck. He sent her back to her birth family with the promise that when his third son grew up, she would be married to him. But Judah was afraid that this son would die as well, and he did not carry through on this promise.

When Tamar realized that Judah would not keep his promise, she pretended to be a prostitute and went to where he was shearing his sheep. He promised to send her a baby goat as payment, and she asked for his staff and signet as a sign he would pay. When Tamar was found to be pregnant and accused of sleeping around, she showed the signet and staff as evidence of who had fathered her child. Judah acknowledged that she was more righteous than him, restored her position in the family. Tamar was betrayed by the men in her life. She found the strength to fulfill her social obligations while revealing their injustice.

Bathsheba was the wife of one of King David's commanders, a man named Uriah. The king watched her take a bath on the roof of her house, summoned her to his room in the palace and lay with her. She became pregnant.

David tried to hide his action and eventually arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle. Then, he married Bathsheba. Although she would become the mother of the next king, she was the pawn of this one.

The fifth woman named in the list is Jesus' mother Mary. Like the other women, she was at risk from the rules of her society. When she became pregnant, her husband to be threatened not to go through with the marriage. In a dream, God told him that the child would bring God's presence into the world in a new way. Joseph honoured the dream, honoured Mary.

Christian tradition has emphasized Mary's virginity, her holiness. But in the context where Matthew named these other women who suffered injustice, Matthew highlights how vulnerable she was.

In the story of Jesus' work, many of the miracles restored vulnerable women to wholeness. Women played an important role among his followers. As his disciples figured out how to follow his path when he was gone, supporting widows, the most vulnerable of women, was a central task of their growing communities.

The Christian church has not always kept faith with these roots. It has glossed over violence, promoted policies that take power from women, endorsed practices that foster abuse. But here at the beginning of Jesus' story, violation was named and the possibility of a new way was opened up.
Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.


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