This week, we continue with our theme Living Faithfully in the Promise. Joshua and the people of Israel retold their story and recommitted themselves to living according to God’s promises. Now we move to the story of Nathan and King David. When, in the last cycle (2014-2015), this reading was assigned, it was just 2 Samuel 12:1-9 and the psalm. This year, the basic events of David’s sins are included. For all of that, this story fits well with our stated theme. David commits sins, is rebuked, and (the main point) repents. We will not always live faithfully to God’s will, but repentance is a part of faithful living.
I don’t disagree with any of that. However, given recent events, I am reminded about the background character in this story, Bathsheba. And, not only am I reminded of her, but I am disturbed (even horrified) by the whole content and context of her experience. Other people have covered this topic better than I ever could, but I cannot in good conscience ignore Bathsheba any longer.
In 2 Samuel 11, Bathsheba is a background character with no agency. She was commanded to appear before her king. She did not seduce David. The extreme difference in power between her and David basically makes any “consent” she may have given coerced at best. This makes David’s crime sexual assault, not adultery, for adultery has the connotation that both parties consent.
Given the fact that women in this culture were seen more as property than as autonomous people, this is sadly not a surprising event. However, one thing that makes this crime even more difficult for our twenty-first-century minds to accept is the Scripture’s legal treatment of women’s virginity and rape as stated in Deuteronomy 22:13-30. David’s response of marrying the woman he assaulted is basically as the Torah commands.
The “good news” is that Bathsheba is never accused of any wrongdoing (as a victim of a rape that was committed in town, she could have been stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)), the blame is entirely where it belongs, on the man who abused the power given to him in the worst ways. But, part of the punishment that Nathan pronounces on behalf of God is that David will experience what Uriah did (or would have if he had lived long enough): David’s wives will be raped by his own son. This is unconscionable.
I have no experience, first or secondhand, related to sexual harassment or assault. As a man, I know that I am far less likely to experience sexual assault, and, since more perpetrators are men, I also need to speak out. I question my right to speak about the experiences way too many people have had (people of all genders). But, I am certain of my responsibility, especially as a man, to stand up and address this. To condemn it. To believe the extraordinarily brave survivors who come forward and share their stories.
Difficult Passages and Faith Formation
But, this is a blog about faith formation for all ages. How do we deal with difficult passages in the Bible, specifically this one? The first step is to figure out how you personally deal with difficult passages in Scripture. Then, address it on your faith formation context. As faith formation leaders, we do more harm than good making Scripture only about rainbows and harps. But, how we address it will differ based on our audience.
- Children: It is not appropriate to discuss sexual assault with small children, though a discussion about “bad touch” and consent could be done delicately. What is appropriate, and necessary, is to include Bathsheba in the story as a person, not a backdrop. Also, do not minimize David’s actions. He did not make a mistake. I personally think “crime” is a better word here than “sin,” since we (appropriately) use the word “sin” to condemn lying to your mother. Don’t let David off the hook here.
- Youth: In an appropriate setting, perhaps gender-separated, carefully talk about Bathsheba, consent, and sexual assault. It will be uncomfortable for everyone involved, but it is too important to ignore. Also, youth are old enough to begin a discussion about the existence of difficult passages in the Bible, and how to wrestle with them.
- Adults: If your audience is just adults, then it is important to lay it all out and engage in a frank discussion. Ask participants to wrestle with this. I think that judicious use of shocking words is important. What does it mean that David, the man after God’s own heart and a hero in the faith, is a sex offender, or sexual predator, or rapist?
- Everyone: I think that a cross+generational (or just multigenerational) context is probably the most difficult. Great consideration should be taken, and much of the frankness that can be used with youth and adults should be considered very carefully. Use the basic principles for addressing this with children, but you can make references and connections to current events that will communicate with the older participants but not the younger.
The first appropriate response to this story, and others like it, is confession, confession of the sins we have directly done, but also our silence and inaction that have allowed harm to come to others. That is why our free activity this week is a litany of confession from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship resource (which is sold as individual worship guides as well as by season and the full NL year). We do, however, need to be cautious about connecting David’s sin here to our own. David’s sexual assault is not even close to me cursing out my neighbor, even though both are sins.
Our second response to this is the more difficult one: action. How do we as individuals and as a community actively respond to issues of sexual harassment, assault, and other such crimes? The answer will be different in different contexts, but the first step must be to acknowledge that these are very real, and all too common, experiences of real beloved children of God.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
It’s not too late to order your 2018-2019 (NL Year 1) faith formation resources! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Fall, Winter and Spring quarters immediately.
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!