Jump directly to the content

Reading Scripture with Sex Abuse Survivors


Jun 30 2011
Elaine Heath's 'We Were the Least of These' offers a healing balm, but should be read alongside more traditional interpretations of Scripture.

Laura survived a rigid and abusive fundamentalist upbringing, then married a Baptist minister who sexually abused her. Now she's an atheist. Vyckie was a wife and mom in the Quiverfull movement who now also leans toward atheism, believing that the Bible necessarily leads to oppressive patriarchy. For these women, and for other survivors of sexual abuse (SA), church just doesn't feel safe, because church—and not just the Catholic Church—is where SA happens. Because of these women's experiences, the image of a male God, presumed by some scriptural interpretations to be primarily interested in men and male interests, is decidedly unattractive.

In the spirit of Phyllis Trible, whose now-classic books God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality and Texts of Terror pioneered explorations of women in Scripture, Elaine A. Heath, professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas, has written a book offering hope to SA survivors and those who 'journey with them.' The title, We Were the Least of These (Brazos Press), hints at Heath's guiding concept: that far from being misogynistic, the gospel is truly good news for victims of SA, that whatever has been done to them ('the least of these') has been done to Jesus, whose death and resurrection is "a living power that lifts us out of the black holes of our lives, that heals our wounds, that removes our shame."

As a pastor-theologian, as well as a survivor of SA herself, Heath exudes compassion for those who've suffered the myriad scars of sexual abuse, and an understanding of how certain readings of Scripture can be deeply therapeutic. The story of Esther is often read as a tale about heroism, with the original queen, Vashti, read as a foolish woman who refused to obey her husband. Heath's reading senses the exploitative nature of King Xerxes' attempt to 'display' his wife, and his generally irascible nature. In this way, Heath understands Esther as an abused woman who is nonetheless strong and able to speak out for others.

Heath's close re-readings of Scripture (granted, from an unapologetically feminist perspective) are illustrated with stories from SA therapists and survivors. The result is a book that's at once strongly theological and thoroughly pastoral, an excellent resource for both survivors and those who seek to offer them solace. Each chapter concludes with points for reflection and recommended activities; there's even a 'retreat plan' for SA survivors, including many creative ideas for therapeutic reflection and re-creation.

From: June 2011

To add a comment you need to be a registered user or Christianity Today subscriber.

orSubscribeor
More from Her.menutics
Q+A: The Story Behind the Jesus Storybook Bible

Q+A: The Story Behind the Jesus Storybook Bible

Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote a kids Bible so popular that they’re releasing an adult version.
We Don’t Age Out of Our Sexuality

We Don’t Age Out of Our Sexuality

Balancing love, desire, and the demands of midlife.
Why I Gave in to Barbie, Even Before Her Size Change

Why I Gave in to Barbie, Even Before Her Size Change

Barbie teaches my girls to play. I’ll let other examples teach them about being a woman.
Give Us a King!: Leadership Theory for Election Season

Give Us a King!: Leadership Theory for Election Season

Historic trends bring context to Trump’s confounding popularity.
Include results from Christianity Today
Browse Archives:

So Hot Right Now

Passion, Revisited: Remembering When I Was Radical for Christ

How can we stay ‘sold out’ for our faith?

Twitter

  • RT @wdavidotaylor: A wonderful interview about a wonderful book. "Q+A: The Story Behind the Jesus Storybook Bible" via @CTMagazine https://2026
  • RT @Jenna_DeWitt: How to submit to @CTmagazine https://t.co/oVb4C22FuZ New submission guides posted today!
  • RT @washingtonpost: There2019s a rift opening on how the U.S. should handle women and military drafts https://t.co/x9wcSSbFpM
  • In defense of creative outlets: Why "serious academics" should crochet too https://t.co/X5PgAN5TH1 @insidehighered
  • Meet the woman behind the beloved Jesus Storybook Bible https://t.co/ppoa8Ak916


What We're Reading

CT eBooks and Bible Studies

Christianity Today
Reading Scripture with Sex Abuse Survivors