Aimee Byrd

Inside the word. Outside the box.

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I have learned so much through the last couple years of confronting abuse from officers in my denomination. There are some things that most of us just cannot be aware of or see clearly unless we, or someone we love, find ourselves in a more vulnerable position. Since I’m using the word abuse, I want to define what that is. In consulting with an expert on the topic, I learned that spiritual abuse is anything where you use your power to do/take from another what is not rightfully yours. That was a helpful definition. I began listing the things that were taken from me. Protection was a big category that I needed to break down: protection of my reputation, physical protection as jokes were made about a possible meet up where I was speaking, vocational security as calls were made warning people who booked me to speak and my writing is being misrepresented, protection in my denomination, and protection of my dignity and personhood. Another thing taken from me was agency and power: power to be notified, power to defend myself, power to seek justice, and power for restoration. Wade Mullen gives another helpful definition:

When someone treats you as an object they are willing to harm for their own benefit, abuse has occurred, and that person has become an abuser. Some of the worst forms of abuse are psychological.

Abuse is all about gaining and retaining power at the expense of another. And it’s a pattern. I also resonate with what Mullen says one needs in order to begin to free yourself from the power of abuse over you:

Freedom comes first by understanding, and understanding means having the language to identify and talk about your situation.

And so I have documented the more public steps of trying to address the officers in Genevan Commons and the undershepherds and process of doing this over the last year:

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Before I was targeted by a number of its leaders, I liked my denomination. I like that it is confessional, and I trusted in the presbyterian government. I have a great community in my local church, and I had confidence in the books of church order. I believed they provided exactly that: an ordered process to protect the vulnerable by using due process of its laws. I never expected to be in the category of the vulnerable.

When I first started experiencing the organized reviling and vicious behavior from officers in my denomination, I trusted that other church officers would confront them and call them to repentance. And if it still continued, I trusted that faithful under-shepherds would use due process to stop the abuse and rectify the damage. But I knew, as I’ve said before, that formal charges should be a last resort because we first want to informally address these heart issues, hoping for change. Hoping for repentance. Hoping for reconciliation. That’s what we really want. Firstly, restoration to Christ. Secondly, to his people.

And in a case when spiritual abuse is involved, the repentant person in spiritual authority should see that they need shepherding at this point and not to have this kind of authority over God’s people. They have so violated trust with God’s people that a sincere apology would include action that is sensitive to this. Voluntarily stepping down would be an action that shows the weight of their responsibility to God as an office bearer as well as putting boundaries in place out of respect for the victims of their abuse. Because they are valued.

That is what we would expect in Christ’s church. And what I’ve learned is that those under spiritual abuse are not protected well by the process, as abusers manipulate it to protect their own power. Even when there are faithful under-shepherds working for righteousness.

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Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew about the Bible: Bird, Michael F.:  0025986538859: Amazon.com: Books

Perhaps the Bible should come with a label: Read Responsibly! Michael Bird’s latest book, Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew About the Bible will help you do just that. Bird acknowledges that the Bible can be hard to understand in places. “Not because it is a book of mystery, magic, or mayhem; rather, because it contains a history distant from our own, it was originally written to ancient audiences in particular contexts, and it was written for us but not to us.” So, Bird does the work to help the reader out. And along the way, he confronts some of the challenges to the Bible in our day.

Some read the Bible as if it just dropped out of the sky in the English translation, perfectly leather bound with study notes. While I’ve certainly encountered the King James only crowd, I think the waters many are swimming in today are more what Bird calls “me and my ESV.” Then there are those who want to say that what we call the Holy Scriptures were really just invented by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. We’ve been duped. So in the first chapter, Bird gives the down low on how the Bible was formed into the canon we read today made up of the Old and New Testaments and translated into the English language.

Next, he gets into that whole tricky issue of divine inspiration and human writers—how does that work? Can we trust the Bible? What does it mean that it is God’s word? What about some of the seeming inconsistencies that we see in Scripture? What’s the difference between inerrancy and infallibility? What is this debate around inerrancy in evangelicalism about? What do different denominations have to say about this? How can we wisely navigate through this? How can we know the Bible is true?

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I saw something on social media saying that Jesus listened to women. It reminded me of something I wrote about in my book, Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Here is an excerpt from my chapter, Girls Interrupted:

What do Rahab, a dog, and the Canaanite woman have in common?  Answer: they all foreshadow the great commission. And this will make some people who really want to know about dogs in heaven happy. But I’ll come back to the dog part later. First, let’s look at two women, separated by more than fourteen hundred years.

Rahab is one of the Gentile women Matthew named in the genealogy of Jesus. Looking at the women in Matthew’s genealogy is an interesting study. While we are used to seeing the women in our own ancestral family trees, as I mentioned earlier most genealogies in that time were patrilineal. And yet along with the fathers, Matthew included Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. This is a curious choice of women to include. These women may not sound like what we are used to being taught regarding “biblical womanhood,” which often encourages women to be passive. But here they are in the genealogy of our Savior.

Why did Matthew include Rahab, for instance? Richard Bauckham insists that it is because Rahab represents God’s openness of his covenant community to the Gentiles. She was a Canaanite, a prostitute even, who openly professed her faith in the God of Israel and was then welcomed to become a member of God’s household. But not only was Rahab admitted into the covenant family; she also has a spot in this blessed genealogy. We covered her story in detail in the last chapter, but now I’d like to connect her with another gynocentric interruption.[1]

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The adjuration to the daughters of Jerusalem in the Song of Songs, thrice repeated, “Do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time” (2:7, 3:5, 8:4), has stubbed the toe of many commentators.  Ellen Davis says that the “wording is ambiguous in Hebrew as in English.” Is the woman in the Song asking not to be disturbed while lovemaking? Paul Griffiths interprets it as the Groom giving the charge not to wake the woman. Or as most interpret it, is this the woman giving advice not to arouse love at the wrong time or with the wrong person? Wait for the proper covenantal context. Don’t settle. Don’t just fall in love and give of your whole self merely for love’s sake. If so, there’s a vertical element to this adjuration that is first in priority.

Again, the short commentary given by Ellen Davis gives me much to meditate on:

Although the Song is certainly not afraid of passion, it exposes that sentimental view of love as an illusion. Genuine love does not just happen to us. The woman’s repeated phrase—“the one whom my soul loves”—alerts us to the truth: love is soul-work, of the most demanding kind. Cultivating a true love relationship, with a person or with God, calls forth sustained effort from the core of our being. Therefore the soul must be prepared, even trained, to love well, just as the body must be trained for rigorous physical action. Faithful sexual love, like the love of God, requires that we learn habits of self-examination and repentance, that we acquire a capacity for self-sacrifice and forgiveness.

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Prey Tell: Why We Silence Women Who Tell the Truth and How Everyone Can  Speak Up: Bluhm, Tiffany: 9781587434785: Amazon.com: Books

Prey Tell—well here is a hard-hitting word play for a hard-hitting book about the silencing of women. Tiffany Bluhm doesn’t use the whimsical approach to try and soften the male reader and help him better digest the hard truths she sets out to convey in this book. It even makes me a little uncomfortable at first—is she going to lose an audience that needs to read this? Not all men want to silence women. Not all men are abusive. I know a LOT of good men! Bluhm just skips the nonsense of this defensiveness to get to the real point: this is a systemic issue in both the secular world and the church and therefore we all have a responsibility in recognizing it and working for change. This is a popular-level book that is backed with research and written in Christian love. And so the book is divided into three sections: Why We Silence Women Who Tell the Truth, How We Silence Women, and How Everyone Can Speak Up.

One thing I really appreciate about this book is learning more about the additional challenges for non-white women and the necessity of hearing from them. One significant way this discrepancy is revealed is in the response to abuse. White women may not think about this, as we already see how awful the response is all around. We experience it. How we are not believed. How little justice there is. But we neglect to see that it is even worse for minorities, who are more likely to be sexually assaulted as well as dismissed or punished for speaking up.

But this book isn’t only about the worst cases of sexual assault. It begins with the silencing—the devaluing—of women. And sadly, it can be in the house of God where we learn this system at a young age. And then we use our own silence as currency for approval:

“I mastered silencing my own voice in order to be of value to the world around me, especially to the men who employed or pastored me.”

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Embodied | Baker Publishing Group

Do you agree or disagree with this statement:

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

Or this one:

“I am my body.”

These statements get at the heart of not only some of the big cultural issues we are facing now, but actually inform our regular, everyday lives. Gregg Allison argues the latter statement in his book Embodied: Living as Whole People in a Fractured World. While it is also true that we have a body, in the sense that it can be “disposed of in a number of ways,” Allison rightfully pushes that we “cannot completely dispose of [our] bod[ies] without at the same time losing [our selves].” And so, he gives us a theology of embodiment. Introducing the book, he summarizes:

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“We don’t need to recover from the Bible.”

I heard these words spoken from behind the pulpit at a presbytery meeting on Saturday. The chair of the ad hoc committee was referring to the title of my book, giving his own commentary. He was supposed to be explaining the committee report’s recommendation regarding charges filed against most of my session of elders and my pastor before the presbyters voted on whether they were in order. There was also supposed to be a vote after that, hearing from another committee report regarding an appeal made by a disciplined elder in my church. Both are related. It is a long, painful story. One I have not shared publicly. But both the local church stuff that I’ve kept more private and the public stuff I’ve been writing about are very much related. And the local is becoming more public, as I am now talked about openly at this presbytery meeting.

I was at this meeting of our Presbytery of the Mid Atlantic to support my elders and pastor. And I also wanted my presence to make a statement that I am an actual real person whom they defended. It was a very small church hosting the meeting. There we were all together. The chair was standing behind the pulpit in a posture to speak authoritatively on behalf of the committee. But he added commentary like this one referring to the title of my book to his recommendations on proper order and such. Yes, a complete contradiction to the process and proper order. But that’s okay, I’ve learned, if you’re the right person.

You don’t have to like the title of my book. This comment was made in reference to breaking the ninth commandment, distinguishing something that my (then) elder had written in an unsolicited email to our entire congregation. He wrote, among many other things, that all the elders had the same concerns about my book as Genevan Commons (GC). But this is not what my pastor testified to saying in this elder’s trial. He testified that he did not have the same concerns as GC. Not at the same level at all. And when asked under oath what his concerns were, he said, for example, he didn’t like the title. I can live with that. It’s not for everyone. But what I can’t accept is this extra commentary given in a presbytery meeting where I have no voice to defend my work. I wasn’t the one they were supposed to be talking about. I had no agency to speak. And most importantly, I never assert that we need to recover from the Bible. Not even close. You don’t have to like the title, but it is there to say that this teaching is not biblical, but a contemporary evangelical movement. Biblicism is not necessarily biblical. How is it okay for this presbyter to add his authoritative voice to misrepresenting my work and poisoning the well to the whole presbytery and I cannot defend it? How is that in order?

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Ancient Silver and copper alloy Egyptian Mirror, Reportedly From: Aswan, Egypt ca. 1478-1390 B.C.E. Brooklyn Museum

The great challenge facing religions with classically male-dominated cultic structures is how to foster the sincere spiritual yearnings of those who by dint of their gender cannot proceed beyond the entrance.

Rabbi Evan Hoffman

Ouch! This cuts so close to home. It is my own experience in the church. Even as a disciple, I could not proceed beyond the entrance. It led me to writing. Rabbi Evan Hoffman writes this as his concluding reflection on Exodus 38:8. And what a strange verse it is. Simply enough, it’s about the making of the bronze basin, the laver for the tabernacle. The verse is sectioned off on its own in most of our Bibles. And it has some peculiarities.

He made the bronze basin and its stand from the bronze mirrors of the women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

Exodus 38:8

This is one of those verses that is supposed to make us stumble a bit. Here are some of the peculiarities:

Why didn’t they use the bronze that was part of the general collection of supplies, of which they had more than they needed (5,310 lbs!)? Why is it notable to mention the basin was made by melted down metal from mirrors given by these specific people?  (Exod. 35:4; 36:4-5; 38:29)

How is it that these women are serving at the tent of meeting when the tabernacle isn’t actually built yet?

Women? Serving? Tent of Meeting? What are these women doing so close to the priestly action?

But I must answer Rabbi Hoffman with another question, Don’t you see that woman’s very body is a homology of sacred space? It, in a sense, symbolizes what is beyond the entrance.

I’ve written an article about this homology for Modern Reformation, and so you’ll have to read that to understand what I am referring to. It signifies the typology of woman, as collective bride of Christ/mother/Zion. Our bodies speak the good news. And maybe this verse standing on its own is a bit of a type-scene of sorts, giving us a picture that is filled out more in the pages of the canon. But first, let’s look at some of the details:

Mirrors

Mirrors reflect but cannot make one beautiful. There’s all kinds of information we can discuss such as how these women got their mirrors from the Egyptian women, or even the interesting midrash about how they used them as resistance to defy Pharaoh, seduce their husbands, and birth the whole host of Israel from their wombs. And Rachel Adelman notes how “the mirror, both as object and symbol, became ritually metonymic for woman and femininity in some Ancient Near Eastern sources.” It’s interesting to think about how such a feminine symbol is selected to make the cultic laver. All that is good stuff. (And remember that word, host.)

But I want to get back to the basics. Mirrors reflect, they show what’s on the outside. What if these women have found their Groom? And he beautifies from the inside. Instead of this dim reflection of their own faces from polished bronze (or copper), they want to reflect the radiance of him—like Moses!  And they did this in their service/ministering at the entrance to the tent. In that sense, they got in beyond the entrance!

Ministering?

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