Abuse of Power (#MeToo)

2 Samuel 11:1-15

"In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”"

Prayer – Gracious God – when we hear of abuse of power many of us are angered and frustrated while others think it is just ‘par for the course.’ The disparity between power all too often results in abuses, where the one with power lords it over someone with lesser power. Grant us the courage to speak truth to these abuses and seek justice as well as mercy – for those who are wronged as well as for those who abuse – amen.

Our passage this morning tells the story of David’s rape of Bathsheba.  Historically biblical scholars and the Church have equivocated on calling King David’s action rape, typically asserting that David and Bathsheba were guilty of adultery.  Having to prove to you or any reader of this passage that Bathsheba was raped is uncomfortably similar to the plight in which many women and girls find themselves, having to prove to the police and the general public that they were raped.  I say women and girls here, not to negate the very real experience of boys and men who also experience sexual assault, but because women and girls are so often disbelieved.

Our text this morning indicates that David held all of the power and his actions of sexual assault constitute rape with the evidence including that he commanded his soldiers to “take” her.  Neither his soldiers nor Bathsheba had the option to refuse. David clearly abused his power as King to ‘take’ what he wanted. Bathsheba as a woman had no choice, as a subject of David’s kingdom, she couldn’t refuse him, or she would have been put to death.  And, only David was held accountable by God and Nathan later in 2 Samuel. Bathsheba was never accused of our punished for adultery in scriptures.

So you may wonder, as I have, why the church has historically chosen to ignore or disbelieve that David’s actions were indeed sexual assault, rape, and attempted to downplay the incident.  Why has the church chosen to pay very little attention to the feelings of David’s victim, Bathsheba? In what ways has this pattern been profligate by society since? And why does the church seemingly continue to either disavow or fail to bring to light the sexual abuse that occurs within the context of ministry?  

Bathsheba’s presentation in scriptures is uncommon – her name is preserved when only about nine percent of personal names in the Hebrew Bible belong to women.  She is identified with regard to her ancestral family and with regards to her marriage to Uriah. Perhaps the text’s emphasis on Bathsheba’s family is to indicate that she was a good woman, from a good family, in the same way contemporary conversations often turn to what the victim was doing or wearing.  Frequently preachers have accused Bathsheba of flaunting herself when she bathes out of doors, even making herself visible to the king as if David’s actions were her fault. How many men have attempted to blame the victim for his abuse of power when it comes to sexual assault and rape?

In the aftermath of the rape, the text says the Bathsheba purified herself of her ‘uncleanness.’  Many translations render this as after her period which is a possibility, but I would assert that Bathsheba does what many rape victims do; she washes as much of the rape off of herself as she can.  She probably feels as if she will never be clean again.

We later learn that she has to send word to David that she is pregnant – another humiliation.  Through how many hands and mouths did that message pass before it reached David’s ears? In order to hide his transgression, David sent for Bathsheba’s husband from the battlefront and then secretly orders his general to make sure that Uriah is killed in battle.  Isn’t that like a King to try to cover-up his transgressions so no one will learn of his abuse of power?

Sexual abuse is any form of sexual violence, including rape, child molestation, incest and similar forms of non-consensual sexual contact.  Most sexual abuse experts agree sexual abuse is never about sex; rather, it is often an attempt to gain power over others – an abuse of power.

Sexual abuse is common, particularly for women and girls.  Ninety percent of all rapes are committed against women. One in six women in America has experienced rape or non-consensual sexual contact.  One in five girls and one in twenty boys experience childhood sexual abuse. Sexual abuse and sexual assault are umbrella terms used to refer to multiple crimes – rape which is forced sexual contact with someone who does not or cannot consent – such as Bathsheba.  Forcing sex on someone who does not want it is rape.

So take a moment and look around the room.  Note how many women are present and apply the statistics.  Note how many men are present and apply the statistics. Also note that the rates of sexual assault against homosexual and bisexual individuals are higher than rates for heterosexual people.  And about 2/3 of transgender people will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. Sexual crimes in the LGBTQ community are often not reported because survivors often fear revealing their gender identity or sexual orientation to others.  Trust of the legal system for all people who are sexual violence victims is low to say the least.

Many victims of sexual assault feel that their bodies are no longer their own.  Survivors often report feelings such as shame, terror and guilt. Many blame themselves for the assault.  As a survivor of being molested by a neighbor while growing up I can speak to that sense of shame and guilt.  I was afraid of my neighbor and when I entered middle school I hated gym class because I was quite certain that everyone could ‘see’ the fact that I had been abused when I entered the locker room after class and had to take a shower before my next class.  Another consequence of my abuse has been attachment issues where I have struggled with intimacy and have often been too eager to form close attachments. And like many victims of such abuse, I never reported the abuse to the authorities and it was 24 years before I ever told my parents, long after my abuser had died.

Today we have the #MeToo movement as well as the Time’s Up Movement.  Though different in some ways, these two movements are rapidly raising the awareness of sexual violence and are doing the work to end sexual violence.  The #MeToo movement has been around for years before it started gaining attention after allegations of sexual assault and harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein began dominating the headlines.  My guess is that this movement will become even more vocal as we hear more from women who are empowered to speak the truth of their own victimization by those who have abused their power. One can hope that #MeToo may bring about a cultural transformation by encouraging millions to speak out about sexual violence and harassment.  As a victim of sexual abuse I know how crucial it is for survivors to understand that they are not alone.

As we hear of more and more people who share their stories of abuse, it is crucial that we respond with empathy and grace.  Historically, just as our biblical story this morning has often been interpreted, society has tried to divert attention away from those who have abused their power to blaming or at the least undermining the victims.  Bathsheba was no more guilty or complicit than any other victim of sexual abuse or rape. May God hold in the light those who abuse their power while also pouring compassion and love upon those who have experienced what Bathsheba has.  And may we raise our voices against this abuse of power now and always – all of those who can speak #MeToo ask you to speak out as well – amen.