How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21... and how I explain it now Summarised in fewer than 500 words. workthegreymatter.com

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

Well, having just published 2,600 words explaining this law (and that doesn’t count the footnotes), I thought I’d give the short version. Here it is in fewer than 500 words: Continue reading How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22:13-21... it's not what you think. Forget the hymen. This was about power. And money.. workthegreymatter.com

There was some justifiable outrage recently when rapper T.I. said that he had a gynaecologist annually test that his daughter’s hymen was still intact.

Leaving aside the brutal, if not fatal, penalties that women may suffer even today if they lose their virginity in a socially unacceptable manner, T.I.’s attitude is reminiscent of Old Testament times.

Or is it?

CONTENT WARNING for discussion of murder and toxic purity culture.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

So, do we:

  1. Take Deuteronomy 22:13-21 as nevertheless prohibiting all pre-marital sex,
  2. Write it off as an ancient relic, void of Christian love as we know it, or
  3. Say there’s got to be more here than meets the eye?

In case you hadn’t guessed, this post is all about option 3. (If you want a summary in fewer than 500 words, click here.) Continue reading About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

What exactly is this ‘preaching’ MacArthur speaks of, that he says it’s categorically beyond all women?

Picture of a closed black Bible resting on an ornate lectern, with the words: What exactly is this 'preaching' MacArthur speaks of, that he says it's categorically beyond all women? workthegreymatter.com

John MacArthur was recently asked what he thought of Beth Moore. In addition to telling her to ‘go home’, he said: “There’s no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher – period – paragraph – end of discussion.” (Video here.)

[For those less familiar: if you want a flavour of the more recent controversy around Beth Moore, try reading this Church Leaders article from May 2019: Beth Moore Has Had Enough of ‘Sinful’ Evangelical Misogyny. John MacArthur is on Wikipedia here.]

This ‘no case that can be made biblically’ statement has got me scratching my head a little. I mean…

Before Zelophehad’s daughters, there was no scriptural case for daughters inheriting. (Numbers 27:7-11) Continue reading What exactly is this ‘preaching’ MacArthur speaks of, that he says it’s categorically beyond all women?

Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Picture of woman sitting outside with her eyes closed and a slight frown, holding a closed copy of the Bible, with the words: Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws? workthegreymatter.com

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What I blog about and what I want to blog about, do not always align.

The Old Testament laws on sex, adultery and rape, particularly those in Deuteronomy 22:13-29, are a sensitive topic to say the least. Whenever I find an angle to write about, my inner caution tends to apply the brakes before my enthusiasm gets to the point of posting.

It’s not that this is a topic to be enthusiastic about, per se. It’s just that, in the last few years, the biblical scholarship I’ve read on these passages has absolutely blown my mind. And the more feminist literature I read (currently working through Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth), the more I believe the church needs to re-evaluate its relationship with these verses.

If you’re now raising your eyebrow at me, I’m gonna guess it’s for one of several reasons. I’ll take them in turn. Continue reading Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained

Picture of wooden crucifix on a table, with the words "I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained"

You’ll get the most out of this post if you first read the previous one. Basically, I went to a talk where a man preached that Jesus took humanity’s punishment when Jesus suffered on the cross. At the end I said I didn’t think was supported by the bible, but rather Jesus took humanity’s sin.

In the previous post, I talked about what the theology of penal substitutionary atonement is, why I have such issue with it, what this man actually said, and what I said by way of challenge.

This post charts my experiencing of going into that talk, coming away from it, and how people responded to me.

I’m sharing this because one of the most pressing questions of the current time is how people can raise their voices and be heard and bring about positive change. I don’t have all the answers, but my reflections on this particular incident may give people helpful food for thought. Continue reading I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained

This is not a defence of Ezer Rising; it’s a lament over evangelicalism

Primrose Everdeen from the Hunger Games with the words "Remember who the real enemy is and who we're fighting for"
Primrose Everdeen from The Hunger Games – MockingJay part 2

Last week was eventful.

On Tuesday (11th December) I received a message from a friend about a recent post on Medium titled The Ezer Rising Story.

The friend was Sierra White, who founded and runs a small social media platform called Ezer Rising. The post was an account from six people, five of whom were former members of the Ezer Rising team, about how Sierra was abusive and the platform wasn’t a safe space.

Sierra said she was “just floored.”

It wasn’t the first time she had messaged me and others in this way. Like the previous times, I encouraged her not to respond. Though, unlike the previous times, I decided I would.

I say this post is not a defence of Ezer Rising, that’s because this post isn’t about Ezer Rising, per se. It’s about evangelicalism and why this whole sorry mess makes me weep.  Continue reading This is not a defence of Ezer Rising; it’s a lament over evangelicalism

Evangelicals can’t sanitise Vicky Beeching’s conversion exorcism as badly worded prayers

Vicky Beeching book Undivided with text Evangelicals can't sanitise Vicky Beeching's exorcism as just badly worded prayer

When I first read the interview in which Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching came out as a lesbian (after a substantial performing career in the USA’s Bible Belt), I found myself faced with a number of challenges. Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest one for me related to how she had undergone an attempted exorcism. It had been aimed at converting her sexual orientation from gay to straight and she had been traumatised by this experience.

I wanted to understand why this was the case. (In all honesty, this wasn’t obvious to me.)

Now, reading her recent memoir-cross-apologetic Undivided, where she defends both her gay identity and LGBTQ+ identities in general, I still have questions, but I also have more answers.

And one thing above all is clear to me: this attempted exorcism ought not be described as merely ‘spontaneous prayers that could have undoubtedly been worded better’. This is what Peter Lynas said whilst writing for (and on behalf of?) the UK Evangelical Alliance. There is much that can be said about his review, but for this post I’ll focus on just these words. I expect many LGBTQ+ advocates would say these words demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding the nature of the offence that conversion therapy presents to them. I think there is something to that, but what I want to show here is how these words fail to take responsibility for beliefs and practices around healing ministries.

I’ll try to explain my reasons as gently as I can.

CONTENT NOTE: This post describes Vicky’s experience of attempted conversion prayer (using details from her book) as well as some anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.

Continue reading Evangelicals can’t sanitise Vicky Beeching’s conversion exorcism as badly worded prayers

Whose values will I embody? On recent politics, St Paul, and Frozen.

Historically, I’ve not been one to put much store in icons of saints. Coming from a Protestant background, visual images of “holy people” seem more like an idolatrous waste of time – and why bother with the saints anyway when we have Jesus? The other week though, my breath was caught by an icon of Paul. He was holding his letters, on which was a small image of St Paul’s Cathedral, and a Huia bird sat on his shoulder. In that moment, my heart ached like I had just discovered a happy photograph of a much beloved grandparent who had passed away years ago.

My reaction was no doubt informed by the fact that I’d recently read an essay that discussed how people can relate to historical figures by seeking to embody that person’s values. Given how much Paul has been in my thinking in recent months, and how much I have grown to admire him, it meant something to me to see a face that was his face. I now had more than just letters; I had an image.

Over the last week my social media feed has been inundated with images and sounds surrounding the separation of migrant children from their parents in the US. Continue reading Whose values will I embody? On recent politics, St Paul, and Frozen.

More than memories: why I am not afraid of losing our holiday to epilepsy

Lefty catcher's mitt holding baseball on table

“What would you say your favourite series of films, books or TV shows would be?” my husband asked.

I kept my eyes on the motorway as I waited for our passenger in the back seat to answer. The evening was quickly passing from dusk into night and I was conscious of the headlights of other cars as they came flickering into my vision. It was nothing I wasn’t used to, just now I was more conscious of it. That’s what happens when a friend with epilepsy comes to stay for a week.

“Wait,” I asked, “were you talking to me?” Indeed he had been.

So what was my favourite series? The obvious candidates came to mind: Lord of the Rings, Babylon 5, Harry Potter. Except that I’d grown tired of the LOTR films and wasn’t familiar enough with the books to name it as my greatest fandom. I had much respect for J Michael Straczinsky’s Babylon 5, but it wasn’t something that I could immerse myself in again and again.

Was I going to say that Harry Potter was my greatest fandom? After all, we were driving back from Warner Studios in Watford. Day trips to the set of Harry Potter don’t exactly happen by accident.

“Actually, I think it would probably have to be the anime series Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex. The thing about it,” I said, “is that it shows me concepts, images and stories, important ones, that I’ve found nowhere else. Not even in Harry Potter.”

This was going to take some explaining to our guest.  Continue reading More than memories: why I am not afraid of losing our holiday to epilepsy

Books of 2017: Titles for those who are looking outside the box

As I finally come to write reviews of this last cluster of books from 2017 I realise that I’ve probably more not read them, than read them. Sorry about that. This batch is probably of most interest to people who are questioning some of the answers they’ve been given by the church, particularly around sex, sexuality and gender. There’s also some sci-fi. Here are the books I’ll give you a little flavour of:

  • Damaged Goods
  • God, Sex & Gender
  • Making sense of Sex
  • Searching Issues
  • Say Goodbye to Hollywood (fiction)
  • Lord of Light (fiction)
  • Soul Bare

Continue reading Books of 2017: Titles for those who are looking outside the box

45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent

Candles surrounding the cross in Norwich Cathedral

With the recent trending of the hashtag #ChurchToo, people are sharing their experiences of abuse in the church. Meanwhile, others are asking questions about whether it’s just ‘a few bad apples’ or a systemic problem.

It’s a systemic problem.

Sure, it’s easy to say it’s a matter of “bad theology” or that people who abuse aren’t “true Christians”. But that doesn’t remove responsibility from the wider church to acknowledge the structural and theological problems within the church, name them as such, and work to address them. As a practising Christian, I fervently believe that the church can be, and will be, a powerful mediator of God’s transforming power in the world. But until we name these things as wrong, or at the very least as distortions and glib practices missapplied to their context, we will not have the impetus to change them.

And we must change them if we are to fulfil our calling.

So, here’s a list of 45 practices I associate with the church and the problems they lead to when it comes to consent. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. And I don’t mean to suggest that consent is the only issue worth talking about. But it’s what I blog about.

I’ve categorised the list into issues relating to authority, sex, marriage, sin and gender.  Continue reading 45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent