Small Group Activities

Guidelines for Bible StudyThe Story of HagarThe Story of Jephthah’s Daughter
The Story of TamarThe Story of the Unnamed WomanStudy Group on Pastoral Sexual Abuse

Guidelines for Bible Study

Purpose:  To interact with biblical stories about violence against women to see how they can bring life to the church within our present context.

Resources needed:  Bibles for everyone, pens and paper

When you plan the Bible study, think about how many people might attend. Between 5 and 12 people is a good size for a Bible study such as this. If your group is larger, plan to divide into small groups for discussion around a question, as many people are uncomfortable speaking in larger group settings.

Each Bible study should take between 60 to 90 minutes.

Format: Begin with prayer for God’s guidance in reading Scripture. Compose your own prayer or use the one provided here.

God, may our reading of the Bible today
help us walk with people of faith from long ago.
Help us to walk out of Egypt to the Red Sea,
through the desert to Mt. Sinai.
Be with us as we sit on the shores of the Sea of Galilee,
and kneel in the garden of Gethsemane.
May the companion of those who walked the Emmaus road
open the Scriptures to us
and bring us peace and understanding. Amen.

  1. Read the story aloud, taking turns with different people reading a few verses at a time.
  2.  When you’ve finished reading the story, give people 5 – 10 minutes to read the story quietly to themselves. Invite people to interact with the text by writing something down. Choose one of:
  • write down a word or a phrase that jumps out at you
  • write down different emotions you are feeling as you re-read the story
  • write down any questions you might have as you read the story

Choose one of these. Each of these actions is equally useful in order to get people to read the story carefully. (Do not give people three things to do, as they will get confused, and not remember what it is they are supposed to be doing.)

Allowing people to sit quietly with the text is helpful for those people who are introverted and like to process things internally. The extroverts in your group will likely be keen to start talking as soon as the reading is done, but allow time for silent meditation.

3. Ask people to share their initial responses to the story. As a facilitator, prepare ahead by choosing a few questions from the list of questions that you think your group will find thought-provoking. Don’t read all the questions to them, just choose one or two. Don’t be afraid of silence after your questions, people may need some time to think. You might want to share something from “Understanding the story” in the course of the discussion.

The Bible study sheets are not meant to be duplicated and distributed. If you do that, people will focus on their paper and be anxious to read every word and absorb all the information. The method for this Bible study is verbal, allowing people to ask questions and interact from their own experience with the story.

4. You could spend most of your time on the first section of the questions, but make sure that you move the group along to the second set of questions in “Connecting with the story”. The purpose of these questions is to encourage the group to apply the story that they’ve read to their own lives and to the Canadian context. Encourage the participants to be practical about how the story could be used in your own congregation.

5. Close the Bible study with prayer, giving thanks for new insights, lamenting about sorrows people have shared, and asking for strength to work for justice and peace.

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The Story of Hagar

Read the story:  Genesis 16:1-16, 21:8-21

Understanding the story
  • What are your emotions as you read this story?
  • Is the story familiar, have you read it before?
  • Have you heard it used in church?
  • What do you imagine Hagar’s life was like up to the point where the story begins?
  • Given the words of Sarai in Genesis 16:2, how do you think Sarai felt towards
  • God?
  • How free was Sarai in that society?
  • Because Hagar despises Sarai, did Hagar have a role to play in the breakdown of
  • their relationship?
  • What other women in the Hebrew Bible are visited by an angel?
  • How do you feel about the words spoken to Abraham in Genesis 21:12-13?
  • Name the power imbalances you see in the story.
  • How do you feel about Abraham’s role?

What Abraham did in taking a slave as his wife was acceptable legal practice in the Near Eastern World. Hagar’s son was his legitimate heir by law, and so Ishmael was a real threat to Isaac.

Some people critique this story, saying that it is too focused on the male characters, Abraham and Ishmael. In Gen. 21:13, God says Ishmael will prosper because he is Abraham’s son. However, in Gen. 16:10 the angel of the Lord talks about Hagar’s descendants being too numerous to count.

Sarai seems to hold a lot of power over Abraham. Abraham always seems to do what Sarai wants. He does not abandon her, even though he legally could have because she did not give him children. Even God seems to be on Sarai’s side sometimes. The narrator of the story does not judge Sarai for her actions.

Hagar has the remarkable experience of seeing and talking to God — the only woman in Hebrew Scripture to do so. She is not a wealthy or powerful woman. She is a young slave girl from a foreign country. When we talk about famous women in the Bible, people often mention Sarah, but less frequently remember Hagar.

Hagar names God. El-Roi can be translated “The God Who Sees Me.” Hagar thought she was totally alone, but God was with her even when she felt most abandoned. In some ways, this is a reverse story of the Exodus. God tells her to return to the bondage she was fleeing. Pregnant and alone in the desert, Hagar seems to have been trying to get home to Egypt, as the wilderness of Shur is on the border of Egypt. The fact that she left in the first place shows that Hagar had great courage. She was nearing her home country, it may be that she would have survived in Egypt, her home. She makes the choice to go back.

Both Sarai and Hagar are women who have very few options. The childless Sarah is failing at the one thing that her society expected of her: being a mother. In patriarchal culture she would have been seen as cursed because she hadn’t conceived: the story shows us that she believed God was preventing her from having children. Hagar is a woman who is also disadvantaged in the culture because she is a foreigner from Egypt, and a slave.

We pick up the story of Hagar’s life in mid-stream; we don’t know how she became a slave. Certainly being chosen to bear a child for a wealthy man might have led her to believe that her life would be easier. Even if Abraham didn’t care for her, she would be protected by her son who would be Abraham’s heir.

Connecting with the story
  • Who are the Hagars of today, and how are they treated?
  • What makes us most uncomfortable in this story? Why?
  • How was power used in abusive ways in this story?
  • How did class, nationality and gender intersect?
  • The story of Hagar could be read as saying, “Go back to the person who abused
  •    you.” What do we do with the part of the story that talks about submission?
  • How can this story be life-giving for us in the Canadian context today?
  • What are the similarities and differences between our societies?
  • How could this story be used in a worship service?

“As a symbol of the oppressed, Hagar becomes many things to many people. Most especially, all sorts of rejected women find their stories in her. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, …the pregnant woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady …the welfare mother and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to others.” (Phyllis Tribe, Texts of Terror, p. 28)

In that culture and that time, there would have been very few options for Hagar. She was alone in the wilderness; the story does not even mention whether she took food with her. She found a spring to get water, but wild animals would certainly have been coming to the spring as well. She was alone and vulnerable. No man would have wanted to take her on as a slave because she was pregnant with someone else’s child. Were Hagar’s parents still alive?  Was she hoping to go back to Egypt?  Had she been sold or captured into slavery?  The only thing Hagar had was her body and her unborn child. The angel tells her to return to Sarah. When Hagar decides to leave the second time, Ishmael is a teenager, and would have been able to help Hagar find food and shelter.

Womanist Bible scholars and authors like Renita Weems, Delores Williams, Joan Martin, Clarice Martin, Katie Canon, Cheryl Gilkes, Kelly Brown, and many others have stepped into the biblical dialogue by using the experience of African-American women as the starting place for a dialogue with the sacred stories of the Bible. They emphasize the African-American interpretation of the story of Hagar, the Egyptian woman in Genesis. It’s a story of relationships between women of different races in a world dominated by male power structures. How do privileged women today relate to the women who serve them, whether as domestics in their homes, in public establishments such as restaurants, dry cleaners, and nail salons, or, at an even greater distance, in the Global South, where many of our clothes and shoes are made.

In worship we refer to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sometimes people who are being inclusive talk about the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel. Consider speaking about our God as the God of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah.

For more information about Hagar:

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The Story of Jephthah’s daughter

Read:  Judges 11:1-11, 29-40

Understanding the Story

  • What are your emotions as you read this story?
  • Is the story familiar, have you read it before?
  • Have you heard it used in church?
  • What do you imagine the daughter’s life was like before this story?
  • How free was she?
  • Why don’t we know her name?
  • What role did the girl’s acceptance of the sacrifice play in her death?
  • Why do you think the story emphasizes her virginity?
  • Where is God in the story?
  • Why doesn’t the story tell us that it was wrong for the girl to be sacrificed?
  • Name the power imbalances you see in the story.
  • How do you feel about Jephthah’s life?
  • Why do you suppose that there is no mention of Jephthah’s wife?
  • The daughter bargains for two months to mourn; what does this bargaining reveal
  • about the young woman?
  • What is the role of the daughter’s friends in the story?

The story takes place when the Israelites were trying to maintain their territory, probably between 1200-1250 BCE. The Israelites did not yet have a king, but were ruled by various charismatic leaders.

Jephthah is identified as a son of a prostitute. Other legitimate sons in his family of origin had driven him away so he did not receive an inheritance. We don’t know why the father of Jephthah does not prevent him from being abused. There are parallels between Jephthah and Ishmael because of how they were treated by their families, and because they were both driven away from their own country. Jephthah is invited to return to his own country, but he appears to have doubts that he will really be accepted (11:9).

Child sacrifice was acceptable at that time period. The Ammonites, the people Jephthah and the people of Israel were fighting, regularly sacrificed children to appease Molech, their god. The God of Israel had prohibited the practice of sacrificing children (see Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-5). The Israelites were often tempted to worship Molech; King Solomon even built a temple for Molech (I Kings 11:7). The prophet Jeremiah speaks out against worshiping Molech and the practice of child sacrifice (Jeremiah 32:35).

Somehow Jephthah believes that God has asked him to take this vow. Did Jephthah think that an animal would come to meet him, or a servant? It was a dangerous vow for him to make as it was customary for women in the household to come out dancing to meet returning warriors. Abraham also believed that God called him to sacrifice his son Isaac; at the last minute, God provided a substitute, and Isaac was saved. In this story, no substitute is found and the girl perishes.

Jephthah blames his daughter for what happens. He says it is her fault. In normal circumstances, he would have been angry if she didn’t come out and meet him dancing, but now he blames her for this. He is more concerned with the misery he is suffering than with her feelings.

Both Jephthah and his daughter suffer because of their parents. Jephthah suffered because of who his mother was, and because of the inaction of his father. Jephthah’s daughter suffers because of her father.

Connecting with the Story
  • Which women in our society are unnamed, like Jephthah’s daughter?
  • What makes us most uncomfortable in this story? Why?
  • How was power used in abusive ways in this story?
  • The story of Jephthah’s daughter could be read as saying, “Submit to death because of your father’s actions.” What do we do with the part of the story that
  • talks about submission?
  • Do you think the daughter was courageous?
  • How are women today courageous in hopeless situations?
  • How can this story be life-giving for us in the Canadian context today?
  • What is the significance of groups of women gathering to remember women who
  • have died today?
  • How could this story be used in a worship service in your congregation?

The story emphasizes a number of times that the daughter was a virgin, and had no children. The daughter had no children who would remember her name. However, the women who mourned with her did remember her. The story tells us that it became a tradition in Israel to mourn the death of Jephthah’s daughter. Each year, Hebrew women would gather together for four days in a special place to remember the young woman who was killed. Jephthah’s daughter’s name is forgotten, but she is not forgotten.

Read Hebrews 11:32-34. Here Jephthah is named among the faithful of God. Ironically, it is his name that is remembered in the New Testament, and not the story of his unnamed daughter whom he killed.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the American crusader for women’s rights, wrote in 1895 about her frustration with Jephthah’s daughter’s meekness:

“This Jewish maiden is known in history only as Jephthah’s daughter —she belongs to the no-name series. The father owns her absolutely, having her life even at his disposal. We often hear people laud the beautiful submission and the self-sacrifice of this nameless maiden. To me it is pitiful and painful. I would that this page of history were gilded with a dignified whole-souled rebellion. I would have had the daughter receive the father’s confession with a stern rebuke saying: ‘I will not consent to such a sacrifice…. You may sacrifice your own life as you please, but you have no right over mine….My first duty is to develop all the powers given to me and to make the most of myself and my own life. Self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice. I demand the immediate abolition of the Jewish law on vows. Not with my consent can you fulfill yours.’ This would have been a position worthy of a brave woman.” (The Women’s Bible, Part II, pp. 25-26).

Every year women gather on December 6 to remember the women who were slain in the Montreal massacre. Similarly, women around the country gather at candlelight vigils to mourn women who have been killed by violence. Mourning together raises consciousness about the wastefulness and evil of violence; it can energize people to work to prevent violence against women.

“The Bible never says whether Jephthah lived to regret sacrificing his daughter. We never know whether he lived long enough to admit that he was wrong in equating his will with God’s will. We can only hope. But it is possible to change. Change your mind. Change your thinking. It is possible to be changed. The desire for the approval of others drove Jephthah to make a rash vow to God. In his zeal to prove that he was a man of honor he convinced himself that sacrificing his daughter’s life was the right thing to do. Presumably Jephthah kept his vow, and in so doing, broke his daughter’s heart, broke our hearts as readers, and I dare say, broke God’s heart.

Ah! It’s possible sometimes for you to be both right and wrong at the same time. We’re like the Gileadite Jephthah: we do the right thing by doing the wrong thing. Sincere, but wrong. We know only so well in our times how easy it is to equate wrong with right, hate with holiness, and murder with faithfulness. We don’t have to look very far. The horrific bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the thousands of lives that were lost in the terrorist takeover of commercial air flights, the bombings, raids, and retaliations throughout the Middle East (Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, Turkey, Pakistan) and elsewhere in the world in the name of right, righteousness, justice, holiness… even God.” Renita Weems, Radio program “Sincerely wrong” #4522, March 17, 2002

Close the Bible Study with these words of lament by Phyllis Trible (Excerpted from “Lament” by Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror, 108-109).

Daughter of Jephthah, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death a virgin child,
Greeting her father with music and dances,
facing his blame with clarity and strength.

Ye daughters of Israel, weep for your sister,
who suffered the betrayal of her foolish father,
who turned to you for solace and love.

How are the powerless fallen
in the midst of victory!

The daughter of Jephthah lies slain upon thy high places.
I weep for you, my little sister.
Very poignant is your story to me:
your courage to me is wonderful,
surpassing the courage of men.

How are the powerless fallen,
a terrible sacrifice to a faithless vow!

For more information on Jephthah’s daughter:

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The Story of Tamar

Read:  2 Samuel 13:1-22

Understanding the story:
  • What are your emotions as you read this story?
  • Is the story familiar, have you read it before?
  • Have you heard it used in church?
  • What do you imagine Tamar’s life was like up to the point where the story
  • begins?
  • How free was Tamar in that society?
  • Why did Tamar ask Amnon not to send her away?
  • Name the power imbalances you see in the story.
  • How do you feel about David’s actions/inaction?
  • Where is God in the story?

This story of incest is in the family of one of the most famous people in the Bible. David’s son Amnon rapes Tamar, David’s daughter by a different mother. Absalom, Tamar’s full brother is outraged and kills Amnon in revenge.

The story clearly portrays Amnon as the villain who plots against an innocent woman. The story shows him scheming, lying and hating his half-sister. He ignores the cultural customs that would have kept him from raping his sister. The story says that he “loves” her. The love is obviously lust, as it disappears as soon as he has raped her.

Tamar appeals to Amnon, saying that if he asks David for her hand in marriage, David would give her to him. This was customarily not done in that culture, but Tamar suggests that Amnon is such a favourite with David, that he would bend these rules to please his son. Tamar is trying to save her life; she knows that her hope for marriage and children are ruined by the rape. If she marries her brother, she at least will have the dignity of living in her own home and having children of her own.

The story is about an imbalance of power. Amnon has the power to rape his sister; he is bigger and stronger than she is. David has the power to make justice, but does nothing to punish Amnon for what he has done.

The story tells us that David is “furious”. However Amnon is his first-born son, the one who will be king after him. It is too costly for him to give up Amnon and send him away in disgrace, so while David is angry, he tolerates the behaviour. Tamar’s dignity is worth less to him than Amnon’s presence. It may be that David’s toleration of this abomination is what sets Absalom against his father so deeply.

The family dynamic is complex. It appears that Amnon is well-loved by David. This makes sense since Amnon is David’s first-born. We find out later, after Absalom has tried to become king in David’s place and is killed, that David truly loved Absalom, even in spite of his rebellion. The story does not tell us how David felt towards Tamar, other than that he is furious when she is violated. A beautiful young daughter was valuable to the King; he could have married her to someone to form an important political alliance. It may be that he did love her, but not enough to give up his first-born son.

It may be that there was rivalry between Amnon and Absalom. David certainly loved Absalom deeply. 2 Sam 14:25 says: “Now in all Israel there was no one to be praised so much for his beauty as Absalom.” Absalom certainly had the charisma to lead people, as he instigates a revolt against the popular King David, and “stole the hearts of the people of Israel.” (15:6) Amnon might have felt threatened by Absalom, and wanted to hurt him by violating his sister. He refers to Tamar as “Absalom’s sister”. It may be that she is treated as a pawn in a power game between two brothers.

Jonadab is Tamar’s cousin. It may be that he seeks to ingratiate himself with Amnon, the future king. He seems willing to sacrifice Tamar’s life for his own influence with Amnon. Later in the chapter, when Amnon is dead, we see Jonadab trying to comfort King David, still trying to find influence. Jonadab explains the family dynamic concerning Absalom’s rage against Amnon, conveniently leaving out his own part in that story.

If you have time, read the rest of chapter 13 to see how Absalom gets his revenge on Amnon. Violence begets violence in this story.

Connecting with the story:
  • How are modern families divided by incest the same or different than Tamar’s
  • family?
  • Did Tamar have a choice about how to respond to the rape?
  • How is Canadian society similar to Tamar’s society? How is it different?
  • How do the actions of Jonadab and Amnon’s servants affect Tamar’s life?
  • How do we see people facilitating violence against women today?
  • What makes us most uncomfortable in this story? Why?
  • How was power used in abusive ways in this story?
  • How does this story relate to the current #MeToo movement to name violation?
  • How could this story be used in a worship service?

There is a male conspiracy for this rape: Jonadab, Tamar’s cousin, plots her violation. The male servants leave so she can be raped, and after the rape, a servant throws her out and bolts the door. Did the servants have any choice in their actions? What would have happened if they refused to co-operate?

Tamar chooses to publicly mourn the way she has been violated. She rips her clothes, throws ashes on her head, and leaves wailing. There is no doubt to everyone she meets that this is a woman in crisis. If she had tried to cover up what happened, it may be that the servants would have spread the story, and she would have been disgraced. They may have said she went with her brother willingly. It may be that she would have become pregnant and been disgraced. Publicly declaring that she has been violated is her way of showing that it was not her fault. It is her way of calling for justice from her powerful father.

Absalom tries to comfort Tamar by saying that she “should not take it to heart”. These are hollow words indeed, for she has been sexually violated by her brother, and the cultural context of that time dictated that her future was ruined. Her hopes for children and her own home were shattered.

The story tells us that Tamar lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house. A few chapters later we hear that Absalom had three sons and a daughter. (2 Sam 14:27)  The daughter is called Tamar, and is described as a beautiful woman, just as her aunt had been called beautiful. Tamar, Absalom’s sister, may have helped to raise the girl, since they lived in the same household together.

We are not told the story of Absalom’s family. Later in the story, Absalom is killed as a traitor because he has rebelled against his father the king. He had been heir to the throne and then king himself before he became a fugitive. What happened to his wife, Tamar his sister, and his children when he died? We are not told whether King David shelters them. We don’t know the ending to their story. What do you imagine the ending was?

For more information about Tamar:

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The Story of the Unnamed Woman

Read Judges 19

Understanding the story:
  • What are your emotions as you read this story?
  • Is the story familiar; have you read it before?
  • Have you heard it used in church?
  • What do you imagine the woman’s life was like up to the point where the story
  • begins?
  • How free was the woman in that society?
  • How do the words of the owner of the house affect you?
  • Name the power imbalances you see in the story.
  • How do you feel about the Levite?
  • Where is God in the story?
  • Why does the story not condemn the actions of the Levite or the owner of the house?

“A Levite has an honored place in society that sets him above many other males; a concubine has an inferior status that places her beneath other females. Legally and socially, she is not the equivalent of a wife but is virtually a slave, secured by a man for his own purposes.” (Trible, Texts of Terror, 66.)

In Judges 19:2, the concubine acts. “Two manuscript traditions have survived. The Hebrew and Syriac claim that ‘his concubine played the harlot’ against the Levite, while the Greek and Old Latin maintain that ‘his concubine became angry with him.’…Was she unfaithful to him or did he cause her anger? Ancient manuscripts give contradictory answers; the story itself allows either reading.” (Trible, Texts of Terror, pp. 66-67.)

The story does not portray the Levite as a total ogre. When he goes to get his concubine back from her father’s house, he is described as trying to persuade her heart, to get her to come home. He would have been in his rights to take her by force. Ironically, the story does not relate what he says to her, but only talks about the interaction between the two men.

When the Levite is in a tight spot with nowhere to spend the night, he meets someone from his hometown. He casually refers to his own concubine as “your maidservant,” (verse 19) perhaps hinting that hospitality would have a reward of using the concubine.

The owner of the house is appalled that the townsmen would do “a vile thing” to the guest in his home. He seems totally willing to offer his own daughter and the concubine for the men’s pleasure. He does not ask the women or seem to care what they think. He merely wants to protect his male guest. The story does not condemn his willingness to give the women over to be raped. It is clear in the story that men’s bodies are more important than women’s bodies.

The woman survives the terrible ordeal of being gang-raped. She has collapsed, with the heart-rending detail that she falls with her hands on the threshold of the doorway. The Greek text of the Hebrew Bible informs us that the woman is dead, while the Hebrew text allows the possibility that the woman is still alive. (Later in 20:5 the Levite states that she died, he never claims that the Benjaminites killed her.) What we do know is that by the end of the day, the Levite has cut her up into 12 pieces, to send to the 12 tribes of Israel, protesting the lack of hospitality he experienced from the Benjaminites. Is he a murderer?  The story does not condemn him as a murderer.

The woman’s body is used to start a war against the Benjaminites. The last verse in the book of Judges says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” The stories in Judges continually show that chaos and anarchy reigned because there was no order. It was a time filled with violence. Unfortunately, it appears that even when Israel did have a king, there was still plenty of violence.

Connecting with the story
  • In this story, in contrast to the story of Tamar, the woman has no speaking role. How would this story be different if told from the woman’s perspective?
  • How are women’s voices silenced today?
  • Who are the unnamed women of today?
  • What makes us most uncomfortable in this story? Why?
  • Why should we read a story this disturbing?
  • How was power used in abusive ways in this story? How did class and gender
  • intersect?
  • How can this story be life-giving for us in the Canadian context today?
  • What are the similarities and differences between our societies?
  • How could this story be used in a worship service?

Phyllis Trible describes this woman: “Captured, betrayed, raped, tortured, murdered, dismembered, and scattered — this woman is the most sinned against.” (Texts of Terror, p. 81)

Violence begets more violence. Read Judges 21. The Israelites attack and kill most of the Benjaminites, including all their women. At the end of chapter 21, more violence is done to more women; the story tells us that the men came and seized the young women while they were dancing. The rape of one woman turns into the rape of hundreds. Ironically a war begun to protest the rape of one woman ends up with the war-makers committing similar crimes themselves.

“Misogyny belongs to every age, including our own. Violence and vengeance are not just characteristics of a distant, pre-Christian past; they infect the community of the elect to this day. Woman as object is still captured, betrayed, raped, tortured, murdered, dismembered, and scattered. To take to heart this ancient story, then, is to confess its present reality. The story is alive, and all is not well. Beyond confession we must take counsel to say, ‘Never again.’ Yet this counsel is itself ineffectual unless we direct our hearts to that most uncompromising of all biblical commands, speaking the word not to others, but to ourselves: Repent. Repent.” (Texts of Terror, p. 87)

Phyllis Trible points out that in the Hebrew Bible this story is immediately followed by the story of Hannah. In the Greek Bible, the story of Ruth follows this story. Both the story of Ruth and the story of Hannah are in marked contrast to the unnamed concubine. Ruth and Hannah have speaking roles in their story, and have a place in their society, however limited.

For more on this story:

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Study Group on Pastoral Sexual Abuse

The section in this website on Pastoral Sexual Misconduct is very useful for a study series in one-hour segments. (This section is adapted from a resource called “Sacred Trust” which was developed by Mennonite Church Eastern Canada). You can do 12 sessions, or just choose which topics you want to tackle. Each meeting, start by reading the story. Using the questions below, and the other material in each section, facilitate discussion about this important topic.

  1. Can adults be abused? It’s a power issue.
  • Can you put yourself in Ingrid’s shoes? What were her feelings and thoughts when she found out that Pastor Rick had crossed boundaries with two other women in the church?
  • How have you viewed Bathsheba? Have you ever thought of her as a woman who was abused by David, her king?
  • Do you think about pastors as professionals?
  • How would you feel if your pastor stole money from your church? Would it be the same as anyone in the church stealing money?
  • Have you ever gone to your pastor when you were feeling very low? How would you feel if you were given advice that helped the pastor, but hurt you?
  • When a spiritual leader betrays your trust, what questions would you have for God?
  1. Finding your voice: Why do survivors wait so long?
  • Tyler used his power as a pastor to gain access to the woman he raped. Can you name the layers of manipulation he uses after the rape?
  • What might have happened if Camila told people immediately about what happened that night?  How would her life have changed?
  • What do you think the implications will be for Camila now that she has laid a complaint?  What are the risks she is taking?
  • When the complaint becomes public, what do you think the reaction will be in the church where Tyler is currently serving?
  • Some people in Tyler’s church may demand to know the identity of the complainant. Do you think they have a right to know Camila’s identity?
  • Churches sometimes have “secrets.” How does Jesus’ concern for the little ones (the lowest and the least) change how we think about secrets and why they are kept?
  1. Crossing the Line: What is Clergy Abuse?
  • In the story about Jason’s counselling session, where does he go wrong?
  • If you were Jewel’s mother, how would you feel if you knew what happened?
  • Jewel doesn’t see what happened as abuse. Do you think it’s abuse if the person involved does not define it as abuse?
  • Would you feel differently about Jason’s actions if Jewel was 18?
  • What could Jason have done to show true pastoral concern for Jewel?
  • What does it mean to be a spiritual leader?
  1. Secrets & Lies: The Long-term Cost for Survivors
  • Can you name some of the tensions in Kyla’s life as she is being abused?
  • Think of some important mentors in your life; how would your life be different if one of them had betrayed your trust and abused you?
  • If someone shared a story of abuse by a church leader with you, can you think of supportive words or actions?
  • What do you think would be an unhelpful response?
  1. Survivors Helping Survivors: Healing Together
  • How does Gina’s age factor into her experience of abuse?
  • How might this story be different if the church council chairperson had minimized Gina’s complaint, or told her he/she would deal with it privately?
  • What kinds of emotions do you think might be felt at the meeting where survivors shared their stories with each other?
  • Do you think you would be more likely to pursue a complaint if there were other complainants? Why?
  • Why would some church members feel that what happened was “not that bad”?
  • How might the combined voices of the survivors change that attitude?
  1. Pastoral Abuse: The Congregation’s Story

  • If your congregation faced this scenario, how would it react?
  • What might have happened if the senior pastor had tried to deal with this by getting the young men and the associate pastor together privately?
  • Can you think of any way Moss St. Church’s “perfect storm” could have been avoided?
  • How could outside resources have helped people cope with the season they faced?
  1. Alternatives to Denial

  • Have you ever been tempted to deny a wrongdoing when you have been found out? When the stakes are higher, is the temptation to lie higher?
  • Have you ever “closed your eyes” to a reality because you didn’t want to believe it was happening (for example, an addiction or a betrayal)?
  • What do you think Petra was experiencing in this story as time went on? How do you think other people’s denials affected her?
  • The truth is hard to believe, but there are consequences of denial. What would have happened to Petra if no one believed her story? What would have happened to Pastor Carl if people at Many Nations Church believed his lies?
  • How would you feel if you found that a leader had betrayed a trust in your congregation? What is it like to work to uncover the truth when everyone around you is in denial?
  1. Picking Up The Pieces: Families Suffer Too

  • If this happened in your congregation, how could your church offer support to Winnie’s family?
  • If this happened in your congregation, how long would the church pay for counselling for those involved? How long do you think it will realistically take the people involved to process what has happened?
  • If you are reading this in a group, take a quick poll. For whom do you have the most sympathy for in this story? How would you manage your different emotional responses if you were the church board responsible for taking action?
  • Would this story be different if Simon was a person of colour and Winnie was white? What if Winnie was a First Nations woman and Simon was white? How would this story have been different if Winnie’s dad was a big contributor to the church budget?
  1. Healthy Boundaries, Healthy Pastors

  • What kind of reference do you think Green Pastures Church will give to Pastor Gerald?
  • What is the likelihood of Gerald getting help for his pornography addiction on his own?
  • Where could Patti and Bev have turned for help? How might clearly articulated and publicized sexual abuse policies have helped in this situation?
  • Where could Green Pastures have taken different, healthier steps along the way?
  • Did you find this scenario believable, or hard to believe?
  1. A Long Road to Justice and Healing

  • Do you know the guidelines that are laid out in the “Safe Spaces Policy” in your church? What are the guidelines for on-line interaction between adults and minors?
  • No one officially wants to be a “victim blamer,” but that is what happened to Maria. What went wrong here? Could it have been prevented?
  • If you had a 15-year-old daughter who was also abused by William, would you want her to come forward to corroborate Maria’s testimony, or would you counsel her to remain silent? What impacts could that choice have on her life?
  • Paula is one of the victims in this story, through no fault of her own. What do you think the effects are in her life?
  • What do you think happened to the Four Corners Church youth group?
  1. Navigating Temptations

  • What kind of power does Jennifer have in this situation?  What kind of power does Michael have? If you were investigating this situation, how would you weigh who has more or less power?
  • How do gender, age and race impact power differences in this story?
  • What could Jennifer have done to maintain her boundaries more effectively? How did her choices impact her relationship with Michael and his wife Becky?
  • Do you think Michael was aware that he was crossing a line with his pastor? Do you think he knew that she was uncomfortable? Does it matter if he didn’t intend to be harassing her?
  • What could the congregation have done to prevent this situation?
  • Does your church have a sexual harassment policy? Why or why not?
  1. Walking Through An Investigation

  • Does “true love” just happen between a minister and a congregant? What was wrong with what Pastor Charlie did?
  • How would you feel if you were Vince?
  • Were you surprised that an investigation happened even though Charlie was no longer the minister?
  • How was the investigation a healing opportunity for the woman Charlie had been involved with earlier?
  • How would allegations of sexual misconduct against a former pastor affect your congregation? How would your congregation react?