Monday, November 28, 2011

Redeeming Dinah: The Errors of Ron Williams, the IFB, and Gothard's Esteem of Rabbinical Writing as Holy Writ

[Original post:  21Apr11;  Updated and reposted 28Nov11]

On April 8th, only twelve days ago, ABC's 20/20 aired an episode entitled, Shattered Faith, which focused on the physical and sexual abuse of young women within the Independent Fundamental Baptist affiliated churches (IFB). It also mentioned the powers attributed to the use of the rod of discipline found in Proverbs and the literal translation about the power of bruising to drive away evil. The episode pointed out that their churches held these young women responsible for their own sexual molestation that took place while they were children. Two of the three featured women were violated sexually by other men and pastors in their IFB churches in whom they confided about their abuse to seek out help.

I believe that the low opinion of these young women that their IFB pastors attributed to them because they were seen as “bruised fruit” or “damaged goods” in terms of “purity” predisposed these girls to revictimization by other men. I believe that their pastors also revictimized them by their own actions which sought to hide the sins of men that were not held accountable while simultaneously requiring acts of repentance and compulsory forgiveness of their abusers from the girls.

Stuff Fundies Like, a site for Fundamentalist Christians (some “in recovery”), pointed out that on April 12th, ABC News featured an online report which noted abuses that took place in an IFB affiliated boarding home for girls named New Beginnings Girls Academy. Read more HERE. I am certainly glad that ABC has reported on all of these abuses, because I don't believe that many Christians within the Church in the US will take up the effort.. I must admit my disappointment again, however, that ABC has again made no mention of the horrendous abuses that took place at Ron Williams' Hephzibah House, a “Christian boarding home for troubled girls" in Winona Lake/Warsaw, Indiana. This gives me all the more reason to look forward with great anticipation to the Blog Talk Radio interview this Saturday with former Hephzibah House resident and survivor, Susan Grotte.

Ron Williams and his “House of Strange Women”
In anticipation of the interview, and because the information about Hephzibah House is so vast and troubling, I asked Susan what essentials she would like to discuss during the interview to ensure that they do not get missed. Though I'm not surprised, Susan stressed her desire to discuss a matter that 20/20 also presented as a problem within the IFB:
  • Molested girls become eternal “harlots.”
  • They were children who were culpable of sexual sin by enticing/soliciting adult men.
  • Their adult abusers were not required or were incapable of exercising self-control.
  • They become of only limited value/use to God as a consequence of their status as “harlot.”

Susan explained that Ron Williams and Patti Williams (Ron's late wife) both believed that taught what she found to be a novel doctrine concerning Dinah who is discussed in the Book of Genesis. Dinah is the daughter of Jacob who, while out visiting the daughters of their new territory, is abducted and defiled by Shechem, someone who is considered to be inappropriate for marriage with an Israelite. The Genesis account states that Shechem appears to love Dinah and asks his own father to procure her as a wife for him. Jacob works out an arrangement with Shechem and his father, and their people agree to get circumcised in order to meet the demands of the Law, saving Dinah's honor. Though all has been made as right as possible in light of the circumstances, Dinah's brothers raid Shechem's town, kill all the men (who were unable to fight after their recent medical procedures), and take the spoils of their little war.

Ron Williams taught that all defiled women had brought on their own demise by essentially soliciting their own abuse. (Where have we heard this before?) Though the Genesis passage is not clear about the nature of the events and much must be inferred to arrive at this conclusion of rightful guilt on Dinah's part, Williams taught that all women who are raped or are molested have a certain set of character flaws that he also attributes to Dinah. Those young women who find themselves sexually defiled by their own fornication, as well as by coercion by an adult while still a small child, or due to an act of violent rape suffer the same consequences that Dinah did. All bring pain and bitter consequences into their families as well as suffering upon themselves. I am also told that Patti Williams wrote of her own belief and supposed awareness of the sexual power she held over men as a little girl.

Read one of Ron Williams' sermons concerning his doctrine of the "strange woman" HERE.

Adding to this identity by way of analogy, the girls at Hephzibah House were told that because of their incarceration at the home there, they also bore the heart of the “strange woman” that is described in the book of Proverbs, harlots that Solomon warns wise young men to avoid. So not only have these young women lost their usefulness and value to God and to men, they are also somehow endowed with a miserable character that they did not know that they had and apparently could not transcend. Hephzibah House constantly reinforced the message that accepting the sacrifice of Jesus' Blood for the cleansing of sin was all powerful, save for their harlot hearts. Somehow, the Blood was not effective for them and could not take out their hearts of stone, replacing them with the new heart of flesh and new spirit that Ezekiel promises all of Israel. The girls come to believe that though if a person comes to faith in Jesus, all things are made new for them as God's new creations – everything that is, except for their eternal status as “strange women.”

Again, I maintain that this doctrine that elevates outward signs of holiness through sexual purity above the inner righteousness that is afforded to all who believe in Jesus contributes to the continued abuse and revictimization of young women within the IFB in particular, though these same attitudes prevail in many other areas within aberrant Christianity as well. Others preach similar doctrines, however.

Though I believe that the attitudes that Ron and Patti Williams held existed in the IFB before, I also suspect that Ron Williams in particular developed his message by borrowing at least some his arguments from none other than Bill Gothard. Vision Forum affiliates teach a variation on Gothard's own theme by arguing that women are essentially property of a man and require a male overseer as a mystical protector who affords not only spiritual protection but physical safety to women under their care. Read more HERE. If one does not dutifully oversee one's daughters properly, they will be raped, shame the family, and a daughter's salvific act of childbearing will be hindered if not ruined. Other homeschooling, courtship, and family integrated church pioneers (Lindvall, John Thompson, the Botkins, McDonald, etc.) have also relied upon Gothard's arguments to varied degrees and in their own unique ways in order to promote their concepts as well. Let us also not forget Gothard's submission doctrine, too. Women don't make noise, float around doing housework, and dream of buttercups. John MacArthur says that women shouldn't even share the Gospel with an unbeliever, so they are sure to remain quiet and gentle.

Dinah: One of the Old Testament's Tainted

Because Gothard's Christianity follows an system of works which comes primarily through meritorious acts of submission, he prefers more direct “cause and effect” explanations of meanings and applications of Scripture. While good works give the illusion that the will bring on a safe, happy and fulfilled life with limited pain through Gothard's formulaic plan for living, the reverse is also true. Bad consequences follow from the commission of sin or some general constitutional flaw such as a “harlot's heart.” Interpreting Scripture from an hierarchical and authoritarian premise, he maintains that Tamar's rape and Dinah's rape were both brought on by their own sins. (When there's a fault to bear, it is usually the woman's fault!) Where did Gothard find information to build this argument and his understanding? He derived them from apocryphal texts and rabbincal commentaries, putting them on par with the inspired Word of God. Consider Gothard's history of building his Evangelical Talumud and his own ideas about unclean women and other bizarre things, borrowed from Rabbinical and apocryphal texts.

Rashi's Commentaries
Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) was the “father of commentary” who lived from 1040-1105 and worked on the midrash, the extra-biblical texts that sought to fill in the gaps in other Jewish writings. He wrote the first and definitive commentary on the Old Testament and his is the most published, making all other Rabbinical commentaries that followed his own essentially commentaries on his original work as well.

Rashi dislikes Leah and therefore Dinah, claiming that they are both yatzaneet (“outgoing”). Though he says that “to go out” was a phrase that only applied to men, he says that Leah and Dinah both sinned by usurping the right “to go out.” (Perhaps this is the case in extra-biblical texts, but a simple search for the word yatzah as it appears in Genesis 34:1 can be found in other references that have nothing to do with men exclusively and are applied to women and nations and animals, etc.) He develops his hatred of Leah based upon Genesis 30:14-21, claiming that Leah schemed, deceived, and used mandrakes like a sorceress would use a spell when she arranges with Rachel to exchange mandrakes (love-apples) for a rare night with Jacob. From my understanding of Scripture, Leah is blessed with several children thereafter, but Rashi seems to ignore this. (Perhaps his wife burned the mandrakes on the evening before he wrote his commentary on this section in Genesis, and his own Rabbi wouldn't grant him a get?)

He also goes on to elaborate on his opinions about Dinah after establishing that he thought Leah was no good so no good could come of the evil Dinah as a consequence. Genesis 34:1 says that Dinah goes out to see the daughters of the land, but we are not told whether her activity is either good or bad. It is clear that Scripture does not define “going out” as evil, and Isaac chose Rebecca from the “daughters of the land,” the same term used in Genesis 34:1. I easily performed a search through an online lexicon for all of the individual words and phrases in the verse, and none of them bear an exclusively limited connotation and often connote pleasant and virtuous references. (I'm just floored that they borrowed all this from the Midrash. I should have known.)

I have only been told in general terms from homeschoolers that Gothard teaches that Dinah brought on her own sin, but Gothard keeps his materials very private. I am not able to quote from Gothard directly but I can make reference to Vision Forum followers who are among the next generation of aberrant groups to follow Gothard. They have said in many places that this act of wandering and going out is like the feet of the “strange woman” of Proverbs, the harlot (zuwr ishshah: to be strange, estranged, harlot; woman). They specifically quote Proverbs 7:11 which states She is loud and stubborn; her feet (regel) abide (shakan) not in her house (bayith)” 
Josephus does state that Dinah went out to attend a festival which would have been a pagan event and may have put herself at risk by going alone, but this is also not told to us in Scripture specifically. The Book of Judith in the Apocrypha states that Dinah went out to see the finery of the linens of the daughters of the land. (Does this also mean that going out to see the linens made by the people in the place to where they'd just moved constitutes a desire or consent to be raped?) Josepheus and Dinah may be right in some historical interest, but as Christians, we are not taught that we can build doctrine on things that are not abundantly clear. We also cannot use these unclear passages for doctrinal interests when we are told other facts in Scripture that are more clear. What we are told is that she is taken by Shechem (lä·kakh': to take, get, fetch, lay hold of, seize, receive, acquire, buy, bring, marry, take a wife, snatch, take away). We are also told that Shechem laid with her (shakab: to lie down with in sexual relations) and he defiled her (`anah: to afflict, oppress, mishandle, humble, be afflicted, be bowed down). What we are told has a far heavier weight of significance than those things which we infer with our own eisegesis.

In Genesis 32:22, Jacob gathers his family up and takes them over the ford Jabbok, and all of his family is mentioned, except for Dinah. Rashi quotes from the Midrash (another text that is used to fill in the gaps in the Old Testament) which claims that Dinah was so beautiful that Jacob hid her in a box so that Esau would not want to take her for his own wife. God is claimed to have corrected Jacob, saying, If thou hadst married off thy daughter in time she would not have been tempted to sin, and might, moreover, have exerted a beneficial influence upon her husband.” Presumably, God tells Jacob that Dinah would have made a good wife for Esau and would not have been available for Shechem to defile. Rashi adds this to build his argument that Dinah, though beautiful was manipulative and troublesome, something he claims about her mother which seems to be his opinion and little more. But this stands in contrast to Deuteronomy 24:16 which maintains that all individuals stand as culpable for their own sins, particularly sins that result in death. Rashi's claims are also drawn into question because other Midrash texts claim that Dinah would have been six years old at the time she was hidden away in the box and that Esau would have been ninety seven years of age. It is highly unlikely that Esau would have been interested in a six year old as a mate.

An Alternate Meaning that Speaks of God's Sovereign Provision and Redemption
And on another level, it all might depend on which proof texts you cherry pick. Rashi, the guy with a chip on his shoulder concerning Leah and Dinah offered Gothard something that fit his other odd doctrines. Why didn't Gothard choose an alternate view that holds Dinah in high regard? Other Rabinnical writings claim that Jacob takes the daughter born of Dinah's union with Shechem, placing her under a thorn bush after putting a necklace on her that says “Holy to God” and names her Asenath (“She belongs to her father”). In one account, Michael the Archangel takes her and carries her away to Egypt where she is found and raised by Potipheras, the priest of On. We read in Genesis that Asenath becomes the wife of Joseph and bears Manasseh and Ephriam (Genesis 41:45).

God's Special Heart of Restoration for “Strange Women”

One could make the argument against Gothard's claims that if you are going to accept a Rabbincal text as holy writ, why not pick this one that results in blessing and redemption? Tamar was twice Judah's daughter-in-law and from her union with Judah, great blessings came. From a woman scorned and who was believed by Judah to be a prostitute, came twins that resulted from the union. One became the forefather of David the King of Israel, and from his house came Jesus the Messiah. Doesn't this sound a bit like this story of Dinah's daughter?

May I remind you that Rahab who was once known as a harlot in the book of Joshua is listed in a place of high honor. She's listed among those in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11:31 where she is known as one who believed God. And Mary Magdelene was the first evangelist. I read this great quote over on The Wartburg Watch this week:

"These people do not know that while Barak trembled, Deborah saved Israel,
that Esther delivered from supreme peril the children of God … 
 Is it not to women that our Lord appeared after His Resurrection? 
Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what the women had found."  
Jerome, after criticism for dedicating his books to women

To those of you who were at Hephzibah House and believe that some of what Ron Williams may have told you about who you are in Christ, I've got good news for you. There is no alternate plan of salvation for women, and great blessing has come through women whom people like Williams would otherwise throw away.

Matthew 9:36 says that Jesus looked out on the crowds and was moved with compassion because he saw people that had fainted (had lost heart and were with little hope) and were scattered abroad (cast down), like sheep without a shepherd. The word for our English of “scattered abroad” literally describes the way someone would throw trash away along the side of the road. I think that Williams was a cruel excuse for a shepherd for many, and there are many who believe that because of how cruel he was, that Jesus is not a good shepherd. But that's not true. I think that Jesus is broken hearted for the girls who were at Hephzibah House and He looks out upon everyone who was there and sees girls who were treated like trash in His Name and were left little or with no hope. If I weep, I think that He weeps, too. My heart aches and aches. How must He who knows how many hairs you have on your head and is moved with compassion when a sparrow falls from the sky.

And I believe that you were told a terrible lie that the Blood of Jesus was not powerful enough to set you free and make you new. If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Behold! Look! All things are passed away and everything is made new. New! God doesn't even remember what your sins are anymore and sees you as holy. If you've accepted Jesus and His sacrifice for you, God looks at you and sees the holiness of Jesus. In terms of where you stand with God, you wear the righteousness of Jesus Himself. God says that you are reconciled to Him. Forgiveness means that you no longer have to make payment on any wrongs you've done. But Jesus does better than that. Reconciliation means that God throws away the books of what you might owe in payment. He doesn't keep the score or the score book, just as if you've never sinned. That is what Ron Williams should have reminded you of every day – that you are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Himself, a flowing holy robe and a garment of praise. When you get baptized, anything that may be hanging around and it's right to claim you gets buried under that water, and you are raised to walk in new life. (2 Corinthians 5; Romans 6:4)

You should have had someone there to tell you this message. You should have been told that God really loves those lost ones that He has to go and rescue and love and nurture. And we who are forgiven much love much.

Adelman, Rachel. The Return of the Repressed: Pirqe De-Rabbi Eliezer and the Pseudepigrapha. Journal for the Study of Judaism supplement, 2009
Buchwald, Ephraim. The Rape of Dinah: Impossible to Fathom. National Jewish Outreach Program Vayishlach 5770-2009.
Ginzberg, L. The Legends of the Jews. Vol. 1, Jewish Publication Society of America, 2006.
Graves, R, Patai, R. Hebrew Myths. Greenwich House, 1964
Pratt, JP. Jacob's Seventieth Descendant. Meridian Magazine, 18Aug2000.