Life along the way: DENYING DINAH
Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans and others have been speaking up on the issue of sexual abuse in the aftermath of recent news stories. In my own small way I want to add my voice and encourage others to break the silence.In 2007, when I was working on the Genesis to Job series of Bible quilt block patterns, I followed my heart’s prompting and tackled the story of Dinah with the “Aunt Dinah” block. Knowing that this message might cause some controversy, I brought my first draft to one of my former pastors for his input. His reponse: “Well, Kim, it’s sound Biblical teaching, but I don’t think it’s relevant to church women. There might be one or two who come from a rough background who might relate, but most church ladies don’t think about things like this.”
A pastor for upwards of 50 years thinking “good church ladies don’t know anything about rape!”
Within minutes of publishing the pattern, my inbox began to fill with heart breaking emails. Later, as we travelled Western Canada with Patchwork and Song, I learned to brace myself whenever I saw a woman standing off to the side after my presentation, waiting for the crowd to disburse. More women than I can count would approach me hesitantly saying “I have never told anyone but…I am Dinah” or “my sister (daughter, mother, friend) is Dinah.” These ‘good church ladies’ knew all about rape, but they held their pain in their hearts, afraid of the consequences of telling their stories. It was safe to tell me: I was travelling through and would not be around to betray their shame. Then and now, my counsel is a heartfelt:
My friends, my sisters, find courage: it’s time to speak up!
Here’s the text of my original message. Over the next day or two, I’ll give you the pattern again with a challenge to use it to make a quilt for a Dinah in your life – friend, sister, yourself or someone in a local women’s shelter.
UPDATE: the Aunt Dinah pattern is now available HERE
Bible Block: Aunt Dinah
Now Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land…
…Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
Genesis 34:1 and 35:1
That’s the beginning and ending of Dinah’s story in Genesis 34. It’s a passage we seldom hear. Not surprising: it’s a sordid tale of rape, manipulation and violent revenge. When we do consider it, there’s a temptation to make this a love story featuring Dinah and Shechem. It’s not romance: it’s violation. There is nothing to suggest that Dinah was a willing participant. There’s no upside to this story, no pat solution.
Neither is there anything that suggests that Jacob’s way of dealing with sexual sin is appropriate: giving his daughter in marriage to her rapist as a way of cementing political alliance is yet one more example of Jacob’s conniving nature. Simeon and Levi have a different response: they twist God’s holy rite of circumcision into revenge, and the bloodbath that results is truly horrific. Overshadowed by the machinations of her family, Dinah is mentioned in passing: the two brothers “took Dinah from Shechem’s house.” Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened to her. It’s likely she would have remained unmarried: as a “fallen” woman, her prospects for marriage were not good. Perhaps she stayed in Simeon or Levi’s family, the maiden aunt in the background of the family life; helping with the children and the household, but never having a family or home of her own.
Why should we even consider this ugly story today? Haven’t we moved past revenge or political manipulation as a way of dealing with sexual sin? True, we don’t condone violent revenge and we don’t try to turn a sexual violation to advantage. But, each one of us knows [or is] a Dinah. We’ve never really figured out what to do with that knowledge: when we emphasize purity and chastity, we unwittingly condemn women who already feel impure and devalued. If we minimize the pain, exhorting wounded women to “forgive and forget,” we shame those who cannot forget into keeping silent. The results are all around us: self-mutilation, eating disorders, promiscuity, substance abuse. If we would have strong families, emotionally healthy women [and men] and lasting marriages, the church must find a way to help men and women deal with the consequences of sexual sin and move toward restoration.
Did you notice the crucial omission in Genesis 34? There is absolutely no mention of God. In Jacob’s time, and in the 21st century, when God is discounted in our plans and our response to sin, there is no healthy resolution. Genesis 35 offers a starting point to deal courageously with the Dinahs among us: turn back to Him, put away the things which separate us from His guidance, purify ourselves and allow Him to restore us. It is not easy; there are no quick solutions, but healing begins by speaking up and out in the presence of our loving God and in the company of believers determined to walk through the mess together.
We have the promise: And we know that God causes ALL THINGS [including our confessed and repented sin and the sin of those who harmed us] to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.