By / Mar 6

It happened during a road trip to church summer camp. I was about 16 years old, and we stopped for the night at the home of a pastor who had a beautiful house in the country. After a lazy afternoon playing in the swimming pool and eating burgers on the patio, everyone went to bed. I was too excited to sleep and got up for a glass of water. On my way to the kitchen, there he was, reading on the couch.

“Oh Jennifer,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”

In my mind I thought, “Oh good, a pastor. Perhaps I can tell him about my abusive dad. Perhaps he’ll understand and protect me. Perhaps I can even stay here.”

Those hopes were quickly dashed.

“When you were in the pool,” he said, “I noticed you acting very sexually. Boys your age are just starting to understand body language. When you tread water in the pool—your breasts protruding under your suit, your figure out there for everyone to see—it catches their attention. You make them think about sex.”

I felt that familiar awkwardness set in; the knowing that something was wrong, the confusion over how to make it stop. The pastor chattered on as if everything was normal. He explained that he’d had this conversation with his own daughters, and it was for my good. When we know our vulnerabilities, he said, we can protect ourselves against them.

“So,” he said, “what would it take to get you to spread your legs for a man?”

I was stunned. For a moment which felt very long, I said nothing, and he stared at me, smiling.

“I don’t feel comfortable with this conversation,” I finally said, and excused myself.

A few weeks later, when I returned home, I told my parents what had happened. “If the pastor won’t protect me from my dad,” I thought, “perhaps my dad will protect me from the pastor.”

Again, my hopes were dashed.

My dad invited the pastor to our home. They had a long talk by themselves. Then I was called to sing a song for the pastor. I played a hymn, and they clapped. It was never spoken of again.

Around this same time, I became friends with a good pastor. He was the kind of teacher you could email theology questions and get brilliant replies. He listened to my teenage problems and made me feel heard. “Perhaps,” I thought, “I should tell him about dad.”

I told him I wanted to discuss college and boys, so he suggested we go to lunch. After placing our orders and making small talk, I said, “My dad has anger issues. Last week, he threw an iron at my head.”

He sat there, stunned, over a bowl of Thai soup, apparently unable to register what I'd said. He knew my dad. They were friends. He said we should pray for my dad's temper.  So, I didn’t even bother trying to tell him what else was going on at home: The domestic violence, sexual abuse, and harassment. As far as I’m aware, he never questioned my dad or contacted authorities.

The fallout

Often when I tried to tell people I was being abused, I felt like I was speaking a different language. My family referred to my dad’s violence as “anger issues,” but when I used that phrase to outsiders, they thought I meant something trivial, not something chronic or dangerous. Nobody asked, “What do you mean?” Nobody dug deeper. My family’s coded language protected my dad from exposure.

But more than any pastor, more than any unseeing friend, my dad dealt the most damage to my spiritual state. He taught me that fathers were violent, apathetic, and perverse. He taught me that men were lustful, angry, and domineering. How could I understand what God meant when he called himself my Father? How could I feel comfortable with the fact that God the Son became a man?

A friend of mine who used to be a pastor experienced similar emotional fallout. After being raped by a professor in seminary, he battled alcoholism and depression, never once telling anyone what had been done to him. To this day, he struggles to remain sober, cannot attend college or trust ministers, and has severe anxiety that prevents romantic relationships. He’s stopped attending church, yet clings to threads of faith, knowing Jesus is faithful and able to heal.

As Jesus says in Matthew 18,

If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine and go look for the one that wandered off? And when he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander. In the same way your Father in Heaven is not willing that any of his little ones should perish.

Our Good Shepherd is faithful to rescue his lost lambs, whether they wander off or are frightened away.

What is a Christian anyway?

For years I struggled with my faith. I wrestled with God and found attending church to be anxiety-inducing. Sometimes, on Sunday mornings, I’d grow so apprehensive I’d throw up. Sometimes I’d make myself throw up, so my husband would think I was sick and suggest we stay home. People who should have exemplified Jesus’ love to me had betrayed my trust over and over, until they’d driven a wedge between me and God.

But abusers and false teachers are not representatives of Christ. As Jesus explains in Matthew 7:16-21, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit . . . Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”

In other words, not everyone who calls himself “Christian” is a Christian. Not everyone who calls himself a pastor represents the ultimate Pastor. Not everyone who says he loves Jesus is loving. There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing, and there are many wolves in shepherd’s clothes. Understanding this helped me overcome my anger at God and the church.

Because you see, it’s easy to get sick of the house when it’s infested with rats. It’s easy to fear the pasture when it’s haunted by wolves. But understanding that evil people—those who bear bad fruit—are not of God, and do not represent him, helped me see past their sin. Those who leverage his name to prey on his sheep enrage him. Realizing that he is even angrier than I am at those who abuse his children helped me relinquish my rage. I can trust God with vengeance, because he is just.

Every time my faith faded, he rekindled the embers. Every time I gave up hope, he sought me out like a wandering sheep and placed me on his shoulders. Every time I thought, “I can’t do this anymore,” his words held true: “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Deut. 31:6), “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

While abuse scandals rocking the church are harrowing, and demand action, they are no new thing. Long has Christ’s Bride been persecuted, infiltrated by evil men, corrupted, and slandered. Yet Christ will triumph over evil. He will gather up his children and judge the wicked righteously. There is no statute of limitations in his court. In that courtroom I will not be asked to prove that I was abused, because God was there, and God is my witness. While we strive and hope for justice now, we are assured of justice in the end.

In the mid 1800s, Samuel Stone wrote of the church, “Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed; by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.”

Whether you are horrified by the revelation of abuses in the church, or are unsurprised because you have fallen victim yourself, you can rest in the knowledge that this present evil age is passing away. Our true home is Heaven. Justice in this world may never come, and will be elusive at best. Healing in this world will never be complete. But there is a day coming when justice will be full and fair, and healing will be total and eternal. My hope is not in the church, though I do still have hope for the church. Ultimately, my hope is in the Jesus who is Lord of the church, and who knows his true church. As Helen Lemmel wrote in 1922, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”

You can pre-order Jennifer's book "Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse: How Faith Brought One Woman From Victim to Survivor" here.

By / Dec 11

The Bible neither covers up nor ignores sexual assault. In fact, biblical law shows how the Lord takes up the cause of the victim and the vulnerable. Deuteronomy 22:25-27 safeguarded the survivor of sexual assault from being unjustly blamed or ignored. In ancient Israel, this law established a pattern, an ethical framework by which God’s people could discern specific situations that it didn’t specifically address. And, like all of God’s laws, it reveals his character.

Isolated and overpowered

Deuteronomy 22:25-27 presumed the innocence of the unbetrothed woman who was sexually assaulted. This law notes that she was found in a field, a contrast to the previous law in vv. 23-24, which occured in a (presumably) populated city. The scenario describes a woman who was isolated from help.

Along with the location described in this law, the language is also significant. Unlike either of its two surrounding laws—both of which address the category of a woman’s guilt or innocence in sexual integrity (vv. 23-24; 28-29)—Deut 22:25-27 includes the Hebrew verb chazaq, which, in this form, implies violence.[1] Chazaq can refer to the violent overpowering of another person,[2] and, in the context of this text, describes coercive force, i.e. rape.[3] The two accounts of rape in the Bible that occurred after the Law was given—The Unnamed Concubine in Judges 19, and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13—both include this word, chazaq.[4]

Biblical law was revolutionary for the dignity of women.[5] Scripture recognized rape as a violent crime. In fact, biblical law  considers rape on par with murder. She was the non-consenting victim of premeditated violence.[6] The attacker alone is held guilty. Because she was overpowered and did not consent, the victim is considered blameless.[7]

Consent is the key factor here. Many women who have been assaulted share how they froze during the attack. They couldn’t move. They couldn’t even scream. And they didn’t even understand why. In the aftermath, they wonder if they did something wrong. I believe this passage of Scripture comes to their defense. The issue was not how the woman expressed her lack of consent. The issue was that she did not consent. She was overpowered, exploited, and unwilling. And, according to the principle expressed in this law, she was innocent.

Another aspect of this law rivals our modern Western culture: The woman was believed on the basis of her testimony. Biblical law sides with and defends her, despite the lack of witnesses. This law not only found her blameless, but also allowed no inference that she was at fault for the attack. In other words, the problem was not that she had done something to be assaulted; the problem was that someone assaulted her.

Our responsibility

For the Israelite woman who was raped, this text ensured that she was heard. She was believed. These laws created an environment in which a survivor of assault already knew that she would be safe and protected by the community. In our own communities, this should reinforce our responsibility to treat accusations of rape as credible.[8]

After analyzing reported cases of sexual assault over a 10-year period, a 2010 study found that between 2 and 10 percent of accusations were false.[9] Yet, even this fails to represent the rarity of false accusations, since it only includes reported cases. This same study also found that many victims of sexual violence did not report the crime because they “did not think anything would be done about it.”[10]

Biblical law sets a different precedent. When the survivor of assault revealed what happened to her, she would be believed. The people of God came to her defense. The severity of sexual assault in biblical law compels us to hear, protect, and defend the dignity of every woman, especially the one who breaks her silence about rape.

God was not silent about rape. He defended the woman who had been sexually assaulted. He believed and protected her. And so must we.


  1. ^ Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament [HALOT] vol. 2, ed. and trans. M. E. J. Richardson (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), s.v. “qzx.” seize, grasp, catch with violence. This action that is amplified by the verb’s root meaning (i.e., seize or grasp with strength, or make/become strong [against]) Francis Brown, Samuel R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [BDB] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), s.v. “qzx.”
  2. ^ Other appearances of qzx in the Hiphil stem also signify violent force. qzx in the Hiphil stem appears in Deuteronomy 25:11-12, which describes a woman who, in an attempt to help her brawling husband, seizes the genitals of the man with whom her husband is fighting. This verb is also used to describe David’s attack and seizure of a lion or a bear that had taken one of his lambs (1 Sam 17:35) and the battle in which David’s men seized their opponents and stabbed them (2 Sam 2:16). Perhaps most notably, qzx in the Hiphil stem appears in the narrative describing Tamar’s sexual assault (2 Sam 13:11). Incidentally, the 2 Samuel 13 passage does not use the terms bkv (v. 23-24) and fpt (v. 28-29) to describe the rape.
  3. ^ Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, New American Commentary, vol. 4 (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1994), 305. This point is also noted in Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 295.
  4. ^ Concerning the Unnamed Concubine (Judg 19), qzx appears in reference to the Levite, perhaps a device employed by the narrator to convey his guilt. And, describing the rape of Tamar, qzx ((2 Sam 13:11, 14) appears twice, conveying the incident’s forceful nature. In light of this, one may reasonably conclude that subsequent biblical narrators understood this contextual use of qzx to mean sexual violence, and therefore, coercion.
  5. ^ Compare biblical law with the Codex of Ur-Nammu from Sippar, which determined the attacker’s punishment according to the woman’s social status [James R. Baker, Women’s Rights in Old Testament Times (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1992), 4.]; or Middle Assyrian Law, which allowed the father of an unbetrothed rape victim to abuse the wife of his daughter’s attacker [Milestone Documents, “Middle Assyrian Laws,” A55, accessed April 23, 2016,
  6. ^ Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 249-50. “Like the victim of homicide who is forcibly overcome in a premeditated hostile act, a woman raped in the field is also a victim of force and premeditated hostility. Such a victim cannot, therefore, be considered a consenting party to the act.” Craigie: “As in a murder case, the woman was an unwilling victim of an attack; she suffered as a result of that attack, but was in no sense culpable.” Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 295.
  7. ^ In the interest of space, I won’t address Deut 22:28-29 here, except to say that the Hebrew describes an entirely different scenario than a sexual assault. Most of our English translations mistakenly say verses 28-29 depict a rape. The Hebrew tells a different story. For a full treatment of this law, please read chapter 5 of my dissertation, “Old Testament Laws Concerning Particular Female Personhood and Their Implications for Women’s Dignity.” (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, 2016).
  8. ^ This is not to imply any endorsement of mob-rule, or the eschewal of the presumption of innocence until proof of guilt. Rather, it is to affirm that, statistically, most reports of sexual assault are indeed credible. False accusations do occur, yet, as criminologist Freda Adler has noted, “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.”
  9. ^ David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote, “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases,” Violence Against Women 16, no. 12 (2010): 1318, accessed April 23, 2016,
  10. ^ David Cantor, et al. “Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct,” 21 September 2015 (Rockville, MD: Westat, 2015), iv, accessed April 24, 2016,