Listen To Article
By Bill White
Dinah had no voice. An entire chapter of scripture tells her story, but not one word is attributed to her in the holy text.
I suppose, then, that I shouldn’t be surprised that I had never heard a sermon on Dinah. I’d heard dozens of sermons on single verses or even single words of the bible, but the entire chapter of Genesis 34 had been overlooked. It’s omitted from the lectionary, too. It’s about rape, after all, and that’s something that good church people don’t discuss.
But somehow, like the blood of Abel crying out to the Lord from the ground, Dinah’s story has not been silenced yet. It’s still there in the pages, waiting to be heard.
This past Fall, in a desperate bid to bring some predictability to Sunday mornings after my much-needed Sabbatical, our little church decided to preach chapter by chapter through Genesis. By February we stumbled into Genesis 34, just as the #metoo movement was in full swing and the #churchtoo movement was gaining momentum.
The sermon on Dinah was built around the idea of listening well, which seemed to be conspicuously lacking in the text. Shechem, who raped Dinah, reacted by doing plenty of speaking – to Dinah, to his father, to Dinah’s family. But he did no listening to Dinah that we can see in the text. Dinah’s brothers reacted by getting revenge (which happened to include sexually assaulting the women of Shechem’s city). But they did no listening to Dinah that we can see in the text. Jacob got defensive and self-protective, but again there was no listening.
Even though no one listened to her, the fact that her story is included in scripture shows a God who heard her and made sure her pain was not forgotten. And the scripture captures how God heard all the bickering and conniving of the men in her life and exposed it shamelessly.
That Sunday in February, after painfully exegeting Dinah’s saga and the inability of the men in her life to reckon with it in anything close to a healthy way, we spent the rest of our time together listening to one of the women in our church share her story. With incredible insight, Madeline articulated the emotional and spiritual rollercoaster of her journey of surviving sexual assault. She had to pause her reading a few times as the tears flowed down. I wept next to her. The congregation wept with her. And I can’t help but think that Jesus wept, too.
In my mind’s eye, as I look back at that Sunday, I see a woman who looks like Dinah, and who also looks like a Jewish woman who’d been bleeding for twelve years, and who also looks like Madeline, and who also looks like all the girls and women of the #metoo movement and the #churchtoo movement. And that woman “stepped up in fear and trembling, knelt before him, and gave him the whole story” (Mark 5:32-33 MSG). And Jesus listened. He really listened. And he blessed her.
Bill, Thank you for your openness and honesty. Leadership based on these qualities continues to transform the church and society. Admitting my bias, may I also humbly recommend “Preaching the Women of the Old Testament,” by Lynn Japinga, an RCA professor and scholar. There, Dinah and so many others we have forgotten are given voice, just as you did. Thanks again for sharing this important experience.
Responding as part of Bill’s team – This book was invaluable as City Church Long Beach worked through Genesis! So glad you mentioned the resource here.
I love that God heard her and made sure her pain was not forgotten. And how God heard all the bickering and conniving of the men in her life and exposed it shamelessly. Great blog Bill, thank you.