Last week, when Paul Kingsbury (who I referenced in regard to “bitterness” in my first Untwisting Scriptures book) preached the sermon I’m critiquing today, I was busy putting the finishing touches on my third Untwisting Scriptures book and sending it out to the readers who will help me with my Book Launch when it comes out November 1st. Needless to say, I’m excited about this!
But now I’m able to turn my attention back to where it so often ends up going: Bad Sermons.
Paul Kingsbury is a former Chicago-area pastor who was the co-founder of Reformers Unanimous, the addiction recovery program that Josh Duggar attended a few years ago. Kingsbury has been named before and was recently named again in a news article about what appeared to be covering for someone who a missionary who had sexually assaulted a woman.
Earlier this year a group of survivors from two of Kingsbury’s institutions, North Love Baptist Church and North Love Christian School, formed a Facebook group for those who experienced abuse in those institutions.
As they continued to systematically “cry out” against the abuses they and their loved ones had experienced, especially including sexual abuse cover-ups, the combined voices finally had the effect of Kingsbury submitting his resignation from the church that he had pastored for 47 years.
The sermon I’m critiquing today (link), preached at the beginning of October after he was gone from the church, gives me the impression that it was at least in part a response to those who had cried out against him.
His sermon’s theme: “What is the Biblical response to sexual assault?” He takes his text from the story of Joseph in Genesis chapter 39.
Synopsis: Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, who was probably in his early to mid-twenties at the time. She was a wicked woman, and he was a noble young man. He escaped and was subsequently falsely accused and imprisoned.
I want to mention here, that contrary to what it may seem from my blog post title, Kingsbury never mentioned Tamar, King David’s daughter who was raped by her brother Amnon in 2 Samuel 13. I’m the one who’s going to be talking about her.
Kingsbury had 8 points in his “Biblical response”:
- Joseph refused.
- Joseph resisted.
- Joseph ran.
- Potiphar’s wife cried out.
- Potiphar’s wife had evidence.
- Potiphar told the authorities.
- Potiphar got angry.
- Just serve God.
If you’re wondering here how all those points qualify as “Biblical responses to sexual assault,” then you’re not alone. There are many of us who felt the same way.
Biblical response #1. Joseph refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife.
Yes, in this way, this young man was exemplary. Kingsbury didn’t mention that Joseph actually tried to reason with her, but I believe that’s an important point. Joseph said,
“Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8-9)
It’s an important point, I believe, because in another sexual assault scenario in the Bible, that of Tamar, she said something quite similar:
“No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel.” (2 Samuel 13:13)
In both cases, they didn’t simply say “No,” because there was an actual relationship with the predator—in one case, a business relationship, and in the other case, family. In both cases, they tried to get the predator to consider a higher standard.
Biblical response #2. Joseph resisted.
Day after day Potiphar’s wife tried to get him to lie with her, and he continued to refuse.
There is no parallel here with Tamar in 2 Samuel 13, because Amnon stopped with trying to convince her and got right down to assaulting her.
Why the difference? Most likely because Joseph was a strong young man in his twenties and Potiphar’s wife knew she couldn’t overpower him. With Tamar, it was the typical story of a female victim and a strong male assailant.
But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her. (2 Samuel 13:14)
Biblical response #3. Joseph ran.
Potiphar’s wife grabbed him by his cloak, he slipped out of it, and he got away.
There is no parallel here with Tamar, either. By this time she had already been raped.
Now, recall, Kingsbury didn’t mention Tamar, only Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. (So far Tamar isn’t lining up with Potiphar’s wife very well.)
At this point Kingsbury stopped in his sermon to tell the story of his wife escaping from an assailant who tried to kidnap her. It sounds like his wife was an admirably brave woman. But he added that the man who tried to assault her was later arrested for murdering some women—obviously some of them hadn’t gotten away. Even in making the point that “you’re supposed to run,” Kingsbury admitted that it’s not always possible to get away.
If Kingsbury’s wife had grown up in a home where her father was molesting her every night and her “freeze” response was highly developed, then she may well not have had the physical or emotional ability to climb out over the back seat of the car and get out. I’m glad that wasn’t the case for her, but it is the case for many people I know. This is especially true when the victims are children and the assailants are “authorities.” When the one doing the sexual assault is the pastor or the Christian school principal or the counselor or the grandfather or the visiting missionary. “You must obey, you must submit.” This is what these children have been told, and they have no way of knowing differently. Even, when they are still under the abusive power structure, even into adulthood.
Biblical response #4. Potiphar’s wife cried out(?)
This is where Kingsbury’s sermon got really weird. In a classic example of flipping the script, he said,
"She was a liar, but she did something that was instructional to all of us. She used her voice to call loudly."
This is like saying, “This unrepentant abuser pretended to repent in counseling, by weeping and saying how sorry he was and that he would never do it again. This is a good example to all of us, even though as soon as he and his wife drove away he grabbed her by the hair and bashed her face against the dashboard.”
Actually, Potiphar’s wife didn’t call out loudly. She only told others that that’s what she did, as part of the story she made up to cover for her own embarrassment and to explain why she was left there holding the cloak.
She called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.” (Genesis 39:14-18)
It was all a lie. She didn’t cry out.
Now let’s look at Tamar.
And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. (2 Samuel 13:9)
Tamer actually did cry loudly. . . . because she actually was sexually assaulted, unlike Potiphar’s wife, who was not.
Why would Kingsbury claim that we can be instructed by Potiphar’s wife, when she was a liar and there’s another example in the Bible of someone who was not lying when she cried out?
I can only guess, but my guess is that it may have been to plant questions in the minds of those who hear the “crying out” of people like the North Love Survivors group. Maybe something along the lines of “Sure it’s right to cry out if you were assaulted. But you’re probably lying.”
And Kingsbury not only stated this about Potiphar’s wife, but he emphasized it, as the biblical pattern. To “cry out” when you’ve been assaulted (except that she wasn’t assaulted and she didn’t actually cry out). In this context he said,
"Either ignorance of or willfully choosing not to follow the Biblical pattern is the #1 issue that destroys the progress in our Christian life to live for Christ and to serve Him."
Potiphar’s wife is setting the Biblical pattern?
"There’s thousands of people that have been abused or hurt and are not following this pattern."
This is crazy-making stuff.
"The Bible says if someone attacks our moral character, if someone makes advances that are unscriptural, we have a responsibility biblically to cry out immediately and loudly and until someone gives attention."
And Potiphar’s wife, whose moral character was not attacked, who was not advanced upon unscripturally, who was a liar, is our example?
How about if we look at Joseph? Did he cry out?
No, as far as we can tell, he was silent.
Does this mean he wasn’t following the Biblical pattern, because Potiphar’s wife presents the Biblical pattern here, rather than Joseph?
Can you see why listeners’ minds were spinning?
Biblical response #5. Potiphar’s wife had evidence(?)
The sermon continued to be screwy when he commended Potiphar’s wife for presenting her “evidence,” comparing her to Monica Lewinsky who had evidence of Bill Clinton’s guilt.
"She took Joseph’s garment to lie to her husband. But she gathered evidence. That was valuable, that was important."
Her evidence, of course, was false evidence. So tell me again, why was it valuable and important? Once again, his statement leads me to only one conclusion. It seems to me that he wanted his listeners to doubt those who say they have been sexually assaulted.
He went on to talk about the list he made of all the people in the Bible who were falsely accused. Yes, we can see where this is going.
In the case of Tamar, though, it appears that everyone in the family, and even the servants, knew exactly what had happened. Not just what Tamar claimed had happened, but what really did happen. No further evidence was needed. And her assault was still shamefully covered up, just the way Potiphar’s wife did.
Just the way abuses and assaults at North Love were covered up, according to those survivors, even though many of them told others within a reasonable amount of time of the assault.
Biblical response #6. Potiphar told the authorities(?)
Kingsbury spent a long time on this one, going to Romans 13 about how important it is to report a sexual assault to the police.
"If we don’t do what the Bible tells us to do, it muddies the waters, creates consequences that would not have to take place."
First off, it’s good to say you should report a sexual assault to the police. That is unusual among fundamentalists. I have friends who grew up fundamentalist who believed the opposite—that you should never report to the police.
But there are several other points to be drawn out here.
For one thing, “going to the authorities” isn’t in the text. Potiphar didn’t tell any authorities—he just took Joseph and threw him into prison. There wasn’t any “justice system” there in Egypt, it was authority-rule, just as so many have said was the case in the North Love system.
Also, as far as I’m aware, this is the first time Kingsbury has publicly said such a thing, with all of the covering of sexual assault that has allegedly gone on in the institutions under his jurisdiction. From what I understand, the leaders of the North Love complex have not told victims of sexual abuse to report, but have shamed and blamed them for what happened to them, even when the victims were underage and the assailants were authority figures.
Also, Kingsbury provided a cringe-worthy moment when he compared reporting sexual assault to reporting when his car was stolen. I already was aware that he didn’t understand sexual assault, but a statement like this cements it. They are nothing alike. The theft of a car doesn’t assault one’s very personhood, one’s very identity. Sexual assault does.
As Tamar said in 2 Samuel 13:13, “As for me, where could I carry my shame?” It is inflicted shame, moral injury, that we’re talking about here.
Did Potiphar’s wife experience inflicted shame? No, because she was the perpetrator of the crime, not the victim. She is not to be treated like the victim in any way, in any account, even a tricky one that tries to slyly present her “crying out” and her “presenting evidence” as examples of the Biblical way to handle assault.
Then Kingsbury told the story about his wife being molested by a bum off the street in the church foyer when she was seven years old. She cried out to her parents, the police were called, and she was safe. I’m truly happy for his wife, thankful that she was well cared for, but again, this is not the case for many. If it had been Deacon Bob with his pocket full of Hershey’s kisses who’d been molesting little Mary for several years now since she was a toddler in the nursery, she wouldn’t have any idea she should cry out. She would be an adult before she understood what happened to her, as she tried to deal with flashbacks and nightmares.
Biblical response #7. Potiphar got angry(?)
Except Kingsbury says this wasn’t a Biblical response. He shouldn’t have gotten angry.
Is this confusing? For one thing, he’s supposed to be presenting the Biblical response here, and he even says that Potiphar’s wife’s lies are the Biblical response (?), and chides those who don’t follow her “Biblical pattern,” but then he does an about-face here?
For another thing, if your wife tells you she was sexually assaulted, and you believe her, you shouldn’t get angry?
It is appropriate to be angry when someone you love has been violated. But in your anger, don’t lose your head. Potiphar didn’t have Joseph killed—and he easily could have. He only had him thrown in prison.
"And when his wrath was kindled it means I’m going to take matters into my own hands. That’s what wrath is. 'I’m taking what belongs to the judicial branch and I’m taking it into my own hands.'"
As I describe in my upcoming Untwisting Scriptures book (Book 3 Your Words, Your Emotions), anger is an emotion given by God to motivate you to set things right that are not right. It’s what David had against Goliath, for example. Anger can turn in a wrong direction, but the God-given purpose of it is to set things right. That’s what Potiphar tried to do, with the limited “justice” system available to him.
In the story of Tamar there are three angry responses, and all of them are awful. Amnon became angry and disgusted with Tamar as soon as he raped her, over-fulfilling her words about the inflicted shame she feared. Absalom, who knew about the assault but didn’t handle it in a righteous way, seethed with rage against his brother, and instead of looking for proper justice, he plotted to kill him. David was angry, but he did nothing.
What far better examples of unrighteous anger these would have been for a sermon teaching about righteous and unrighteous responses to sexual assault.
Biblical response #8. Just serve God(?)
"But the exhortation for all of us is that when or if this ever happens to us, that we must remain clear in our thinking, biblical in response, not allowing our emotions to bring us to be silent when we should speak up, or to be unbiblical, or to take matters into our own hands as he would say here is what took place."
Wow, that is a tall order for someone who has just been sexually assaulted.
I want to point out, Joseph actually was not sexually assaulted. He got away.
Potiphar’s wife certainly wasn’t sexually assaulted. She was the would-be assailant.
But who was? Tamar was. What a good example this would have been if he had really wanted to teach us about sexual assault.
"Now whether we’re on the side of Potiphar’s wife, or Joseph, the one being assaulted, or as Joseph was accused falsely . . ."
What in the world? Who is on the side of Potiphar’s wife? Are you implying that it is those who believe the victims?
"Serve God by serving others. Joseph ended up in prison, testimony reputation trash, but he made the most of it, serving others, and God blessed him remarkably, and this was the pathway to how God brought him to ministry opportunity in Egypt that is unbelievably great."
Joseph has a wonderful, inspiring story. He continued to trust God, and God was with him and blessed him.
I have friends, quite a few of them, who are continuing to trust God as they go through the flashbacks and nightmares similar to what I imagine Tamar must have experienced. And worse. Even worse. Because Tamar’s rape, as horrible as it was, was a one-time event. A discrete event. Definite beginning and definite ending.
I know those who were being molested by father or grandfather or uncle or brother from before they could even remember. Who didn’t know if today would be one of the days their sixth-grade teacher at their Christian school would take them to the supply room to rape them for 30 minutes during study hall. Who were living semi-normal day lives while being trafficked to the church members at night. Who . . .
I could go on. But I will spare you.
If someone makes an allegation against a bum, it’s easy to believe, and everyone wants the bum arrested. If it’s against a Wanted kidnaper, it’s easy to believe, and everyone is glad when he’s brought to justice.
But what about when the allegation is against the Christian school teacher, the deacon, the missionary? The pastor, the mission board leader, the Christian college graduate assistant, the Christian university administrator?
It will get harder to believe, definitely. More disturbing by far. But these accusations deserve to be seriously heard. The people making the accusations deserve to be helped.
Studies show that only 2-7% of rape accusations are false, Potiphar’s wife and her “Biblical response to abuse” notwithstanding.
And it is imperative that we who love the Lord Jesus Christ hold out our hands and hearts to those who are crying out “How will I carry my shame?”—in spite of twisted sermons that will help harden the hearts of Christians who need to be listening to the cries of those who have been harmed.