Abusive Assumptions

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 22.26-27
26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

Reflection: Abusive Assumptions
By John Tillman

A court’s verdict is just a number on the scoreboard or the snapshot of a referee holding up one fighter’s glove. When we see an article about a Supreme Court ruling, that’s typically all we get—a snapshot. Detailed legal opinions from the justices give graphic, blow-by-blow accounts of how every punch landed and every point was scored.

The “Majority Opinion” shows the reasoning that won the majority of the court over. We learn the evidence the majority found compelling and vital. The “Minority Opinion” details the other justices’ disagreements with their colleagues, including evidence they weighed differently, and reasons they would rule differently.

Moses became the de facto Supreme Court for Israel. He daily heard case after case of everyday mishaps, typical crimes, and outright scandals during the desert sojourn. Eventually, Moses created a court system, appointing judges over successively smaller groups of people. These judges decided simple cases and sent only the most difficult cases to higher judges and eventually to Moses.

Moses had, or developed, a refined legal sensibility and the writings of the law reveal this. They often read like a listing of old case decisions. Sometimes we get only a ruling or verdict, but often, we get hints of Moses’ reasoning. Without familiarity with the cultural context, sometimes we scratch our heads at the verdicts we see. However, it can be helpful to keep our ears open to the compassionate reasoning we find.

In this case of two people in a sexually compromising situation, Moses gives the benefit of the doubt to the party more likely to be victimized. Abuse is assumed by the more powerful and the best is assumed about the target of abuse, not the worst. In Moses’ day, it was assumed that when someone cried out regarding abuse, help would come. In our day, this assumption has often proved false.

God expects us, like Moses, to use our logic to apply his love for others in our interactions with them. Whatever judgments we make about others should be humble (because we are also sinful), compassionate (assuming the best about the victims), and without bias (allowing no excuses due to someone’s prior status, wealth, or “importance”).

Moses’ task was to establish justice. Ours is as well. God will judge organizations, nations, churches, and individuals by how well we carry out justice—especially for abuse victims. May we avoid abusive assumptions and act to rescue them.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
Let none who look to you be put to shame. — Psalm 25.1-2

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 22 (Listen – 4:13)
Psalm 110-111 (Listen – 1:57)

Read more about Beyond Consent
The very first step of abuse is to groom victims until they consent to abuse.

Read more about No Princes :: A Guided Prayer
How many believers veil their trust in men as trust in God?

Restoration of Civility

Psalm 109.28
While they curse, may you bless;
may those who attack me be put to shame,
but may your servant rejoice.

Luke 6.45
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

From John:
At The Park Forum, we have long wondered how powerful it would be if the Church took the lead in restoring public civility. We repeat this post from several years ago as a prayer that out of the overflow of our hearts our mouths would speak peace and love and hope that can only come from the Holy Spirit.

Reflection: Restoration of Civility
The Park Forum

“In Hebrew the term dabar means both word and deed,” Frederick Buechner observes. “Thus, to say something is to do something.” Buechner explains:

“Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endless!”

How many ripples have we suffered in this year of political rancor? The collective loss of civility has been mourned as often as it has inflicted wounds across the spectrum. Yet, Hua Hsu writes for the New Yorker, “The problem with civility is the presumption that we were ever civil in the first place.” Hsu continues:

“Thanks to the Internet, we have become expert parsers of language, meaning, and authorial intent. We have grown obsessed with subtext. In other words, we live in very discursive times, when language seems to matter more than ever.”

“See how a great forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire,” warns the book of James. How powerful would it be if the Church were to lead in the restoration of public civility in American culture?

For such a restoration to take place we would have to begin with confession. For while the nearly-endless coverage of this year’s broken discourse makes it feel different, it is far from abnormal. In a piece promoting the upcoming Civility In The Public Square event, Timothy Keller explains:

“It could be argued that America has never really been a genuinely pluralistic, perspective-diverse, free society. We have never been a place where people who deeply differ, whose views offend and outrage one another, nonetheless treat each other with respect and hear each other out.”

Those who have held the reins of cultural power—its greatest academic centers, its most powerful corporations, the media—have often excluded unpopular voices and minority views that fell on the wrong side of the public morality of the day.

In the 1980s and ’90s, many white evangelical Christians wanted to occupy those places of power, and showed little concern at the time to create a society that respected communities with sharply differing moral visions.

Civility falters when people live in fear—fear that their views may be wrong; fear that their power is limited; fear that there is no sovereign who cares for their interests. But the rhythms of civility restore what was lost in the fall, as Buechner concludes:

“Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I both discover and create who I am. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our converse we create each other.”

Reading List
Civility In The Public Square. Timothy Keller for the Redeemer Report.
A Free People’s Suicide. Os Guinness for Q Ideas.
The Civility Wars. Hua Hsu for The New Yorker.
Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Dr. Richard Mouw.

Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18:46

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 22 (Listen – 4:13) 
Psalm 110-111 (Listen – 1:57) 

Thank You!
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Read more about Prayer, Silence, and Civility
How much we need our words to be incense today…how much we need the fragrance of our prayers to rise before God.

Read more about Killing With our Hearts
We rush to soften Christ’s teaching about violent thoughts and words because we are unwilling to let go of them.