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A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003

Heterosexism and the Stranger: A Meditation on Judges 19:9-30  

Heterosexism and the Stranger:

A Reflection on Judges 19:9-30

by Lyn Headley-Moore


A story of such deep violence.  Now, Id like you to join me on a journey to ancient Gibeah.

Close your eyes.  Sit comfortably, recover your center, try to breathe evenly, slowly and deeply.  Breathe in the Spirit, breathe out anger and rage, as best you are able.  Breathe in the love in this room, breathe out toxins and the words of the story  that hurt you.  Breathe in to relax your chest and your shoulders and your neck.  Breathe out tension and tightness and listen to the reflections of the virgin who was offered by her father to the crowd of vile men in Gibeah.

I find that I cant stop thinking about her and what happened to her that terrible night, the night they call the tragedy at Gibeah, although I can hardly bear it.  I still cry for her.

An amazing thing: when anyone speaks of the tragedy at Gibeah, they are referring to the betrayal of hospitality by the gang of Israelite men.  They never speak or even seem to think of Delphia -- thats what she told me to call her.  To respect and honor her, I always remember and think of her by using her name.

Even the women I meet at the well to talk and laugh and share stories about the children of the village dont know the whole story.  They believe what the men have told them: that what happened to her was somehow her fault, her wantonness.  Although her abuse was also our abuse, we have learned to oppress through our own oppression and we have not yet learned that oppression does not achieve power.  Oppression breeds oppression.

I have kept the secret of what I believe to be Delphias only shame that her own husband betrayed her.  I pray for her every day.

I only knew her for a short time, just that terrible night, two years ago; the time it took for a simple dinner to be prepared and served and for us to eat that last supper together.

While we ate, the men talked together and she and I talked.  She told me that they were returning from her fathers home, where she had stayed for some four months, because she was angry with her husband.  She was happy because he came for her and spoke tenderly to her, came to take her home.  She said that her father had used delaying tactics for several extra days to keep them in Bethlehem in Judah, (perhaps to protect her from her husbands wrath? I dont know), but in the end they had left for home in the remotest hill country of Ephraim, where my own father is from.

I dont think she knew that her husband was angry with her for asserting herself and embarrassing him.  But I think he must have been.

In that short time, I understood her to be my sister, as all women are truly sisters, even though she was a stranger; after all I knew her life as well as she knew mine the way all women know, generally, the experiences of all others.

I know the life of women: we are perceived as without value, except as bearers of sons, simply because we are women.  It can be even worse for a concubine -- a woman who is not the first wife and therefore not even called wife.

As wife or concubine, I cannot expect a marriage that offers me the equality and value due a human being, perhaps not even the value accorded a donkey with a saddle because my father is not rich.  Mens values and needs are always placed above ours and above us theirs are always first and the only needs to be considered.  That is just the way it is.

We have no property after all, property cannot own property.  We have no right to say yes or to say no, in or out of a marriage.  We have no choice but to adapt our lives to theirs, if we want to eat, to have a place to live, to secure a life for our sons.  For our daughters, we pray hard that is all we seem to be able to offer them, prayer and the guarantee of a hard life.

Every time I think of Delphia and that night of horrors, I think, It could have been me.  It felt like it was I.  I try to convince myself that my father would not really have sent me out to those men, but I know, in my heart, that he would have.  Hospitality to a stranger in his house, protecting the man, the guest, saving face with his people living in the remote hill country of Ephraim, these were the things that were important to him.  His own daughter would have been a small sacrifice to pay.

That betrayal has changed me, frightened me in a way I never thought possible.  And until that moment that night I never really understood how little my father, whom I trusted and loved and from whom I expected safety and protection, how little he valued and cared for me.  I never really understood how alone and isolated I am, how insignificant and helpless I am.

And who was there to stop the atrocities of that night?  The women whose men were in that violent crowd had no power to stop them.  Like me, they had to hide in their beds because there was no one to intervene, no one to stand up for her and there would be no one to stand up for them or to save their lives or support them if they tried.  And then, already feeling as ashamed and angry and endangered and trapped as I feel, added to the life of dependence and fear that is our lot, when you have lived through a night like that, it creates an atmosphere of greater threat and intimidation. It gives our captors, the men in our lives, even greater power and control and undermines our capacity to believe we can do anything.  I still have nightmares about that night several times a week.

In some ways, the demand to send out the man was not totally unheard of.   As the spoils of war, the reward for the conquerors, men and women are often sexually abused by their conquerors; not by men who, by nature, lie with and make their homes with men, but by men who exercise their power to control in an act of ultimate degradation and subordination.   Its ugly and cruel, but it does happen.

The gang that came to our door that night sought a sense of power, using violence and vile acts to feed their false sense of superiority.  They sought to conquer the stranger and were satisfied instead to further dehumanize someone already perceived as less than human simply because she was born a woman.  I believe that those men BELIEVE that they are stronger, more powerful, more human, because they lowered the value of someone else.  After all, abusing the strangers concubine was to them, the equivalent of vandalizing or torching the foreigners house.

Maybe, in a scary way, for Delphias husband, this was an act intended to humiliate the less powerful, conquered enemy.  I do believe he was angry with her.  Maybe he was frightened for himself also, but mostly I think he saw an opportunity to punish her for leaving him, separating from him for those four months by her choice angry that someone he perceived as being in his control and of so little value would stand up to him and leave him, have expectations of his treatment of her and exercise her own power.

To my mind, he could not have cared very much about her he went to bed and to sleep!  He slept through the night and slept through her screams and the mens raucous reveling.  When he opened the door in the morning, he hadnt given a thought to what she had been through.

His only thought seemed to be to get on the road to return home; perhaps to return to his seat of power.  There she was, dead on the doorstep where she had crawled for help and hope, her arms outstretched, her fingers and nails as torn as her poor, small body.  His outrage was not for what she had suffered, for her pain or the fear she must have known; his anger was not for the abuse and violence and trauma she experienced, for her tears or for her death.  He was not even sad.  As I watched him, I felt as though I were being assaulted.  I am sure that I felt more the brutality that Delphia, a stranger, a foreigner, had experienced than he, her own husband.

His outrage was solely for himself, what he had suffered.  I was shocked and appalled when I heard that in his self-righteousness, he had further mutilated her: hacked her into twelve pieces, to show his disgust that such a thing had happened in a town of Israelites where he had expectations of hospitality.  He seemed not to have even one thought, it seems to me, for the part he had played in the brutality Delphia knew on that tragic night in Gibeah!

I often wonder: which hurt her more?  Being repeatedly raped and beaten throughout the night or her husbands betrayal in throwing her to her abusers, by throwing her life away.

I have thought and thought about that terrible night.  I pray for her.  I pray, even today, two years later, that she could feel her Gods arms warm and broad and strong around her throughout her ordeal.  I pray that she was able to escape to a high cloud and see what was happening to her at a great distance, as I used to escape to the ceiling and look down when there was fighting in the house or when I could hear someone being cruelly treated or beaten.

I have thought and thought to try to make sense of a night that makes no sense in the hopes that in understanding it, there might be a way stop it from ever happening to anyone again.

Women are so strong we live with so little control of our own lives, we love with so little returned love.  We bear and raise and protect our children, we survive losing them and we hold our pain and fears and horrors silently in our hearts.  We care for the old and the infirm, we take good care of the men who provide food and shelter for us, our fathers and our husbands; we work so very hard for long hours every day and we go on.  We live with war and violence and disregard; sometimes, even God seems to care more for men and their wars and their power than for the poor lives of the women.

It takes a lot of strength to be a woman, to survive, but we do not yet know how to translate our inner strength into changing the world into a safe place.  Perhaps someday soon we will find ways to support one another and grow in the power to influence the world for justice, for peace, for kindness and mutuality.  Perhaps, too, the day will come when we can resist violence together and stand up for and with one another to exert power for good and for a world without violence, with rights for women as for men, a life with choices and shared power.  This is my prayer.  I hope God hears me.

Perhaps I can start the stone rolling by no longer hiding the secrets of that terrible night Ill break the silence.  I can stop protecting myself by sharing the guilt I feel about surviving that night when Delphia did not, tell them about feeling as if I were the one being abused and tell the women of the well of my feelings of shame that my father was willing to sacrifice me in favor of a stranger.  I can stop protecting the men by telling the women what their husbands did and what really happened that tragic night in Gibeah.  I can speak up and give Delphia a voice.

I can tell them who Delphia was a woman with a life just like ours, except that she did, for a brief few months, honor and love herself, honor and assert her own power.  Perhaps, by sharing my secrets with the women at the well, I wont feel so alone and so helpless.  I can be there for them, listen to them and, with them, create a circle of love and begin to heal.

And Ill continue to pray.  Perhaps, in breaking this silence I can give honor to Delphia that and remembering her name.

Judges 19:9-30

   When the man with his concubine and his servant got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl's father, said to him, "Look, the day has worn on until it is almost evening. Spend the night. See, the day has drawn to a close. Spend the night here and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early in the morning for your journey, and go home."  
    But the man would not spend the night; he got up and departed, and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him.  When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, "Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it."  But his master said to him, "We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will continue on to Gibeah."   Then he said to his servant, "Come, let us try to reach one of these places, and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah."  So they passed on and went their way; and the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin.  They turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city, but no one took them in to spend the night.  
    Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.)  When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, "Where are you going and where do you come from?"   He answered him, "We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going to my home. Nobody has offered to take me in.  We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more."  The old man said, "Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square."   So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank.  
   While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, "Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him."  And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, "No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing.  Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing."  But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go.  As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man's house where her master was, until it was light.  
   In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold.   "Get up," he said to her, "we are going." But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home.  When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.   Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, "Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, 'Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.' "  

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