Committed to justice and integrity, disrespect and doing harm to others bothers me. Most days, headlines explore sexual impropriety, economic downturns, religious and governmental terrorism, and domestic violence. Domestic violence is abuse, which includes mistreatment, misuse, or exploitation of spouse, children, or intimate partner. Such violence involves patterns of abusive behaviors by one or both partners in intimate relationships including dating, marriage, family, friends, or cohabitation. Domestic violence received labeling and public recognition a little over three decades in the United States. Previously, law enforcement considered domestic violence a private matter. Most of society told women to obey their husbands; if husbands beat them or their children, victims were at fault. Some religious traditions and their scriptures seem to sanction domestic violence by viewing women as property and/or being required to submit to their husbands, regardless.
For years, no one spoke about domestic and sexual violence. The usual practice, even in the eyes of law enforcement was that such business is private and we cannot interfere. Some of that has changed now that there are laws dealing with domestic and sexual violence. In the United States, federal and state law requires that institutions have a sexual harassment and hostile work environment policy. Unfortunately, too often the church and the academy are quite slow to act on such behavior. Since we continue to follow the aegis of “boys will be boys,” married preachers, priests, and male church leaders can sleep with numerous persons outside their legal and covenantal commitment and still is Rev. Dr. or Mr. on Sunday morning. Too often, professors and coaches commit sexual assault or violence or create hostile environments for their colleagues and students and often do not receive any kind of reprimand. While most perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence are men, we recognize that there are times when women also engage in domestic and sexual violence. Is this something new, or has it been around for a while?
Much of what undergirds sexual and domestic violence has roots in ancient philosophy, Christian theology, Greco-Roman praxis, and the ambiguity of the Bible. Many philosophers have argued that women are incomplete or inferior men. Many theologians have blamed women, by virtue of blaming Eve for the evil in the world. In ancient biblical texts, women were property of their fathers or their husbands. Further, her only import was most often to marry the right man, to bear the right son, so that that son could inherent the land promised by God to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3. God promised Abram to make his name great, which means that God would have covenantal relations with Abrams’ people in perpetuity; second, to give him a son, and third, to give him land. Further, the Hebrew Bible contains texts where kings and commoners rape, decapitate, and dismember women, sometimes p as sacrificial offerings.
Contemporaneously, not a month goes by wherein we do not hear reports of domestic and sexual abuse of children by clergy and teachers, molestation of children by parents, date rape, domestic homicide, and sex trafficking across the globe. About six years ago, a social worker from the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence approached me, requesting that I do training for clergy and social workers together, to help them find a common language about a deadly common problem. Just what is going on?
Using film and opera dialogically, my essay explores selected texts from Deuteronomy as catalysts that precipitate or critique domestic violence from a womanist perspective. After briefly reflecting on my analytical, contextual lens, the essay follows with: (1) providing contextual information about domestic violence; (2) examining statistics about domestic violence; (3) exegeting Deuteronomistic laws/scenarios supportive of domestic violence: marrying a captive woman; rebellious son (Dt. 21); marriage violations and rape (Dt. 22); and those laws antithetical to domestic violence: Ten Commandments (Dt 5); women’s wellbeing and human dignity (Dt. 15; 21; 24); (4) exploring characteristics of domestic violence in film: Burning Bed; Woman Thou Art Loose; and Precious; and contemporary opera, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, by composer Andrew Earle Simpson and librettist Sarah Brown Ferrario; and,(4) placing scripture, film, and opera in dialogue toward justice around domestic violence.