In 2 Samuel 13, Tamar, violated, shamed, manipulated, de-humanised, debilitated, grieved, isolated and humiliated by an act of sexual violence asks, “Where could I get rid of my disgrace?” The question appears to be unanswered.
Rid of My Disgrace, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, who work with sexual assault victims through Mars Hill Church, Seattle, ask how the gospel of Jesus Christ answers Tamar’s question, one which is startlingly common to many in the church today as well. Rid of My Disgrace is written to victims, both men and women. However, it’s an invaluable resource for anyone, and especially those in Christian ministry, for understanding what sexual assault is, its effects and how the gospel brings healing.
This diligently researched book is set out in three parts. The first, ‘Disgrace’, describes what sexual assault is. The second, ‘Grace Applied’, focuses on how denial, shame, distorted self-image, guilt, anger and despair are addressed by grace. Each chapter in this section has a personal story of a survivor of sexual assault and what grace has meant for them. The third and final section, ‘Grace Accomplished’, traces the Bible’s theology of sexual violence and redemption from it.
Rid of My Disgrace is outstanding for many reasons. Here are my top 10:
- It recognizes the breadth of sexual assault including ‘any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse or authority.’
- It crushes a number of myths about sexual assault.
- It validates the victim and calls sexual assault what it is – appalling crime.
- It genuinely confronts the question of where God is in sexual assault.
- It exposes the emptiness of self-help and self-empowerment strategies.
- It promises that the gospel does deal with the effects of sexual assault now.
- It maintains that full healing is our hope in the new creation. The balance between 6 and 7 is delicate.
- It manages to ask the victim to consider themselves a sinner while asserting that what was done to them was both grave evil and something for which they have no responsibility.
- It empowers victims to forgive and the discussion of forgiveness in the chapter on anger is exceptional.
- It draws on a breadth of Christian resources. The richness of Reformed theology is exemplified in quotes from Calvin, BB Warfield, and Ridley’s own Leon Morris. However, this is complemented by voices like Phyllis Trible, Walter Brueggemann, Dan Allender and Marie Fortune.
There are one or two weaknesses to this book. I thought, for example, that the authors may have read the Bible’s use of ‘shame’ through Western eyes and missed some important connotations. Additionally, there was no discussion of where professional help (especially non-Christian) might be useful. However, the task of this book is ambitious and it deals with the issues remarkably well. I have no hesitation recommending it and am thankful to God for the refreshingly biblical, sensible and sensitive contribution it makes to what is a very difficult topic.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.