Free Audio Now Available – 2016 Lydia Symposium

Valerie Hobbs with Mark Garcia

When I returned home from the Lydia Symposium in September, my husband came to collect me at the airport, and we spent the hour and a half drive home talking through the events of the weekend. That evening, I sent a summary of the weekend to a friend who could not be there and told him that I would struggle to write about the event without talking about my personal history. Since then, I have written and rewritten my summary of the first Lydia Symposium, each time eventually deleting it all and starting again. It has proven extremely difficult to do justice to what was genuinely a significant turning point in my life.

Against the backdrop of the still prominent patriarchal culture within the modern Christian church, considering the growing body of evidence that such a culture potentially empowers the abuse of Christian women, and in light of the many pressing questions facing Christians regarding gender and sexuality, we held our inaugural Lydia Symposium.

This inaugural Symposium featured lectures by Drs. Rebekah Josberger (Multnomah University), Mark Garcia (Greystone Theological Institute), and myself (Sheffield University and the Lydia Center). The subject matter ranges rather widely, perhaps more widely than one might expect from a Center focused as we are on the academic research and discussion of gender, marriage/divorce theory, children, and family. Here you will hear about the nuances of Torah in relation to righteousness, the significance of discourse about divorce in sermons, Matthew’s use of Hosea, the beauty and richness of God’s norms, with questions and suggestions pulled from biblical studies, theology, history, ethics, and linguistics.

The weekend began with Dr. Mark Garcia’s talk on Friday evening entitled Just Joseph: Mary, Marriage, and Matthean Mercy. Mark spoke about righteousness as mercy, the significance of Joseph acting to cover what he believed to be Mary’s shame, his act not to expose her but to take the burden of potential shame on himself.

Mark’s second talk was after lunch on Saturday, entitled, Are Women Safe in the Church? Women, Safety, and the Samaritan. He focused our attention on John 4 and the account of the woman at the well. He discussed the significance of Jacob’s well, the ambiguity regarding why this woman had five husbands (noting the common interpretation that this was due to her own adultery) but the convincing interpretation that she was very likely rejected unrighteously by her various men, and perhaps because she was barren. And then the spread of the Gospel through her, the water of life springing up within and out of her, to the villagers. Her barrenness healed. I found Mark’s work not only thorough and honest to the text but deeply moving. Are women safe in the church? I encourage you to listen to Mark’s assessment.

Dr. Rebekah (Becky) Josberger’s first talk on Saturday was entitled Torah as Protector of the Vulnerable and centered on Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Becky began her talk with common mistakes we make when reading Torah. She focused, for example, on problems in assuming that God’s law describes something idyllic, a means for living in ideal circumstances. Instead, she argued, its purpose is to give us guidelines for living in a broken world and to foster a relational knowledge of God. In her words, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, an instance of Torah,

is drawing a picture to shape a paradigm that is to guide broader attitudes and behavior – behavior that reflects Yahweh’s own righteous character to our community and to the watching world.

Becky took us through the biblical text and through similar texts of the period, arguing that rather than a passage about divorce,

The primary issue in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is not the divorce, but the abuse that the divorce represents.

Particularly moving was Becky’s reframing of Malachi 2 in light of her convincing scholarship on Deut. 24. Becky took up a common misinterpretation of this passage, “You are offensive because you are divorced” and recast it as, in context, a message of God’s hatred of the mistreatment of the vulnerable.

Becky’s second talk later in the day was a kind of meditation on Torah, again not as a means of deriving “specific, limited, outward behavioral responses,” but rather, Torah as God using story to teach us about Him and how to be like Him.

I delivered my talk entitled The Discourse of Divorce on Saturday morning. I began by situating my corpus of sermons within a broader context, summarizing my philosophy of language, and then delving into the sermons themselves. I discussed evidence for a discourse of rules and evaluation, a discourse of polarization, a discourse of violence, and a discourse of female exclusion.

At the end of the day, in closing the symposium, I reflected on the ways in which the various talks worked together. My work investigated how pastors talk about divorce in the Church and the extent to which it is problematic, even dangerous. Providentially, the message from Mark and Becky was this: Despite the destructive messages you may encounter, they do not represent who you are before God. They do not represent who God is.

Our first symposium was sparsely attended, but this fostered a friendly and communal atmosphere. During breaks, we moved from the main conference room to a smaller upstairs table, where we talked and shared experiences, reflecting on what we had heard and what it meant for each of us.

The talks from our first symposium may be accessed for free here (scroll to the bottom section of the page), and we encourage you to begin with Mark’s “Series Introduction”. Almost all of the lectures are provided in audio form. But one of the lectures, my own, included visuals, so we have provided only this one in video  (i.e., audio plus slides) format. I have also provided a personal video introduction to my talk which you will see at the beginning of my lecture.

As noted in the lectures themselves, this audio is being provided free of charge in order to spread the word about the kinds of things Greystone is doing. If you find any of the talks helpful, please feel free to share them with as many as you desire, but please also consider making a donation to Greystone to help cover the considerable costs of holding this event and to help the Center continue its work.

Finally, please note that the talks at our first Lydia Symposium were scholarly, in keeping with our mission. Our aim is to examine important questions facing women in the church in a careful, serious, and thorough manner. If we are to speak with authority, if our resources are to effect change, we must handle with rigour the texts we encounter.

Thank you for listening. We pray you will be encouraged, challenged, and invigorated in service of Christ, His Church, and the world.

How to be a friend to someone facing abuse: Guest Post by Alice Childers

a-cord-of-three-strandsOpening Remarks to the Guest Post

The words of our enemies aren’t as awful as the silence of our friends.

Daisy Coleman

Last weekend, I watched the documentary Audrie and Daisy, which explores the ‘public square of shame’ of young girls who have been sexually assaulted. While this documentary is a powerful expose of rape culture (in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence towards women is normalized), it is also a disturbing portrait of secondary victimization via bystanders. When a victim of some kind of gender-based violence (whether that be physical or psychological) reports her abuse, the response of those around her can either be a source of great comfort and empowerment or they can be themselves a form of violence.

The devastating effects of secondary victimization are well-documented (see Chapter 8 of this book for a start). However, also worthy of attention is what some call the ‘friendship protection hypothesis‘. In short, when the friends, family, and acquaintances of a victim and officials tasked with responding to sexual assault, bullying, or other kinds of intimate partner violence believe, support, comfort, encourage, and assist, victims of such crimes, good things happen. Not only are victims better equipped to heal from their trauma, but they are less likely to be re-victimized.

Mark and I had the great privilege of meeting two ladies, one a survivor of spousal abuse and the other her friend, at the inaugural Lydia Symposium a few weeks ago. Both drove a long distance to attend, and having heard their story, we asked the friend to write a guest post for us in response to the question: What does it mean to be a friend to someone facing abuse? We are grateful to be able to publish her account in her own words here.

How to be a Good Friend to Someone Facing or Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Walking with someone who is coming out of an abusive relationship will not be like any other situation you have faced.  At least, this is what I have found.

I have learned throughout this experience with my best friend, that there are a number of things she needs.

First of all, she needs to be believed. This may sound trivial, but there will be many people who will not believe her, or will minimize what she says or what she has been through.

She also needs to hear you say you will never leave her.  You should show her this with both words and actions.  For my friend and me, this means having my cell phone near at all times, especially by my bed at night, when her fear is often the greatest. She needs to be reassured and listened to.  Her fear is very real and at times almost unbearable. You can be that calm voice to reassure your friend she is not alone.  She will have triggers, memories that come back which have been suppressed, sometimes for years, because of the fog she has lived in.

Listening and praying, reading scripture and reminding her of truth; these are ways my friend has needed me.  Encourage your friend and let her know this did not happen overnight, and won’t change overnight.  Patience is key.  Leaving an abusive relationship is a huge life change for her. But you being there as a faithful, consistent presence will make the journey so much easier and better for her.

Incorporating things which might give a sense of normalcy to her life, is another important thing I have learned. Planning fun times like shopping, going out for coffee or a movie, or whatever your friend enjoys, is another way you can help her feel like she is moving on.  Laughter, music, time with other friends or family can all be a blessing, as well as healing, for her. Supporting her in different ways will be essential.

Leaving an abusive relationship is a very courageous thing to do.  But it is also scary and creates more fear in your friend’s life. Validation is so important.  Love her.  Respect her. Treat her with dignity.

My friend is not a victim anymore.  She is a survivor.

I believe one of the most important things to give her is unconditional love. I have spent many days listening, praying, and often, crying with my friend.  She has had so many emotions; grief, anger, despair, shock, betrayal, and a host of others.  Unconditional love is vital.  She will need it in your hugs, and by holding her hand when she finds out yet another lie.  Through it all, you can tell her and show her that you will stand with her and weather the storm together.

As a friend who has walked closely with someone who is leaving an abusive marriage, I can tell you that God has taught me in a whole new way, what it means to bear another’s burdens.  Don’t be surprised when your friend is accused or not believed, over the one who is abusing.  Even you, as her friend, may be ridiculed or talked about badly if you support her.  All the more reason you must stay with her and stand by her side.

Supporting my friend has been humbling and life changing for me, in a very good way.

It truly is a privilege to be the hands and feet for my Savior.  At times, to be the anchor, and to remind her of God’s precious truth and His sovereignty over all these things.

How can you help a friend who is facing or leaving an abusive relationship?

Take her hand, look into her eyes, and tell her, “Friend, we will get through this together.  I am here, and God will see us through.”

Alice Childers


The Lydia Symposium 2016: A word of thanks

John 4: The Woman at the Well

This week (I hope), I will be writing a summary of and reflection on Lydia’s first symposium last weekend. In advance of that, we at the Lydia Center owe a great debt to those who attended, listened, asked engaging questions, offered suggestions, shared stories, and laughed, talked, and cried with us. Some attended at great inconvenience to themselves, and we are grateful for your time, effort, and enthusiasm. In connection with that, in the next few weeks, we plan to publish a post from one of our attendees, whom we hope will take us up on our offer to do so.

Thank you also to those who prayed and donated to make this event possible and fruitful. Our work is not possible without you.

We also want to thank our special speaker Dr. Becky Josberger, whose talks were as engaging as they were scholarly. We hope to facilitate the dissemination of her very important work to as wide an audience as possible.

Finally, please note that we video recorded all of the talks and will be making those available as soon as possible to those who could not attend.

Announcing the 2016 Inaugural Lydia Symposium

Mark Garcia and I are thrilled to announce the inaugural Lydia Symposium, to be held  16-17 September, 2016 at Greystone Theological Institute in Coraopolis, PA. We intend this event to act as an introduction to our work and an opportunity to engage with and hear from all those who are interested in investigating, discussing, and working towards solutions for issues facing Christian women. We are especially pleased that Dr. Rebekah (Becky) Josberger will be joining us as an invited speaker, delivering two talks connected to her work on the Torah and specifically the father in Israel. (You will learn more about her important work soon.) Please also note that I will be leading a roundtable discussion during this event, intended to provide opportunity for reflection and dialogue amongst attendees and presenters.

This event is free (Register here!), and we hope this will facilitate your attendance. It is our hope that supportive donors will subsidize this event. If you believe in the work of the Lydia Center and would like to attend the event, please consider making a donation in whatever amount you are able. Even if you cannot attend the event, your valuable donation allows us to offer this and other events for free.

I hope to see you in Coraopolis in September.