Our Communications Officer, Anneka James, sat down with Dr Kirsi Cobb in January to find out what’s been happening with the Bible, Gender and Church Centre (BGC) since its launch in May 2019…
(AJ) You launched the Centre last year – what have you been doing since then?
(KC) Following our inaugural lecture in May 2019, we’ve been busy researching and planning as well as applying for funding from different sources. We’re excited to be running a ‘Women in the Bible; weekend in May 2020, led by Dr Holly Morse and me (Kirsi), as part of Cliff’s short course programme. We’re also looking to hold a couple of conferences and workshops in the next two years focusing on gender violence in the Bible. From those conferences, we’d like to produce an edited volume as well as a resource for churches and Christian communities which helps them to deal well with texts that involve gender violence.
What’s one thing that you’ve learned through the activities and research of the Centre?
Our inaugural lecture was with Dr Susan Shooter, who has carried out research into the way survivors of sexual abuse understand and engage with faith. One of the things she found was that people who had gone through traumatic events like sexual abuse and retained their faith developed a really profound understanding of spirituality. Their level of faith and engagement with God was potentially comparable to people who partook in advanced spiritual practice. There seems to be something about traumatic events that either makes us lose faith or draws us dramatically closer to God, but rarely leaves us the same.
Gender violence is a very ‘of the moment’ topic – how do you think the church can contribute to and learn from these conversations?
In a world where gender violence is both common and losing its ‘taboo’ status, the church has to be prepared to listen and engage with the stories of survivors, and recognise that those survivors may approach Biblical texts differently than people who haven’t been through the same experiences. Part of the reason for wanting to produce a resource for churches is recognising that there will be women and men in those churches who have experienced gender violence. Reading texts that include gender violence in ways that are dismissive or unthinking, or using them to blame victims, can be really hurtful to people who’ve lived through similar experiences. Wider society’s shift in the way it sees gender violence is starting to seep through into the way the church sees it, but there’s more that we can do to raise awareness and encourage care and love for survivors.
Tell me more about the Women in the Bible weekend!
We’re so excited about it! Both Holly and I did our PhDs on women in the Bible – Holly’s on Eve, and mine on Miriam – so we’ll be covering the stories of those women and others over the weekend. We’ll also be looking at some of Paul’s writing on the roles and positions of women in the Bible. As a Christian, I believe that what I read in the Bible applies to my life today – and so we want to look at what these Biblical stories and passages meant for readers then, and mean for us now. We’ll be considering how the ways we have read and interpreted these texts for centuries has shaped our view of life and gender, and what alternative interpretations could teach or offer us.
And is the weekend just for women?
Absolutely not! Although the focus of teaching will be women in the Bible, the weekend is designed to teach and equip the whole church to understand Scripture better and carry that understanding into our churches and communities – so women and men are encouraged to attend!
If people are interested in finding out more about the Bible and gender, particularly gender violence and faith response, where should they look?
Good question! There isn’t loads of stuff out there on a Christian response to gender violence, but a good place to start is the Bible Society’s #SheToo podcast series, which offers theological reflections on texts that include stories of gender violence. Another place is the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence in Bristol, a study centre dedicated to working in the area of the interpretation of biblical texts of violence There’s also a nonprofit called Christians for Biblical Equality which has lots of content on the roles of women and men in Scripture and in the church, including some resources on gender violence and abuse. In terms of practical help, the charities Restored and Press Red offer support for survivors of gender violence, and resources for people interested in supporting them and finding out more. There are also some great books available, including Natalie Collins’ newly published ‘Out Of Control’, in which she offers insight into domestic violence and its impact on people’s lives.
If you’re interested in the Women in the Bible weekend, you can find out more on the course page, or book by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01246 584203.