Since our readership has rapidly expanded over the past few years, and especially during the past few months, we want to take some time this summer to draw attention to earlier articles for those who may have missed them. Today's article was among those from our first year and was published on Recovering Grace in April of 2012.
In his Character Sketches series, Mr. Gothard retells many of the stories found in Scripture to illustrate some aspect of character, either good or bad.
Often, however, these sketches are better at illustrating how Mr. Gothard will twist Scripture with points that are many times theologically poisonous and logically absurd. In light of the theme on Recovering Grace this month, it should be enlightening to examine how Mr. Gothard deals with the issue of sexual abuse as found in Scripture, particularly rape. Obligingly, Mr. Gothard provides us with sketches of the two instances of rape we find in Scripture where the victim is named. Let’s see what these sketches can reveal about Mr. Gothard’s view of Scripture and women.
First of all, it’s worth noting that these sketches reveal a lack of respect for Scripture. In order to make his point, Mr. Gothard has to continually insert ideas, motivations, and thoughts into the story to make it fit his attempt to illustrate a particular character trait. Notice how this works in his retelling of the story of Dinah (found in Character Sketches, volume 1, pp 287-289, and Genesis 34).
Dinah’s motives and thoughts according to Gothard:
“A young girl in her mid-teens wandered into a strange city with the intention of exploring and making new friends…
She may have considered asking her father’s counsel…perhaps a flood of memories prompted her to discount his opinion…She recalled the many arguments between her mother and her father’s other wife…Even if something did happen to her, he probably wouldn’t care.”
What was on Dinah’s mind according to Scripture:
“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. “ (Gen. 34:1)
According to Mr. Gothard, Dinah went into the city with the intention of exploring and making new friends, and she came up with many reasons to support this decision. But Scripture simply says that she went to see the young women of the land. Now did Dinah wish to explore and make new friends? Maybe. But maybe she just wanted to see the local styles and customs. Or maybe she was going to a local festival. Or maybe…. Well you get the idea. The point is that Scripture doesn’t say. All it says is that she went to see the young women of the land. Claiming more than that is inserting into Scripture things that aren’t there.
Now, the above may seem like I am splitting hairs. After all, what’s the big deal if she went to make friends vs. going to a festival. Why does it matter if we say that she went to explore or not? And really, by themselves, these insertions don’t matter all that much. They are, after all, the sorts of insertions we naturally make whenever we read stories sparse in details. In fact, these particular insertions are fairly reasonable–so reasonable that it seems almost silly to protest against them. Now, maybe if all Gothard was doing was retelling the story with no ulterior purpose, one could easily forgo any mention of these sorts of insertions. However, this is clearly not the case.
This retelling is about examining and illustrating character, not simply trying to make an incident more understandable, interesting, or easier to read. In context, Mr. Gothard’s insertions work together to make Dinah seem a frivolous, flighty sort of person–someone who was doing something they knew they probably shouldn’t and had to come up with excuses to assuage her conscience. Mr. Gothard takes a single verse which says nearly nothing about her motivations or character–certainly nothing negative–and turns her into an example of initiative gone wrong. Without these sorts of insertions–insertions which, by themselves, may seem fairly innocuous–Gothard would have absolutely nothing to work with for his character sketch. So now that we have seen the seemingly reasonable insertions, let’s see how Mr. Gothard uses these to slide in his next, not-so-reasonable insertion.
Dinah’s initiative according to Mr. Gothard:
“Taking initiative which would have been contrary to her father’s wishes…
But none of these reasons justified the practice of exploring new areas of interest without the protection of wise counsel…Exploring our world may also expose ourselves to danger.”
Gothard goes on to claim that she decided to make this trip on her own initiative, without permission, and against what would have been the wishes of her father. However, Scripture says none of this, not even a hint of whether she did this with or without permission, or whether her father would have disagreed with her plan. As far as we can know, she very well may have had permission. The idea that she went without permission or that she took initiative on her own is pure speculation–even worse, pure speculation presented in Character Sketches as if it were Scriptural fact. In the sketch itself, Mr. Gothard spends a long paragraph speculating why Dinah may have gone off without “the protection of wise counsel.” He takes a passage which says nothing about the nature of Dinah’s initiative and assumes authoritatively that this as an unauthorized trip.
Without first using seemingly reasonable insertions to make Dinah seem like a teenager who is (thoughtlessly) out to have some fun, the part he inserts about her taking bad initiative wouldn’t make nearly as much sense. It is another classic tactic by Mr. Gothard: Propose ideas which seem so reasonable that it would seem silly to dispute them, and then use this as a basis to propose ideas which, absent from this foundation, wouldn’t seem nearly so reasonable as they do.
This same sort of tactic can also be seen at work in the character sketch about Tamar (found in Character Sketches, volume 2, pp 112-113, and 2 Samuel 13).
As with the story of Dinah, Mr. Gothard makes seemingly reasonable insertions in the story so as to find fault with the character of the rape victim. Yet when examined logically or compared with Scripture, the logic of his sketch falls apart.
For instance, he gives things which he claims should have been signs of danger if Tamar had had the proper level of alertness. He writes that “The first signal of danger came in the form of an unusual request. It was given…by her father the king.” Yet this makes little sense. Remember, this request first went to her father David–a man who was wise and had the experience of many years, not to mention he was no stranger to making requests of women with an ulterior motive in mind. Tamar, on the other hand, was young, inexperienced, and most probably highly sheltered. Yet Tamar was supposed to have seen this first sign of danger when her father didn’t? Furthermore, the narrative implies that such a request wouldn’t have been seen as a sign of danger. After all, the advice of Amnon’s “subtle” friend could reasonably be expected to not set off any danger alarms…otherwise such a plan wouldn’t have been very “subtle.” Such a claim is absurd and can only serve to call into question the character of Tamar.
The second sign of danger Tamar supposedly should have detected was…. HEY, BACK UP A SECOND!! I thought we had learned from the story of Dinah that wise counsel from one’s father would protect a girl from danger. Wasn’t one of the main points in the sketch on Dinah that if she had just gone to her father for permission she wouldn’t have been raped? But now Tamar is being faulted for going into a situation after being commanded to by her father! I am so confused now. Does this mean a girl is safe if she takes initiative as long as she is alert? Or does it mean that a girl shouldn’t follow the guidance of her father if she isn’t alert? Or does it mean that, when it comes to rape, it’s always the girls fault somehow?
Well back to the character flaws of Tamar…
The second sign of danger Tamar supposedly should have detected was that “he watched her with lustful eyes as she prepared to bake cakes for him.” As we can see in this Scripture passage, Amnon certainly had a lustful look in his eyes… err wait–Scripture says no such thing. This is nothing more than another insertion by Gothard into the story–an insertion which, again, works to call into question the character of the rape victim. Lastly, Gothard faults Tamar for failing to cry out to God. He claims that she didn’t cry out (another insertion which Scripture is simply silent on) and implies that if she had just done so, then she wouldn’t have been raped.
So we see with both of these sketches the sort of respect Mr. Gothard has for Scripture… Very little. Instead of sticking with what Scripture does say, he inserts his own thoughts and suppositions into the story and treats these as on par with Scripture. Without such insertions he would have no basis for presenting these women as examples of bad character, nor any basis for faulting them when Scripture never states or implies even slightly that they are at fault.
What is very ironic is that the story of Dinah could have been a very good sketch of initiative gone bad if Gothard had just focused on different characters. Instead of the near absence of any details about Dinah and her motives or initiative, very clear details are given about her brothers taking wrong initiative. They are said to have answered with deceit and to have made a plan to get revenge without the knowledge or counsel of their father. No blame or default of character is ever attributed to Dinah in the biblical story, yet the character and actions of her brothers are clearly faulted. In a story where one party is innocent and never faulted by Scripture, while another is clearly guilty of evil and faulted as such, why in the world would Gothard see fit to twist Scripture to turn the story on its head?
An incident which is primarily about the evil actions of others is twisted by Gothard to be an incident which would become “a constant reminder of [Dinah’s] uncontrolled initiative.” The rape of Tamar becomes a lesson on crying out when in danger of rape. All the focus of bad character is placed on the wrong people. The victims’ responsibility becomes the focus instead of those who actually perpetrated evil.