By now, all of you have heard or read about the Trump Tape. In the wake of Trump’s
locker room talk sexual assault, several key figures of the Republican brass have pulled their endorsements (or refused to defend him). However, a few key leaders within the Religious Right have taken a different approach. “We’re all sinners,” Jerry Falwell said. “We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t.”
That’s curious. I’ve never personally witnessed anyone bragging about sexual assault. But I do know that those who dismiss sexual assault as “locker room talk” or “a thing we wish we hadn’t done” perpetuate the type of culture in which rich white men too frequently get away with sexual assault with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
Following their lead, I’ve seen several people on Facebook use the following Bible verse in defense of Trump: “He who is without sin cast the first stone!”
You do not get to use Jesus’ words as a dismissal of assaults on women.
As one of my religion professors from undergrad used to say, “A text without a context is a pre-text for a prooftext.”
So let’s take a closer look at what Jesus actually said:
1While Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.[a] 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.”[b] And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”]][c]
John 8:1-11 (NRSV)
Do you see, now, what happens when scripture is quoted out of context — stripping it of all its meaning?
Do you see, now, the negligence and gross irony of dismissing assault by saying, “He who is without sin cast the first stone?”
If not, let me spell it out for you.
In John 8, Jesus appears, again, at the temple despite the fiasco in John 2. Apparently Jesus doesn’t give up easily on the temple (which is good news for us because I’ve been ready to throw in the towel for a while now).
The scribes and Pharisees are looking to catch Jesus in a trap. The text says, The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.”
Did you catch those first two verbs? They brought her. They did not ask her to come. They did not politely invite her. They brought her like a dog on a leash — like some odd curiosity to show the crowd. Why did they bring her? Because they caught her like some animal in a trap (as if it’s even possible to be caught in the act of adultery all by yourself).
Why did they decide to objectify and denigrate her in this way? Because they were powerful leaders who believed they could. You know, the same reason Donald Trump believes he can assault women.
Next set of verbs: Moses commanded us to stone (read: assault) such women.
Note that it’s not “this particular woman” (we are never given her name). Instead they say that Moses commanded us to stone “such women” (another act of objectification and denigration). You see, this woman isn’t even the subject of their trap. She’s the object. She’s circumstantial. She’s just the bait they need to set their trap. And bait gets eaten. That’s what bait is — scrap meat.
Also of note: their exegesis is quite poor.
Moses doesn’t command. Moses is the great liberator. That’s his first role in the history of Israel and the mighty acts of God. Moses is also the giver of the law but the law was written by the finger of God. God is the one who commands. That is God’s verb! Moses is just the courier, giving it to the people.
Furthermore, the law DOES NOT say to stone such women. The law says that both the adulterer and adulteress are to be stoned (Leviticus 20) but none of the religious leaders have any intention of bringing the man before Jesus because well…boys will be boys and…you know…”we’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t.”
It’s a very sloppy bit of argumentation these religious leaders are making and it leads them to the brink of assaulting a woman in the house of God just to prove a point because they believed they could.
So when you actually put the verse back in its context, Jesus is not giving Donald Trump a pass. In fact, its just the opposite. The question before Jesus is, “May we assault this woman?” Jesus’ response is a firm and resolute condemnation of the objectification and denigration of women by those whose power leads them to believe they can.
Now do you see it? If you’re defending or dismissing Trump’s assault. You’re actually the one with a stone in your hand, steadying your aim in the direction of all those who have suffered from or been silenced by an abuser.
But it’s not too late. There is still time to drop your stone and walk away (a long, long way) from Donald Trump.
(Patrick Craig is a graduate student at Duke University Divinity School)