Holy smokes! The #MeToo movement has just made a transformation into the #HimToo movement, with the claim by two theology academics that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a victim of sexual abuse.
Katie Edwards of the University of Sheffield in the U.K. and David Tombs at the University of Otago in New Zealand are making the provocative claim just days before Christians around the world commemorate the death and resurrection of the Son of God.
In fact, the pair are directly tying the events of the crucifixion to the issue of sexual abuse, saying the stripping of Jesus’ clothing before He was nailed to wood made Him a victim of sexual violence.
“It seems especially appropriate to recall the stripping of Jesus – and to name it for what it was intended to be: a powerful display of humiliation and gender-based violence, which should be acknowledged as an act of sexual violence and abuse,” Edwards and Tombs write in a piece published by the Conversation.
The idea that Jesus himself experienced sexual abuse may seem strange or shocking at first, but crucifixion was a “supreme punishment” and the stripping and exposure of victims was not an accidental or incidental element. It was a deliberate action that the Romans used to humiliate and degrade those they wished to punish. It meant that the crucifixion was more than just physical, it was also a devastating emotional and psychological punishment.
The convention in Christian art of covering Christ’s nakedness on the cross with a loincloth is perhaps an understandable response to the intended indignity of Roman crucifixion. But this should not prevent us from recognizing that the historical reality would have been very different.
This is not just a matter of correcting the historical record. If Jesus is named as a victim of sexual abuse it could make a huge difference to how the churches engage with movements like #MeToo, and how they promote change in wider society. This could contribute significantly to positive change in many countries, and especially in societies where the majority of people identify as Christian.
The researchers say Jesus’ gender “is central to readers’ seeming unwillingness to recognize the sexual abuse to which he is subjected.”
“Sexual abuse doesn’t form part of the narrative of masculinity inherent in representations of Jesus. Naked women, however, are immediately identified as sexual objects. Seeing a woman being forcibly stripped, then, might be more recognizable as sexual abuse than the stripping of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.”
They note: “If Christ was a female figure we wouldn’t hesitate to recognize her ordeal as sexual abuse.”
Edwards and Tombs say some Christians in our present day are reluctant to accept the notion Jesus was a victim of sexual violence, and “seem to consider sexual abuse as an exclusively female experience.”
“We may not want to dwell on the disturbing indignity of crucifixion for the whole year, but it is not right to forget about it completely either,” they explain. “The sexual abuse of Jesus is a missing part of Passion and Easter story retellings. It’s appropriate to recognize Jesus as a victim of sexual violence to address the continuing stigma for those who’ve experienced sexual abuse, especially men.”
The claims by the researchers are not going without dispute.
Dr. Stuart Waiton, a criminology expert and senior lecturer in the sociology department of the University of Abertay, told Britain’s Daily Mail:
“Using Jesus Christ in this way is farcical. There is a tendency in society to discuss almost everything as a form of abuse, to try and attach the label of victim and victimhood to more and more things and people.
“But this is ahistorical and odd. Our understanding of Jesus suggests he would see hardship as something to rise above and move on from, rather than as something that you come to define yourself through.”