Monday, December 23, 2013

‘Rape for Profit’ (Film Review + Giveaway)

Rape for Profit is the latest documentary film exposing the realities of one of the most gruesome crimes, sexual oppression. Produced and hosted by Jason Pamer and released by Mew Films, it might have a disturbing title, but anything more tasteful wouldn’t necessarily get the main point across as quickly. Prostitution isn’t about free agents making choices. It’s about women and girls living in slavery right under our noses.

The sad thing is that most people – most Christians, in fact – would prefer to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Or worse, they even blame the victims, insisting on penalizing the prostitutes without ever addressing the real problem. As Rape for Profit shows, it’s the slave trader parents, guardians, and boyfriends, the slave master “pimps,” and the patronizing “johns” who are real the problem. It’s the pastors, police officers, lawyers, and judges, who purchase these illegal “services” rather than use all of their influence and power to stop it, that are the real problem. Women and girls, often sexually abused by their families and burdened with low self-esteem, easily find themselves sweet talked and coerced by those who seek to profit from selling their bodies. They are kept under psychological lock and key, believing the all-to-common truth that no one cares about their plight. In most cases, they have no safe place to go and know no one they can trust. So they are left to cope with the day-to-day job of sleeping with men they find disgusting and staying on the good side of an angry pimp.

This is a touchy subject. I really admire the makers of Rape for Profit for trying to get the word out, exposing sex trafficking and prostitution in the Seattle area. More than some similar films, it tries to focus on the customers, who I agree are the biggest problem. Any amount of crackdown on the suppliers will just drive up the prices rather than eliminating demand.

Rape For Profit Theatrical Trailer from mew films on Vimeo.

Where was the film lacking? I didn’t agree with everything presented in Rape for Profit, but one thing in particular bothered me a lot. There was a noticeable lack of a female presence in the crackdown portions of the films. There were no female officers, detectives, or film crew to be seen. Maybe that couldn’t be helped, but at the very least, I think I would’ve preferred a team doing the interviews: a man for the pimps and johns, and a woman for the prostitutes. It was bothersome hearing men, strangers to the victims, even with good intent, telling the girls that they were precious, that they loved them, that they would protect them, etc. Those sorts of appeals to the emotions of girls starved for love are what pimps are notorious for. Again, I think the filmmaker had honorable intentions, but that was a big mistake in my view.

With that caveat, I wholeheartedly recommend Rape for Profit. If you’re interested, it’s now available online for a fee through iTunes and Vimeo. Because of language and subject matter, I wouldn’t recommend it for children. As a Kickstarter supporter, I received a perk including ten DVDs. It might seem like an unusual giveaway, but I’d like to help get the word out about this the sexual oppression of women by offering five of them (plus shipping) to adults living in the United States. Please participate in the Rafflecopter contest below to win. Note: This contest is not sponsored by Mew Films or its affiliates.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

More Thoughts on Judges

In the Time of the Judges - Jephthah's Daughter
by Kevin Rolly (Used by Permission)
Typology is a very important part of Christian theology. From its very beginning, the lives of many Old Testament figures were interpreted as types of Jesus Christ, foreseeing His sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection. Isaac, Joseph, Moses, and Jonah are probably the most familiar examples, although a few other biblical characters are found listed from time to time. Interestingly enough, women never seem to make the list. It’s possible that scholars have taken the time to thoroughly evaluate each woman in the Bible and have never found one whose life makes a strong enough analogy to Jesus’s. However, I’m inclined to believe that, in reality, the thought to consider women just never occurred to them. So I move that a new candidate is put forward as a type of Christ: the daughter of Jephthah, mentioned in the Book of Judges.

“Tragic” is the word generally used for the story recounted in Judges 11:29-40. Like many other desperate people throughout history, Jephthah the Gileadite made a rash vow to the Lord. He hoped for military success against the Ammonites, and, at that moment, was willing to sacrifice anyone in his household for it. Maybe he thought that the first person to greet him would be a servant or a pet. At any rate, Jephthah made the vow, and God gave him victory. Jephthah went home knowing that he must do exactly what he agreed to do.

Today, in many homeschooling “patriarchal” circles, Numbers 30 is a popular passage, used to support the argument that an unmarried woman’s father has the role of her husband and deserves all of the respect, obedience, and submission that the New Testament writers require (cf. Eph. 5:22-24, 33; Col. 3:18; 1 Pt. 3:1-6). Unfortunately, this discussion tends to overshadow the entire point of the passage:
If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.Num. 30:2 (ESV)
While women could be released from a rash vow by a male authority, men were stuck. Jephthah’s reaction to his daughter running out to greet him indicates just how serious the ancient Israelites took God’s command. There was no way out, perhaps because the practice of redeeming lives hadn’t yet been established (1 Sam. 14:24-46). Jephthah was bound to offer up his only daughter as a burnt offering, just as he promised (Judg. 11:31).

It is at this point when the analogy with Christ becomes apparent. Jephthah’s daughter reacts rather unexpectedly. As Jesus was obedient even to death on the cross (Phil. 2:8), the girl tells her father to do as he promised (Judg. 11:36). Her words anticipate the words of Christ centuries later: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). She spends two months in the mountains with her friends preparing for her death (Jdg. 11:37-39), just as Jesus spent His last hours with His friends, those closest to Him (Mt. 26:17-56; Mk. 14:12-42; Lk. 22:7-46; Jn. 13:1-17:26; cf. Jn. 15:15). And as if to eliminate any doubt in the reader’s mind about her innocence, the narrator tells us that her was a virgin, worthy of honor (Judg. 11:37-40). This is not to say that she sinless, but that her father had no reason to condemn her to death. She had not engaged in prostitution, which under the Mosaic Law was deserving of death by stoning (cf. Deut. 22:13-21). Rather, she was like Christ, who being without sin didn’t deserve the punishment He was given.

Because of the human sacrifice, this story of Jephthah’s daughter, like that of Abraham sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22), will always be controversial and leave a bad taste in the mouths of most readers. But we must remember that the shedding of innocent blood is central to Christianity’s message. The woman who was once considered worthy of an annual four-day lament does not deserve to have her story left in the back of the closet, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make us. I hope in the future readers will find a new appreciation for this female type of Christ.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thoughts on the Pericope Adulterae

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1565)
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Wikipedia)
One of the most touching stories found in the New Testament is the Pericope Adulterae. It tells of the woman caught in adultery but set free when Jesus’s pointed statement “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” brings her accusers to shame. The passage is generally referenced as John 7:53-8:11, although there is a long and varied historical debate about its authenticity and proper placement in the canon.

Ever since my childhood, I’ve been fascinated by the story, not just because it shows Jesus’s incredible finesse in theological debate, but also because it was shrouded in mystery. What was it that Jesus wrote on the ground? Until a few months ago, I’d never even bothered to guess, but an Old Testament story about God writing made me notice a possible connection.

Belshazzar's Feast (1635)
by Rembrandt (Wikipedia)
In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar sees the handwriting on the wall, and the Jewish exile Daniel interprets it as his coming doom. The four words מְנֵא (menê') twice, תְּקֵל (teqal), and פְּרֵס (peras) served as a short hand way of spelling out the Babylonian king’s doom. Note especially v.27 (ESV): “Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” That makes a fitting judgment on a king who had used the temple vessels for his wild partying, but also is applicable to these men who dragged the adulteress to Jesus.

Many scholars have noted that, in first century Judea, there was essentially a wife-swapping epidemic brought about by ramped adultery and no-fault divorces followed by remarriage. Jesus preached against these practices in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-32). It doesn’t take too much effort to speculate that some of the men in the lynch mob had committed adultery. Some might have, justifying it through the loop holes in the Mosaic Law that Jesus closed up. At any rate, not one of them could claim to be sinless, and they knew it.

When Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, ESV), He was issuing a challenge to the accusers. He was asking whose life, when weighed, could truly measure up to God’s standards of righteousness. Convicted by their own consciences, the men walked away. They knew that, if they were honest, they’d fare no better against the scales of justice than the accused woman. Maybe even no better than King Belshazzar himself. They’d seen the handwriting on the wall, so to speak. There was no alternative but to quickly repent of their self-righteous attitude and walk away thoroughly humbled.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thoughts on the Apocryphon of John

Saint John the Evangelist,
Evron (?), France (c.1330) (LACMA)
Nothing captures the imagination quite like the Apocryphon of John (ApocJohn), or the Secret Book of John,* an important second century gnostic text that continues to be popular today. It has a sort of “shock and awe” effect on many commentators, translators, and editors. They marvel at its complex cosmology – spirit beings with multiple identities, heavenly genealogies, lengthy lists of demonic names, etc. To modern ears, the tangled mess may sound a bit like an origins story for a video game “universe” that only a preteen could make sense of. I nearly gave up until I noticed it had a very simple message: Man is superior to his Creator. Readers who dwell on the details of the text – the androgynic nature of Barbelo, various numerical patterns, etc. – are simply missing the forest for the trees.

In a nutshell, the ApocJohn is a revisionist mythology written to justify humans rejecting the authority of their creator, who historically would’ve been recognized as having the power to command worship from his creation and judge all people. In the book, Jesus appears in a vision to share this information with John, as it becomes pertinent for his and everyone else’s salvation. While some gnostics were known for glorifying “Wisdom” (Sophia), here, she is the spirit world’s Pandora, who brings “Mindlessness” into existence. This ignorant and arrogant one is the demiurge Yaldabaoth, responsible for the created physical world and intentionally associated with the God of the Bible through various Old Testament quotes and references. Through the trickery of the heavenly beings, the created man actually becomes greater than his mindless creator. Filled jealousy, Yaldabaoth and hoards of demonic henchmen use the physical body and physical pleasures (e.g., sex, wealth) to blind and imprison man. It is only by recognizing his true identity – his superiority over his creator – that man is saved.

A few centuries before the ApocJohn was written, the prophet Isaiah reported the words of the Lord on this sort of narcissism:
You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?Isaiah 29:16 (ESV)
In Sunday School, the correct answer was “Of course, not!” We assumed it’s stupid for the clay to question the potter’s intelligence. And rather ironically, most of the ApocJohn also assumes that a creator, father, or mother being is naturally greater than any creation or offspring. It is only in the case of humanity when the tables are turned. The result is a religion that preaches the virtue of boosting one’s self esteem. The serpent’s lie becomes a central doctrine of faith, and people are praised for turning up their noses at God.

* Irenaeus, bishop of present day Lyons, France, criticized the myth presented in the ApocJohn in his infamous Against Heresies (Chapter XXIX), available on CCEL. Online editions of this “Sethian” gnostic text are available at I prefer the translation by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer included in their The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds to Stevan Davies’ printed edition, which tends to clutter the notes with interpretations that I find extremely inconsistent with the text.