Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

Author and educator Camille Hernandez tells ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’ how churches can better minister to people who have suffered sexual exploitation and violence

According to Hernandez, the #MeToo movement has helped make church conversations possible

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Camille Hernandez

LOUISVILLE — Camille Hernandez, author of the upcoming book “The Hero and the Whore: Reclaiming Healing and Liberation Through the Stories of Sexual Exploitation in the Bible,” said during the most recent edition of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” that “a larger conversation on sexual violence” has been made possible because of the #MeToo movement.

“There are activists and healers and anti-violence workers who have been doing this stuff forever, but it’s been more underground,” Hernandez told the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong during the 140th episode of “A Matter of Faith,” which can be heard here (Hernandez comes in at the 24-minute mark.). In the book, “there is a focus on healing those in the community who have experienced the violence and helping them gain language for it.”

Hernandez’ book will be published Oct. 31.

In “The Hero and the Whore,” Hernandez, who’s Black and Filipina and is a public educator and preacher as well as a writer, explores the stories of a number of biblical figures, including Eve, Hagar (here and here) the “dynamic” between Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, Leah, Jael, Rahab, Bathsheba and others.

“We have to be able to look at [these Scriptures],” Hernandez said after the hosts had given listeners a trigger warning for the topics covered in the ensuing conversation. “I think of these Scriptures as a consistent set of cautionary tales of, ‘These are the ways people have messed up.’”

Researching and writing the book, “I had to change my entire relationship with Scripture to stop looking for redeemable stories and start looking for lessons in how a power dynamic works so that I could understand what healing could look like for a specific [biblical] character,” Hernandez aid. “Maybe that specific character doesn’t get healing, so what does that mean for us? You can heal and you can be liberated. Those are two different things, and unfortunately, they don’t happen together for a lot of our characters in the Bible.”

“That means that we carry on the legacy of liberation. We learn to heal for ourselves, and then we carry the torch of what creating a liberating reality looks like,” Hernandez said. “What does it look like to say, ‘Never again,’ and really dedicating ourselves to not perpetuating those same dynamics? It’s hard.”

During a recent sermon on Bathsheba, Hernandez had this message for people in the congregation who needed to hear it: “Let me tell you I believe you.”

“You don’t even have to know the right language to express it,” Hernandez said responding to a question by Catoe. “Let me be the first person from this pulpit to say, ‘I believe you.’”

While preaching, “My advice is to start with a trigger warning.” Hernandez also advises hearers to use somatic practices, such as clenching and unclenching their fists, “and seeing that as a spiritual practice in the middle of the sermon. When you’re sharing words and stories that validate some of the hardest things that people have gone through, you’re doing a disservice by not inviting them to be gentle with themselves.”

“If you need to leave, it’s OK,” Hernandez tells worshipers. “If you need to sit down and talk to someone, there are trusted people in the room.”

“There’s significant care and attention that goes into preaching truth to hard things that I think as a church we just really need to take into consideration,” Hernandez said.

“A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” with the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong drops each Thursday.

Doong said he appreciated that approach, which he described this way: “It’s a trauma-informed approach to preaching, which I love … It says, ‘Let’s go on this journey of talking about this thing in Scripture together. But take care of yourself and let’s try to take care of each other, which is so much up-front acknowledgement.”

“For folks not expecting trauma-informed preaching, it can be very surprising,” Doong added. “For some folks, it might resonate with them very strongly. But others may come to church wanting to hear only that Jesus is good and that everything is going to be OK. How have you navigated that?”

“I don’t navigate it alone,” Hernandez responded. “I’m lucky to be part of a preaching team at a church that has repair as one of its pillars and is always looking into, ‘How do we pursue the repair work knowing there’s always trauma, always repair?’ I’m thankful to have preached in churches and in spaces that seek the same … I also have the benefit of people who take trauma-informed care seriously and are able to be available to the congregation.”

“I’m a woman of color,” Hernandez said. “I’m very used to people disagreeing with me. If I was able to disregard the words of my spiritual fathers who told me that women shouldn’t preach, then I can very much handle the conflict that ensues from my preaching.”

The healing work, Hernandez noted, “is not done in the pulpit. Heaven forbid! That would be so messed up. The healing work is done in the community. The pulpit is just a conversation starter.”

Since the Bible “is a story of many traumas,” confronting those stories with honesty requires “a community of security, because we are now addressing the hard things that people have gone through in their lives. Isn’t it the glory of God we can connect them to the hard things in the Bible … and show them that what has happened to you has been happening, but we as a church are committed to stopping it. That’s really hard to do! I don’t preach in every church [where invited],” Hernandez said. “I preach in churches that are already doing the work.”

New editions of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” drop each Thursday. Listen to previous podcasts here.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.