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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

September 19, 2023

Camille Hernandez

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 a 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.”

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 wifeLeahJaelRahabBathsheba 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 said. “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.”

Hernandez’ book will be published Oct. 31.

“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.”

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.”

“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.

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.”

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

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Camille Hernandez author and educator is a guest on ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Madison Marrow, Archive Fellow, Presbyterian Historical Society
Dhawn Martin, Coordinator for ACSWP, Executive Director’s Office, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

God of all nations, we praise you for the ways you use our simple gifts for the good of the kingdom. Thank you for providing bridges between all people with your love. Give us strength and vision to live every day as children who love and serve the Heavenly Father. Amen.