Published by Brazos Press on March 16, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Tiffany Bluhm wishes this wasn't her story to tell. Yet like many women today who are taking action against sexual harassment and sexual assault, it is. Bluhm explores the complex dynamics of power and abuse in systems we all find ourselves in. With honesty and strength, she tells stories of how women have overcome silence to expose the truth about their ministry and professional leaders--and the backlash they so often face. In so doing, she empowers others to speak up against abuses of power.
Addressing men and women in all work settings--within the church and beyond--popular author and podcast host Tiffany Bluhm sets out to understand the cultural and spiritual narratives that silence women and to illuminate the devastating emotional, financial, and social impact of silence in the face of injustice.
As readers journey with Bluhm, they will be moved to find their own way, their own voice, and their own conviction for standing with women. They'll emerge more ready than ever to advocate for justice, healing, and resurrection.
I’m writing this review the day after RZIM released an initial report from their investigation that the sexual abuse allegations against the late Ravi Zacharias are truthful. I’m heartbroken. For the victims and their trauma. For Ravi’s family in dealing with this side of his life. For the evangelical community and the damage this has done to our witness. And, selfishly, for myself, because Ravi’s ministry was instrumental in starting my own.
I’m also encouraged by the transparency of RZIM. It would have been easy to cover this up and keep it quiet—and indeed, that appeared to have been the case when Ravi was at the helm. They did the right thing and have been forthright and honest, allowing the formerly silenced women to tell their stories.
Prey Tell is a book borne out of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. Tiffany Bluhm crosses the realm of secular and religious, conservative and liberal, pointing the finger at how society—US society in particular—tends to cover up sexual abuse and sexual harassment and what we must to right these devastating wrongs.
The first part of the book deals with the why. Why do we silence women? What are the types of environments in which women are silenced? Where are the red flags? How do we know when something is wrong? Right out of the gate, Bluhm attack fake egalitarianism, which—particularly within the church—pretends to uphold women and puts them in positions of power…but only as pawns or objects of exploitation.
She speaks—out of experience, or out of the stories of many others—the stories that are left untold, the small things that build up to big things. She writes of how women may feel uncomfortable with a comment or a touch, but they feel too indebted to the male in power to question them or speak up. Women, Bluhm says, are forced to work within a broken system, and it’s the same system that forced Hagar into surrogacy, that summoned Vashti to parade in front of drunken partiers, that raped Bathesheba, and dragged the adulterous women—so-called—into the public sphere while her male counterpart was conspicuously absent.
Bluhm writes about how this power imbalance often forces women into silence. They must keep their stories silent or face the loss of the job, finances, and reputation. She relates to readers the story of Christine Blasey Ford, whose long-kept secret of sexual assault was brought into the national limelight largely against her will and has negatively impacted her. Women often stay silent because speaking out is worse. (And if a Republican example offends you, consider the lifelong effect Bill Clinton’s adultery has had on Monica Lewinsky—and how little it has had on Clinton.
Another chapter of the book deals with the question of “Why don’t the women speak up?” You hear it with every accusation, from Clinton to Cosby to Kavanaugh. Bluhm forthrightly recounts various reasons why women might stay silent. It’s to save their job or their finances. Sometimes, it’s so ingrained into the culture, that women understand that a little harassment just comes with the territory. Bluhm tells the story of Rachael Denhollander and so many others who were abused by Team USA doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar’s abuse was swept under the rug because “he’s done so much for Team USA.” (As a former member of USA Gymnastics, let me tell you that the whole organization is still in the business of covering up abusers.) Bluhm writes that women wait to tell the truth because it is usually only after time has passed that it feels safe enough to speak.
The middle part of the book builds on the first, looking at how women are silenced. Bluhm specifically gets into what techniques are used, from threats of corporate blackballing to gaslighting and more. She writes about enablers—men and women who don’t directly engage in abusive behavior, but ignore it and perpetuate the systems that encourage it. Drawing from several real-life examples, Bluhm connects the dots to show us how bad people are empowered by bad systems run by people either ignorant and ambivalent toward the abuse.
The last part is about what we can do to change and, frankly, it’s disheartening that Bluhm must use so many words to explain what should be self-evident. Perhaps most powerfully, she writes that the emotional/physical/sexual abuse of women is not just a woman’s problem. It is a man’s problem. It is decidedly not enough for men to not harass, assault, silence, slander, and destroy women. Male allyship for gendered equality is absolutely necessary. Men must not be neutral, but must wield their power to destroy these destructive systems.
Bluhm writes that we must not blame the victim. We must make a radical shift in our theology and sociology to understand that a woman’s actions or dress are not stumbling blocks that will destroy a man’s pursuit of holiness or serve as an invitation for assault. She asks that we simply believe women. Their stories need to be shared. We must listen. We must be willing to act.
We’ve come a long way in our treatment of women, and I mean that as an indictment. We’ve come a long way and we celebrate how far we’ve come, but it’s like a lifeguard celebrating that they threw the drowning person a flotation device without ever noticing or caring if they actually grabbed hold of it. Bluhm offers readers a real, substantive way forward that we must take if we truly want our society to survive and thrive, and if we want our churches to live up the belief that all humans are made in God’ image.