Long live the queen?

We had a two minute silence in church today.  Our pastor introduced the silence sensitively; acknowledging that some present were mourning the Queen, while some may be reminded of other losses; yet others may find themselves as bystanders in the national mourning.  He reminded us that as Christians, we worship Jesus, the King of Kings, as did the Queen, and that we were gathered to honour God, rather than any monarch or ruler.

As we held the silence, my first prayer was for those who feel no sadness for the Queen’s death.  Whose ancestors, grandparents and great-grandparents bore the horror of colonialism and slavery.  For them, mourning is reserved for the potential of their peoples that was wiped out by British rule and destruction.  The Irish, deliberately starved by the British.  The descendants of enslaved and colonised people.  Those who see their own peoples’ stolen gems in whichever head wears the British crown.  

I also prayed for those mourning the Queen.  Many Christians have pointed to her steadfast faith and strong articulation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout her lifetime.  Others have recognised her rejection of monarchy as “power over”, commenting on her submission to democratic process.  I prayed for her family and those who knew her personally.

I am broadly a republican.  The elevated status of inherited titles seems anathema to modern society.  It seems a very odd notion in 2022 for a country to fund the lavish lifestyles of a wealthy elite because “that’s how we’ve always done it”.  Yet, THIS Twitter thread from Daniel Korski, a civilian contractor during the Iraq war, caused me to pause and reflect.  Korski explained that at a time when only soldiers (and not contractors) could receive recognition for their service, Prince Charles held a low-key reception to honour the work of contractors like him.  He quoted Jonathan Sacks’ saying that the Queen meeting with holocaust survivors had “brought a blessed closure to deeply  lacerated lives”.  Many of the personal stories of people’s interactions with the Queen suggest that it was her choice to use her position to recognise and honour humanity in the midst of pain and distress that left them so touched.

More generally, my high notions of democracy have been challenged in recent years with the nonsense taking place repeatedly in Westminster.  While I reject the idea of the House of Lords; it seems ridiculous to have an unelected group (mostly with very privileged status) integral to our countries’ governance.  However, it is impossible to ignore how the House of Lords has stood in the way of various harmful policies pushed by our current immoral government. 

The high view of democracy is that elected leaders earn their place in power, and are beholden to the electorate, whom they serve.  Even if we were only to contrast Boris Johnson’s despotic leadership with the Queen’s approach to leadership, we would have to admit that democracy in this situation doesn’t necessary guarantee positive outcomes. 

I’ve recently been reading Alison Jagger’s 1983 book “Feminist Politics and Human Nature” (you can read a thread of my thoughts on it, so far, HERE).  She helpfully lays out the basic assumptions of Liberal and Marxist political theories.  Liberalism presumes humanness exists in our capacity to make reasoned decisions.  Liberalism demands that the rational individual must freely choose their own path, with the state having very little intervention, except to prevent one person’s free choice from infringing on another’s free choice.  Marxism considers humanness to exist in human capacity to produce.  Marxism argues that the capitalist class destroys working class peoples’ capacity to produce.  Through revolution, the system will be overthrown and the working class liberated into their full humanity shaping and producing for the benefit of the whole society.  

Reactions to the Queen’s death broadly seem split in along similar lines.  Those focussed on systems of power that destroy and harm refuse to mourn the Queen.  They see her as representing an archaic and destructive system which, though somewhat de-toothed in 2022, remains implicated in (and the cause of) many forms of injustice still present across the world today.  Those focussed on individual choice mourn the Queen and see her choice to reject the power that had historically been part of her role as laudable.  They do not hold her responsible for the many sins of her fathers and grandfathers.  

This divide between personal choice and systemic harm is not unique to discussions on the Queen’s legacy and death.  It is an integral part of all our lives.  Those on the left blame the systems (“once we get rid of capitalism/the Tories/the monarchy, things will be better”).  Those on the right blame the individuals (“when people make better choices, their lives will be better”).  However, neither of these is really the whole truth.  No matter which systems we abolish, the people within them will be flawed, selfish, egotistical, power hungry and abusive.  No matter how many good choices individuals make, they must still reckon with abusive systems which privilege some and disadvantage others.

Some are solely focussed on improving the fertile soil for human “plants” to grow in.  Others’ concentrate all their attention on ensuring the human “plants” are the best they can be without consideration of the soil.  I’m no gardener, but I’m confident both elements are relevant if you want to grow stuff.

The individual and the system are in symbiotic relationship.  Ignoring the actual (or potential) harm of either will not solve anything.  The truth is both ambiguous and ambivalent.  Darren McGarvey, in his book Poverty Safari, probably gets close to the reality of it (even if he could do with a strong injection of feminist analysis).  He rejects the Left’s notion that poor people are purely victims of capitalism, but also rejects the Right’s notions that it is solely personal choice that will lift poor people into prosperity.

As I read Alison Jagger’s book, I have been struck by the absence of any recognition of Christian theology (Jagger explicitly rejects religious ideas as “implausible”).  The radical nature of the Gospel has struck me repeatedly as I get to grips with political theory.  My Christian faith requires a deep acknowledgement of my sinfulness; of all people’s capacity to harm themselves, others and the environment.  But it also recognises spiritual powers that are greater than the individual.  Thanks to the work of theologians like Walter Wink, we can name those spiritual powers as systems of patriarchy, racism, white supremacy etc.

Christian political theory and/or theology asserts that humanness exists through us being made in the image of the Creator of the Universe.  As such, humans are souls with innate value.  We may produce and we may reason, but our humanness is found in our relationship to the Divine Being; God.  Being souls does not, however, make us perfect or even good.  There is no system we can overthrow to bring us to perfection and there is no way that in our own capacity we can achieve perfection.  Instead, the Divine Being became human in Jesus and through His life, death and resurrection made a way for each of us to be transformed. We are accompanied on that path of transformation by God’s Spirit.  

Unlike some religious systems, the Christian journey isn’t solely about individual transformation or personal enlightenment.  In our transformed state, we discover how to love our neighbour, our community, to even love our enemy.  We are called to break down systems of oppression and harm and stand against the powers that oppress and destroy.  Yet, we don’t do these actions out of some deluded belief that everything will go how we want and that a utopia is just around the corner.  Instead, we do it out of love and obedience to the Divine Being who created us all.  A Divine Being who can transform both the plants and the soil.

My feelings about the Queen’s death remain ambiguous and ambivalent.  She did consistently share the Christian Gospel, but she did so while remaining firmly established within and unmoving from a toxic system (not to mention spending a lot of money ensuring her son was not held accountable for alleged sexual abuse).  Her participation in that system does not invalidate the ways that she subverted or challenged the system, but if as Christians we are to love our neighbour and our God, then we must deeply recognise the harms caused by colonialism, racism and the monarchy.  Platitudes and denial have never been parts of the Gospel.

I am grateful for those voices calling out injustice in all of this, and I am grateful for those pointing to the Queen’s communication of a Gospel that I believe and have experienced as changing everything.  I will be praying for transformation of people and systems, and remain grateful to know the God who can do more than we could ever ask or imagine.

Guest Blog: Why Doesn’t She Leave?

This is a guest post from a Christian woman who left her abusive husband. She found this entry in her journal and felt that it might be helpful for other women who are currently trying to navigate leaving an abuser, and to help others better understand why leaving an abuser is so hard. Please feel free to leave a comment to communicate with the author.

Sunday 3rd May 2020

It’s a strange and torturous thing, to be in that liminal space between being free and letting go.  To only be bound by one remaining, fragile thread, tantalizingly breakable and yet profoundly necessary.  As necessary as breathing.  A precious thing that tentatively binds you to everything known and certain and familiar.  For good or bad, what might life look like if it breaks?  Or worse still, if you take responsibility for the decision and consciously let it go?  Will the ensuing freedom live up to your expectations and hopes?  Or was Janis Jopling right when she lamented that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”?

You finger the thread lightly, stuck, frozen in a place that isn’t really a place at all, more of an in-between space.  You muse and wonder.  Could I move forward but leave the thread intact, just in case?  But you find there’s not enough slack, it doesn’t reach far enough.  Could I retrace my steps and go back to where I started?  No.  For one thing, the past doesn’t actually remain frozen, like we see it in our mind’s eye.  The minute I stepped away it no longer existed.  And secondly, I don’t want to.  I just don’t want to leave it either.

So I stand still, afraid to move one way or another, afraid to breathe or turn in case it breaks yet at the same time, wishing it would because the journey cannot continue until it does.  And the light is beckoning and guiding, the journey is waiting to be continued, as I stand there in the wood, two roads diverging, knowing that the choice will make all the difference and yet also knowing its not really going to be a choice at all.  It will be a breaking, a shattering, a separation into a million broken pieces that will take weeks, months, years even to piece together into something new.  Perhaps not all the pieces will end up on the same road.  Some may get left behind.  Whether they are pieces I love or pieces I hate, they will be desperately missed.  And I won’t get to choose which ones go where, that will be up to chance and the breeze and the poetry of the break.  What if they don’t land where I want them to?  What if they do?

A voice whispers….or maybe it’s just the wind:

            “All of the pieces are mine,

             All are held, all are precious.

             Let them fall”.

Maxwell & Marie and Ben Cooley

The Ben Cooley saga rolls on.  His new enterprise, with his new wife Asher Cooley (nee Telleen), has launched.  Maxwell & Marie are available to help organisations grow.  They offer a “leadership diagnosis tool”, a Chief Financial Officer for hire and consultancy in marketing and media, fundraising and income growth, charity programming and leadership development.[1]  

The describe themselves as a “team of world class specialists”.  We are told, “Maxwell & Marie was created by Ben & Asher Cooley, who have both, individually founded charities & created businesses from the ground up.  Over the years they have each been asked multiple times, “How did you do it?”.  Maxwell & Marie was created to pass on the tools that can take you to the top.”  It is curious that none of their successful charities or businesses are mentioned by name.   It is also curious that, while Sole Hope, the charity Asher co-founded seeks to address the “crippling parasite jiggers”,[2] their new website describes Asher as having  set up a charity to “tackle a neglected tropical disease called tungiasis”.  One might assume that a passion to tackle a tropical disease might include having a shared language for that disease.  A cynical person might wonder whether there’s a hope that Google searches for “Asher Cooley” and “tungiasis” won’t lead anyone down a rabbit hole to all the questions about Sole Hope and Asher Cooley’s (nee Telleen’s) leadership of the organisation.  What is even more curious is that across the site, I can only find a couple of mentions of “Ben Cooley”.  Apart from this, it is always “Ben & Asher Cooley”.  That same cynical person may wonder whether the website has been designed to prevent any connection being made in Google search results between Ben Cooley, sacked for gross misconduct from the organisation he co-founded (likely for sexual harassment, funding and power misuse) and this new venture Maxwell & Marie.

Ben Cooley (on his new Maxwell & Marie website) states that he briefed Donald Trump on slavery and human trafficking.  It turns out that Ben Cooley (of the newly founded Maxwell & Marie) was not at such a briefing.  It was done in his absence by other members of the Hope For Justice team.  Well known megachurch pastor, Craig Groeschel provides an endorsement for Maxwell & Marie, “The spark of inspiration you need to pursue your dream and never give up.”[3]  Curiously, this quote is actually an endorsement of Ben Cooley’s book Relentless Pursuit.[4]  I wonder how comfortable Groeschel would be if he knew that his quote about a book published in 2019, would be now used to endorse the new Maxwell & Marie venture of a man sacked from his organisation for gross misconduct (likely due to sexual harassment and power misuse).  

One does wonder what sort of leadership development can be offered by two individuals who are so disconnected from their previous organisations, that they cannot bring themselves to mention them by name on their website.  One could also wonder who the other endorsements on the website are actually from, when none of the endorsements include organisational links.  One might yet still wonder whether these people who have, presumably, paid for Ben Cooley and Asher Cooley’s (nee Telleen’s) expertise are aware of the hurt each has caused within their previous organisations, or the questions about them that remain.

Needless to say, I don’t think I shall be employing the services of Maxwell & Marie in my work.  I think there are probably a lot more well-established organisations working to support organisational development who are not run by men sacked for gross misconduct or women accused of harmful and unethical behaviour.

To read my previous blogs about Ben Cooley and Asher Cooley (nee Telleen) be found by clicking on each blog title:

  1. Why did Hope For Justice remove Ben Cooley?
  2. More questions about Ben Cooley
  3. Guest blog: My Sole Hope story
  4. Losing Hope For Justice
  5. 24-7 Prayer, Hillsong and the Ongoing Hope For Justice

[1] https://www.maxwellandmarie.co/services

[2] https://solehope.org

[3] https://www.maxwellandmarie.co

[4] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Relentless-Pursuit-Passion-Fulfill-Mission/dp/0830778500

24-7 Prayer, Hillsong and the Ongoing Hope For Justice

Last week saw two Christian organisations acknowledgeing abusive behaviour by leaders within their organisations.  Each took a very different approach.

24-7 Prayer International announced on 21st March 2022 that they had asked their CEO Mike Andrea to step down from leadership after an investigation into concerns that he had been abusive in another leadership role (unrelated to his work at 24-7).  They said: “we are requiring Mike Andrea to submit to a process of personal and professional training and development, to which he has agreed, prior to considering any new role within the organisation that has yet to be defined.”  And that, “This has been one of the most challenging situations that we have faced as an organisation…and we are grateful to those who have spoken up courageously to help us continue to become more like Jesus. We know there are areas where we have failed, and for that we are truly sorry. We would ask you to continue to remember those who have been most deeply hurt by these experiences in your prayers.”

On 18th March 2022, Hillsong Church announced they had been investigating two complaints of sexual harassment by Brian Houston.  Of one incident, they said: “Following an in-depth investigation, it was found that Pastor Brian became disoriented after a session at the Hillsong Conference, following the consumption of anti-anxiety medication beyond the prescribed dose, mixed with alcohol. This resulted in him knocking on the door of a hotel room that was not his, entering this room and spending time with the female occupant.”  

A follow-up statement on 23rd March 2022 announced Brian Houston had resigned as Senior Pastor of Hillsong. The Board stated, “Hillsong Church was birthed out of Brian and Bobbie’s obedience and commitment to the call of God and we are extremely grateful for all that Brian and Bobbie have given to build His house. We ask that you continue to pray for them, and the entire Houston family, during this challenging time.”

[As an aside, there has been no indication as to whether Brian’s wife Bobbie Houston remains a Senior Pastor, but their first statement states that the Interim Global Senior Pastors are Phil and Lucinda Dooley, which does somewhat undermine illusions that women have authentic leadership roles at Hillsong, when a husband’s sexual harassment means his wife also loses her role.]

While 24-7 Prayer’s statement centres those who have been hurt and offers no justifications for Mike Andrea’s behaviour, Hillsong justifies Houston’s behaviour as caused by him mixing alcohol and anti-anxiety medication (an earlier incident of him sexting a female employee was, apparently, caused by sleeping tablets).  Hillsong’s follow up statement only asks for prayer for the Houstons and their family.  The women, their families and the wider community who Houston and Hillsong have harmed are clearly no longer relevant.  A passage from Isaiah comes to mind: “When you spread out your handsin prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:15-17)

A statement from Hope For Justice, 6-weeks previous to these did not make headlines. This statement also related to allegations of sexual harassment.  Since June 2021, I have been writing about anti-trafficking organisation Hope For Justice, their ex-CEO Ben Cooley and their links to Ugandan organisation Sole Hope.  The blogs can be found by clicking on each blog title:

  1. Why did Hope For Justice remove Ben Cooley?
  2. More questions about Ben Cooley
  3. Guest blog: My Sole Hope story
  4. Losing Hope For Justice

On 8th February 2022, Hope For Justice released a statement in response to my two most recent blogs.  While the statement does not mention sexual harassment, my blogs have sought to establish whether Ben Cooley’s gross misconduct (for which he was fired) was related to sexual harassment and/or power misuse.  Eight months after my first blog, Hope For Justice’s statement neither confirms nor denies that Cooley’s conduct involved sexual harassment of women.  If they could have denied it, they would have.  No anti-trafficking organisation wants untrue rumours circulating that their founder and long-standing CEO was sexually harassing women.  

The statement did confirm that Hope For Justice was formally involved in setting up Threesixty Consultants Limited, of which Hope For Justice, Tim Nelson and Ben Cooley were all shareholders.  As already reported HERE, this company did consultancy work for Sole Hope, the Ugandan organisation founded by Asher Telleen who Ben Cooley had an affair with (they apparently married last week).  In THIS guest blog, someone previously involved with Sole Hope spoke of how Ugandan Sole Hope staff struggled on a 25% pay cut, during a global pandemic, while Sole Hope paid Threesixty Consultants upwards of £100,000 to help them restructure.  Within the statement, the vagueness of the dates (month/year) makes it difficult to ascertain the timeline of events. Particularly when they are not clear that Ben Cooley was suspended from Hope for Justice on the 12th March 2021, and dismissed from Hope for Justice on the 27th May 2021.

In February 2020, Ben Cooley enthused about the “power of partnership” between Sole Hope and Hope For Justice in THIS video. As a result, I had assumed that Tim Nelson’s involvement with Threesixty Consultants must have been his own professional decision.  Surely, a large anti-trafficking organisation wouldn’t take £100,000 from a partner and smaller charity who were struggling to pay their Ugandan staff?   Surely, an established and totally transparent organisation with a high level of integrity wouldn’t have operated in a way that allowed their organisation to take a large amount of money from the organisation of a woman their CEO was having an affair with?  Surely they wouldn’t also be employing this woman’s ex-husband?  But apparently, they I was wrong.  This image (Diagram 1) helps us understand these interconnected people and organisations:

I unreservedly apologise to Tim Nelson for casting aspersions on his involvement.  Hope For Justice state, Threesixty Consultants Limited was a pilot initiative launched in early 2020 with the authority of the Board of Hope for Justice to consider alternative funding streams that could be generated. It was registered as a company, and Hope for Justice Limited and Tim Nelson were among those registered as company directors…After the pilot, a report was presented to the Trustees and it was concluded that it was not viable as a long-term proposition to generate a new funding stream for Hope for Justice, and activity ceased. Tim Nelson formally resigned his directorship with Threesixty Consultants Limited in May 2021, but he had not undertaken any activity for the organisation since March 2021.”

Beyond being an ineffective model for generating funds, Hope For Justice seem to have no qualms about charging a small (partner) Ugandan charity £100,000 for consultancy work.  I wonder whether organisations considering partnership with Hope For Justice are aware that this is how they operate?

In, considering their partnership work further, Hope For Justice have launched their “Ukraine: Human Trafficking Crisis Appeal”.  Atrociously, the war in Ukraine creates the ideal context for men (and some women) to exploit desperate women and their children (sexually or through forced labour).  So it would seem to make sense for Hope For Justice to be raising urgent funds for their work in Ukraine.  However, from THIS map it is clear that that Hope For Justice do not work anywhere in Eastern Europe.  In their appeal, they state “Hope for Justice is working with trusted organisations on the ground at the Ukrainian borders and providing advice and preventative anti-trafficking resources. Our programmes team is working with communities and wider agencies to ensure the safety of those seeking refuge in the UK and Norway.  We are working alongside charities operating in Ukraine and surrounding countries, and partners in the UK and Norway, to assess the gaps and needs, to provide advice and awareness training, and to ensure refugees are made aware of their rights and entitlements.  We have adapted our preventative materials (available in over 30 languages, including Ukrainian and Russian) to support anyone fleeing the conflict to understand the risks of human trafficking and where to seek help. We continue to provide independent advocacy to human trafficking survivors, and we operate a specialist advocacy advice service for agencies and anyone affected by modern slavery to get crucial support.”

This raises question.  Do these partner organisations risk being charged £100,000 by Hope For Justice for support?  Why are Hope For Justice not simply encouraging people to donate directly to local Ukranian NGOs and others in the countries surrounding Ukraine?  Why are they diluting the amount of donations going directly to Ukraine and charities in Eastern Europe, who desperately need funds to prevent women and children being exploited?  Why do they need this money for work they already do in advocacy and education?  

And another thing.  How are these partners to have confidence in Hope For Justice’s advocacy, after CEO Tim Nelson’s appearance on BBC News on 16th February 2022?  On being asked about Prince Andrew’s alleged sexual exploitation of Virginia Guiffre, he stated that what happens when a man purchases sexual access to an underage girl is “between them”.  Is it only royalty who get a free pass on this stuff, or is it also Eastern European traffickers too?  Nelson did not categorically reject suggestions that Prince Andrew could be an advocate for trafficking victims and seemed keen on getting his hands on at least some of the funds donated by Prince Andrew.  If this is their position, perhaps they need to rebrand themselves as the Trafficking After Care service: “You exploit women and girls, then when you’re done, you can pay us to do the aftercare!”

Beyond a partnership with Hope For Justice that cost Sole Hope £100,000 in consultancy fees, and partnerships which mean donors give to Hope For Justice, rather than to organisations based in Eastern Europe, there are also the Hope For Justice partnerships that are actually acquisitions.  Take, for instance, Lilypad Haven in the US.  Hope For Justice acquired this charity who provide accommodation for US trafficking victims.  Beyond a front page, all links on Lilypad Haven’s website lead to Hope For Justice’s website, with rumours that the building for this project is actually owned by a local diocese, who want it back.  Lilypad Haven’s most recent Form 990 seems to confirm this in that value of Lilypad Haven’s land, buildings and equipment is $13,623 and the Schedule D, Part VI of the form (which allows organisations to provide further details of their land, buildings, and equipment) has been left blank.

Does Lilypad Haven currently offer any actual support to victims?  If they do, then why does the website offer no other information about their work?  How many other charities has Hope For Justice tried to acquire?  And how does it benefit Hope For Justice to acquire charities that are no more than a website homepage?  Perhaps it allows them to include on page 9 of their Annual Report that they have a “network of safe houses in South Carolina helping female survivors of sex trafficking to rebuild their lives”?  Perhaps it helps them get further donations if people think they are doing that work?  Who knows!

24-7 Prayer show that it is possible for organisations to be transparent and respond effectively to accusations of abuse.  Hillsong’s transparency, combined with collusion and justification of the perpetrator, evidences that transparency alone is not enough .  Hope For Justice, who exist to address the most egregious forms of power misuse, have decided to avoid transparency altogether.  Their approach has led to the least headlines of all, so perhaps it is the most successful.  Particularly if an organisation’s goal is to avoid scrutiny and accountability.  But we famously know the arc of justice is long.  All that has been whispered in the dark will one day be yelled from the rooftops (Luke 12:3), and on that day, no amount of Prince Andrew’s money, acquisitions of charities or mealy mouthed statements will be enough to satisfy the God of Justice.

As always, there are questions that arise.  Particularly in relation to the Hope For Justice statement:

  • If Threesixty Consultants Limited was launched with the authority of Hope For Justice’s Board, why was it incorporated and dissolved by Rob Allen, and not by the organisation themselves?  And why was it not dissolved until 7 months after Hope For Justice resigned their position?
  • The statement explains that Tim Nelson declared a voluntary (unpaid) position on the board of Sole Hope. This means Tim Nelson was on the Board of Sole Hope at the time Sole Hope decided to contract Threesixty Consultants to provide services for them.  Did this pass Sole Hope’s Conflict of Interest policy?
  • How can there be no conflict of interest for Hope For Justice in Tim Nelson taking the Sole Hope position, given the interconnected relationships made clear in Diagram 1?  Is Hope For Justice’s Conflict Of Interest policy fit for purpose if this interconnectedness is acceptable?  
  • Diagram 1 shows that Asher Telleen (Founder and CEO of Sole Hope) was being paid by as a consultant by Hope For Justice at exactly the same time that Ben Cooley (co-founder and CEO of Hope for Justice) was being paid through Threesixty Consultants for consultancy from Sole Hope. How is this not a conflict of interest?

New blog posts published after this one, about Ben Cooley:

  1. Maxwell & Marie and Ben Cooley

Losing hope for justice

Anti-trafficking charity, Hope for Justice are yet to respond to serious concerns raised HERE and HEREabout their founder and ex-CEO, Ben Cooley.  US-based charity, Sole Hope who provide health support in Uganda are yet to respond after THIS guest blog raised concerns of the charity’s racism, financial mismanagement and mistreatment of staff.  Current Hope For Justice CEO, Tim Nelson is implicated within harm Sole Hope caused staff, and has also not responded to any of the articles.

Many questions have been raised about Ben Cooley’s conduct, the relationship between him and his successor Tim Nelson and their setting up of a consultancy firm, and his personal and professional relationship with US-based charity Sole Hope.  UK-based readers may be more familiar with Hope for Justice, US-readers will probably be more familiar with Abolition International, Christian singer songwriter Natalie Grant’s charity.  In 2014, Abolition International merged with Hope for Justice.

In mid-December, Sole Hope announced their UK launch in THIS Instagram video, headed up by UK-based Phil Smith.  Their founder, Asher Telleen, is currently in a relationship with Hope for Justice’s founder and disgraced CEO, Ben Cooley.  Hope for Justice remain unwilling to disclose what Cooley was sacked for, unlike 24-7 Prayer, who late last year offered transparent communications HERE about allegations of serious misconduct by their International Team Leader Mike Andrea, in his work at Global Generation Church in Kent (the allegations against him can be found on THIS blog from Steph Dickinson).  Recognising that there may be others who have been hurt, 24-7 Prayer’s initial statement says, anyone else who wishes to make any kind of complaint to come forward by contacting Elisa Alberto, one of our trustees, via the dedicated email: contact@igniteand.com.  Any communication will be handled discreetly and with confidentiality.”  

24-7 Prayer seem to be handling the situation with transparency and responsibility, seeking to ensure others who may have been harmed can make a disclosure if they choose to.  24-7 Prayer is a Christian prayer movement; they are not an organisation working to address abuse, particularly abuse towards women.  And yet, they have taken strong, transparent action regarding allegations of abuse.  Which is why it is deeply disturbing that Hope for Justice, an organisation set up primarily to address men’s abuse and violation of women, has never taken such steps.

While we remain in the dark about why Ben Cooley was sacked, questions persist about whether his behaviour involved power misuse (particularly towards women), whether any of his sackable behaviour constituted sexual harassment, and whether it involved misuse of charitable funds.  What we do know from THIS guest blog is that Cooley did have an extra-marital affair with Asher Telleen.  The impact on Ben’s wife Debs and their daughters must be brutally painful; particularly given that Debs co-founded Hope for Justicewith Ben and will have given much of her life since then to support the charity.  That Cooley’s behaviour took place during a global pandemic must compound the challenges his family face.

By refusing to honestly answer questions about Cooley’s sackable conduct, Hope for Justice are facilitating Cooley in rebuilding his platform.  It is unclear whether efforts he made to build his own platform while at Hope for Justice were paid for out of his own pocket, or whether they were funded by Hope for Justice and worked on by Hope for Justice’s staff.  If the latter is the case, questions must be raised about whether this was a legal or ethical use of Hope for Justice funds and whether Hope for Justice required Cooley to pay back any funds spent on personal platform building when he was sacked for gross misconduct.

In mid-October, Ben Cooley disclosed on his Facebook page painful information about his childhood.  Messages flooded in from across his network, cheering him on and offering support, including high profile voices who have remained silent about Cooley’s gross misconduct.  Apparently Ben Cooley deserves more support than the wife and daughters he has abandoned.  Using a personal history of having been a victim to perform a bait and switch that allows Cooley to no longer be the bad guy is not only manipulative, but it perpetuates the harmful myth that being abused makes someone more likely to be abusive; stigmatising victims and colluding with abusers.  

Ben Cooley is not the victim of a spiritual attack, he is a perpetrator of harm.  He has harmed his family, the organisation he founded and the witness of the Gospel.  While redemption has always been part of the Christian tradition, the cheap grace which refuses to acknowledge the horror of sin and the pain humans choose to cause other humans devalues the Gospel and colludes with powerful men.  Hope for Justice, for all their values and fancy name have diminished hope and are refusing transparency to ensure that justice cannot be done.  

Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:27-28 come to mind, “Woe to you…you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

In July 2021, Hope for Justice’s current Interim US Partnerships Manager Drü Collie (ex-husband of Cooley’s current partner Asher Telleen) publicly endorsed Cooley on LinkedIn: “Ben is a big mind. He thinks about things that the rest of us overlook. As a result, he created an international organization and led his team to discover deeper insights and world-changing ideas. Ben is business savvy and that is complemented by his creative acumen, fastidiousness, and mastery of storytelling. He’s a pro and is definitely someone you want on your side of the table.”

I cannot imagine how painful it must for those who have been hurt by Cooley, including his wife and children, to know that current senior Hope for Justice staff are supporting Ben.   

Back in February 2016, Mark Bailey stepped down from leadership of New Wine (a UK-based Christian event and network of churches) after he had an extramarital affair.  When powerful men have affairs, it is always an abuse of their power.  There is a Christian moral imperative to remain in marital faithfulness, but when someone (almost always a man) has high power and status, an affair will inevitably be conducted with someone less powerful.  In order to maintain that affair, the powerful man will misuse his power with others within the organisation, lying and manipulating those around him.  In Christian contexts, that manipulation may include misusing and abusing spiritual or theological principles.  

Just over a year after being removed from New Wine leadership, in May 2017, Mark Bailey was employed as Strategic Partnerships Director at Hope for Justice.  An organisation dedicated to addressing some of the most egregious forms of power misuse (human trafficking) employed a high profile Christian leader who had misused his power.  This role was a bridge to Bailey becoming Lead Pastor of Cheltenham-based Encounter Church in January 2019.  It is interesting then, that in November 2021, New Wine and Hope for Justice announced a partnership, with Hope for Justice sponsoring their 2022 leadership conference.  Given that Hope for Justice employed New Wine’s disgraced most senior leader less than five years ago, this seems an interesting approach to take.

Phil and Sarah Smith began leading Manchester-based Vinelife church in 2008.  It became a Jesus Culture affiliated church in 2015.  And in March 2021, the church announced, in a now deleted post:  

“On Monday 8th March, Phil (Smith) made us aware of unfaithfulness in his marriage that had happened over a period of time. The Trustees and Senior Team agreed that this conduct was unacceptable and incompatible with his role as Senior Leader and during an ongoing HR process, Phil offered his resignation on Thursday 11th.

Sarah will take a period of compassionate leave. We are fully committed to supporting her and the children at such a difficult time and to helping both Phil and Sarah navigate the path toward restoration for the whole family.”

The passive language within the statement is interesting.  Phil did not actively cheat on his wife, there was a passive “unfaithfulness in his marriage”.  But putting that aside, it is interesting that Sole Hope UK will be led by the same Phil Smith, who less than a year ago was removed from church leadership after having an affair.  

Another interesting turn of events relates to Ben Cooley’s parents, Anne and Chris Cooley.  They run New Hope Uganda (UK), set up to provide Fundraising and sponsorship to support a Christian charity in Uganda which provides education, health and welfare services.”  Their organisation’s registered charity number is 1171909.  It transpires that this charity number is no longer called New Hope Uganda UK, but is instead the charitable number for Sole Hope.  

Sole Hope’s US-Board has five members.  Asher Telleen (Ben Cooley’s current partner), Bridgitte Hatfield, Jessica Faulkner, Gareth Henderson (whose name is wrongly spelled on their 990 form) and Tom Lister.  Gareth Henderson was previously a Board member for Hope for Justice’s project the Slave Free Alliance, while actor Tom Lister was Hope for Justice’s UK Partnerships Coordinator; having previously completed a Europe-wide cycle with Ben Cooley to raise funds for Hope for Justice in 2013.

Having been sacked from Hope for Justice for gross misconduct, Ben Cooley seems to be growing influence and power throughout Sole Hope’s US and UK work.  This is concerning given that he was fired, less than a year ago, for conduct that remains unknown and could be related to sexual harassment and financial mismanagement.  Those concerns grow in light of Ben Cooley’s and Tim Nelson’s willingness to take $1000s in consultancy from Sole Hope while Ugandan staff survived on a 25% pay cut.  Though perhaps Tim Nelson’s business relationship with Ben Cooley sheds some light on why Hope for Justice remain unwilling to be transparent about Ben Cooley’s gross misconduct.

Thankfully, it seems that those who have been hurt by Sole Hope have a hope greater than the organisation they worked for, but it is likely that many will have lost a significant amount of hope for justice given the way that Hope for Justice has behaved.

I don’t bring light to this situation because I want to bring into disrepute the church, Christian charities or individuals.  There is a quote from an unknown writer on my wall that is often falsely attributed to Augustine.  It says, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

I am angry at the harm that has been caused.  I am angry that influential Christians continue to support Ben Cooley.  I am angry that there is so little justice for those who have been hurt.  My hope is rooted and found in Jesus whose love is for all and whose ministry empowered the powerless; overturning tables and speaking truth to the powerful.  And it is in Him that I take courage to challenge these individuals and systems, forever taking heart with confident hope that in the end, Jesus has overcome the world.

Some questions:

  • Do Sole Hope supporters and staff know that Ben Cooley seems to have amassed an inordinate amount of power over both the UK and US Sole Hope boards?
  • When will Hope for Justice live up to their name and enable justice by being transparent about why Ben Cooley was sacked?
  • Why are some Hope for Justice staff still supporting Ben Cooley?
  • Why does Ben Cooley seem to be establishing a club for powerful Christian men who misuse their power and cheat on their wives?
  • What responsibility do the Sole Hope board have for safeguarding the organisation against unfaithful men who have misused power representing Sole Hope?
  • Should New Wine be in partnership with Hope for Justice now this information has come to light?
  • When will those who are still supporting Ben Cooley begin to hold him to account for the harm he has caused?

Other posts:

Pre-this one:

  1. Why did Hope For Justice remove Ben Cooley?
  2. More questions about Ben Cooley
  3. Guest blog: My Sole Hope story

Post this one:

  1. 24-7 Prayer, Hillsong and Hope For Justice
  2. Maxwell & Marie and Ben Cooley

Guest Blog: My Sole Hope story

I have written two articles about Ben Cooley and Hope for Justice, after Ben Cooley was sacked as CEO of Hope for Justice, for conduct that Hope for Justice are yet to disclose. You can read the first one HERE and the second one HERE. As I did research for these articles, concerns emerged about Ben Cooley’s personal relationship with Asher Telleen and his professional relationship with Sole Hope, Asher’s charity. Since writing these blogs I have been contacted by a number of people who had personal involvement with Sole Hope. This guest blog comes from an ex-employee of Sole Hope and raises significantly more questions, not only about Ben Cooley, but also Tim Nelson, the new CEO of Hope for Justice. The events described within this blog have been corroborated by a number of sources.

Affairs. Control. Deception… 

But also, Freedom. Awakening. And finally, redemption. Because man’s wickedness cannot overcome God’s love. 

Are non-profits really not profitable?

The nonprofit sector gets a lot of slack. 

Corruption, misuse of money, and selfish gain at the expense of those in need are sadly all too common in the non-profit space. 

The term “non-profit” is in fact very deceiving, as there is often someone, somewhere, who is profiting off others. I’m sad to say that I witnessed this truth while working for an organization I loved and truly believed in: Sole Hope. 

And, I am sharing my story now, because I did NOT pursue a career in this work to be a part of any of this.  And yet found myself in the midst of it; deeply and irrevocably impacted by it.

I still believe my work at Sole Hope was pure and undefiled. I will try and present the facts as I have witnessed them. I believe that I, and my Ugandan team (select internationals and nationals included), gave all we had, ethically and with integrity to bring hope and healing to those in need during our work with them.

What happened to Sole Hope?

Some of you may not know the whole story or simply may not want to believe it, for fear that it will impact your faith in the non-profit world and Jesus. Maybe you fear that the thousands of dollars and hours you poured into the organization were stolen from you, and you’re not ready to hear it. But the truth is important. And some of it is mine to tell because it affected me, my life, and the lives of those I love. My hope is that in my telling, others will somehow avoid some of the unnecessary pain and heartache that we experienced. 

The Beginning of the End

In 2018, I crossed the big blue ocean to give my heart and soul away to a mission and people that I came to know and love. I went, overcome with hope and excitement for the journey ahead, ready to lean into everything my new job and home had to offer. I still remember these emotions vividly!

Four months into my job with what appeared to be a flourishing non-profit, I was surprised to receive an email from the Executive Director of Sole Hope, Dru Collie, that the organization was indeed operating paycheck to paycheck.  Though I was a (meagerly, by US standards) salaried employee, I was told that I needed to seek out 2-5 personal contacts for gifts of $2,500 or more. These “donors” would be made members of the new “Sole Hope Foundation,” and their donations would cover operational expenses. The Executive Director believed this would take the pressure off his fundraising from individual donors in the USA. 

I was never fully enlightened on what the day-to-day duties of this Executive Director entailed, but I know his primary responsibility was fundraising. At this point, both he and his soon-to-be-ex-wife and founder of Sole Hope, Asher Collie, were still living in Uganda, but actively making plans to return to the States with their respective families.

A Family Affair

As a new employee, I was made aware of the personal situations within the organization that had deeply impacted Sole Hope and its funding. Specifically, an extra-marital affair between Asher and one Sole Hope employee nearly destroying the organization’s donor base in 2015/2016. In 2016, they hired two Americans to help run operations on the ground, insistent Sole Hope would never be run by Ugandans. The next year, still living in Uganda, Asher and Dru collected annual paychecks upwards of $53,000 and $91,000, respectively.

A Whitewashed Organization 

Over the years I worked with Asher, she consistently expressed her distrust of Ugandan leadership, especially when financial responsibility and accountability were concerned. On several occasions she told staff and donors that “Sole Hope will NEVER be run by nationals…” and so long as the money was brought in from America, an American would decide what to do with it. This distrust of national leadership remains reflected on the US Board of Directors, where every seat has always been held by a white American. 

Changes in Leadership

In 2018, Dru Collie and Asher, last name now Singe returned to the States where they continued to “work” for Sole Hope. In January of 2019, Dru Collie stepped down as Executive Director and the Board of Directors effectively took on the role of Executive Director and CEO. At this time, it was disclosed to me from leadership that Sole Hope was in an absolute financial crisis. 

The Country Director (based in Uganda) was an American hired by Dru and Asher.  Effective summer of 2019, with no money to hire an experienced fundraiser as Executive Director, the Country Director was appointed as Executive Director with full support from the Board. In an effort to promote transparency, the new Executive Director presented the financial records to the leadership team and Board of Directors, illuminating more than a $30,000/month deficit in funding. 

Desperate Attempts 

In December 2019, the Ugandan staff (including American staff in Uganda and the US) were on a 25% monthly salary reduction to “save money” until some pledges and “other funding” came through. We were all promised this would only last for three months. My fellow Ugandan friends & co-workers went from earning $89/month to $67/month. No one knew that COVID would take the world by storm, furthering the pay cuts with no end in sight. The Sole Hope Ugandan staff were desperately trying to survive. 

In January 2020, Asher was appointed Board Chair by the Board of Directors and every executive decision now fell under her jurisdiction. Despite many recommendations from trustworthy partners for qualified, Ugandan nationals to join the Board, there has never been and still isn’t national Ugandan representation with decision-making power on the Board. 

Who is Ben Cooley & Why Is He Here?

At this time (early 2020), the Young Living Foundation (of Young Living Essential Oils Co.), was Sole Hope’s primary funder, giving them $20,000/month designated to Sole Hope’s project the D. Gary Young Hope Center; a clinic for patients being treated for jiggers. 

In February 2020, just before the pandemic hit, the founder and (at that time) CEO of Hope for Justice visited Sole Hope Uganda.  He accompanied Asher Singe (previously Asher Collie and now known as Asher Telleen) and several new Young Living Foundation staff. Cooley’s organization, Hope for Justice, was also a beneficiary of the Young Living Foundation along with Sole Hope.

It was at this time in Uganda, that Asher assured the staff at an all-staff meeting that she was no longer taking a paycheck for the work she was doing in America on behalf of Sole Hope, now as Board Chair. She also informed the Ugandan staff that they should be very grateful that they still have jobs. These staff had been living for three months with a 25% paycheck reduction, a devastating loss for individuals already living below the poverty level. Asher didn’t mention that she had only stopped taking a paycheck in October 2019, and only because of her increasingly lucrative (by US standards) business selling Young Living oils (the same company whose charitable funding was funding Sole Hope).

Ben Cooley wanted to meet with each of the American staff members to talk about where Sole Hope was and how we thought we could get back up to 100% salaries and out of our financial crisis. When me and another (former) Sole Hope employee sat down with Ben, his tone was condescending and belittling.  He told us that we would have to fire 50% of our staff and close the Sole Hope guest house (which accommodated Sole Hope visitors and provided revenue to the charity’s work) or else we would have no one to blame but ourselves when Sole Hope “goes under.”

Then, the Pandemic

Then, in March 2020, out of nowhere, the pandemic hits. The pandemic in a developing nation is not the same as the pandemic in the USA. As the only international airport in the country threatened indefinite closure, I decided head back to the States to ride it out with my family and so I would have access to reliable healthcare. “It’ll just be a few weeks, or worst case, maybe a few months,” I told myself. In the states, I was able to continue to work remotely for Sole Hope, seeking new sources of funding via grants, and asking major donors to help keep our Ugandan’s salaries stable, unsure of future funding.

In April 2020, unexpectedly, select Sole Hope Board members resigned and three new members join the Board: a “lawyer friend” of Asher’s (Sole Hope founder), Jessica Faulkner, Tim Nelson (who at the time was International Development Director of Hope for Justice) and Justin Luke Riley, another Hope for Justice/Ben Cooley connection. NONE of whom are now listed on Sole Hope’s IRS Form 990 filed in 2021 (this is a US legal requirement for charities), nor on their website. Still there was no Ugandan representation on the Board.

I was given direct fundraising goals from the Board of Directors and told that I needed to meet or exceed them if I wanted to keep my job. I was asked to raise $2,500 per month for three months to stay full time ($7,500 total). Fueled by my desire to do everything I could to help Sole Hope’s Ugandan employees—barely making ends meet with the country shut down during the pandemic—I managed to raise over $12,000 in 6 weeks and found out later Sole Hope received an additional $13,000 in grants I had applied for. 

Unexpected Turn of Events

Despite my efforts to get Sole Hope back on their feet, on 21st May 2020 I was locked out of my Sole Hope email account. Ten minutes later I received a call from Tim Nelson saying I was being “asked to step down.” He informed me, “You no longer have any responsibility to perform your duties at Sole Hope effective immediately.”

I hung up the phone, in shock. My whole life was at Sole Hope Uganda. My home. My friends. My community. My job. When I returned to the States in March 2020, I had no idea that would be the last time I would leave Uganda. 

After Tim Nelson terminated my employment with Sole Hope, I was intimidated and coerced to sign an NDA in order to receive a $2,000 severance package. Multiple times Tim begged me to sign this NDA, and when I didn’t, I didn’t receive my severance. 

As more terminations and severance negotiations ensued, you can imagine the fear, panic, and confusion felt by our Ugandan staff.  Who else could they trust at this point? I had spent two and a half years living alongside them, working with them, loving our patients with them. I had built strong, meaningful relationships with them that far surpassed any cultural differences. Now they were calling me, looking for some kind of reassurance that they were safe, a reassurance I could NOT give them; given the way I was been treated. 

As it turns out, later the same evening I had been sacked, the Executive Director received a similar call and was fired. Sole Hope was successfully operating at $50,000 more per month than in mid-2019, with myself, the Executive Director and select members of our Stateside team raising enough money, during a global pandemic to avoid losing employees, but the Board (including Tim Nelson) decided we should still be fired. 

A New Fishy Business

The day after myself and Sole Hope’s Executive Director were laid off, the Young Living Foundation’s money that had previously been restricted to the D. Gary Young Hope Center operations became unrestricted funding. Sole Hope began payments to Ben Cooley & Tim Nelson’s consulting firm Threesixty Consultants Limited (for, on average, $13,000 per month) and the Ugandan staff continued to receive reduced salaries; $67/month for most, because of “funding issues”. All the while, Ben Cooley and Tim Nelson were pocketing $13,000 per month and slowly gained more and more decision-making power across the Board. Not only was Ben Cooley being paid an exorbitant amount of money while Ugandans continued to struggle, but he and Asher began a romantic relationship while both were still married to other people. According to this post, Ben Cooley and Asher took a beach vacation together. By May 2021, Ben Cooley had been fired from Hope for Justice for allegations of misconduct, with Tim Nelson appointed CEO of Hope for Justice.  Tim then pulled out as a partner of Threesixty Consultants Limited, the for-profit consulting firm working with Sole Hope.

At the time of this post, Ben and Asher are still in a relationship. Sole Hope continues to consult with Ben Cooley, and slowly by slowly, Sole Hope staff and donors are being lied to and manipulated by Ben and Asher. 

There continues to be zero Ugandan representation on the Board; those who hold all the decision-making and fundraising power. And Ugandan staff are left powerless. Sole Hope continues to seek funding with little accountability and integrity if Asher continues as the Board Chair and Ben Cooley continues to be involved. 

The Takeaways 

To this day, I have never received an apology or explanation from Asher, Ben, Tim or any single Sole Hope board member. As someone who dedicated my life to Sole Hope and the people they served, I did not expect for my colleagues and I to be treated this way. 

I have learned in this whole process that God sees and knows it all, and all things will eventually be made known. Please know my Jesus would not treat people this way, and I hope you know that He doesn’t. I have hope that as I continue to live my life for Him, wherever that is in the world, people will experience Jesus’ love by the way I treat them; not by deception or manipulation for selfish gain. 

This is the true story of Sole Hope. And I left out quite a bit to preserve the integrity of other people’s stories. But if I can offer any advice, be cautious when it comes to attractive, confident individuals, promising that your money will support whatever “cause” they promote. Make sure their leadership represents and understands those they serve, and that you can trust the leaders are honest and have integrity. Those organizations are worth your money and truly impact those in need. 

Posts written before this article

  1. Why did Hope For Justice remove Ben Cooley?
  2. More questions about Ben Cooley

Posts written after this article:

  1. Losing Hope For Justice
  2. 24-7 Prayer, Hillsong and Hope For Justice
  3. Maxwell & Marie and Ben Cooley

Learning from women?

Scrolling through Twitter I found an image of four men (three with beards) announcing a podcast episode entitled “WHAT JESUS LEARNED FROM WOMEN”.  The irony meter screamed so loudly I was surprised those in the photo hadn’t heard it.

It was only after the Two Cities collaborative podcast and blog were inundated with comments (that it was outrageous to have a podcast about what Jesus learned from women with no women present) that it seems some of the team acknowledged this had been a Bad Call.  The podcast episode featured theologian and educator, Dr James F McGrath and was him and three other men discussing his book What Jesus Learned From Women.  I say some of the team, because at least two of them have doubled down on their decision to run the podcast with four men, labelling at least one of their critics a “lazy troll”.  

I haven’t come across Two Cities or Dr James F McGrath before so knew nothing about the podcast or his work, but did spend some of today interacting McGrath.  I was curious as to why he hadn’t insisted on having women as part of the podcast.  His responses included that 1) men should be having conversations about sexism even when women are not in the room, 2) “Advocating for the historically marginalized should be done by those who were historically the problem and not just by those who historically were victims of the oppression” , 3) why am I “attacking” the good guys who are “genuinely predominantly diverse, representative and inclusive”, and 4) I should ask the podcast why they hadn’t included women.

Engaging with these points seems important, given that McGrath’s and the Two Cities response seems characteristic of progressive men more generally.  I think there is something that can be learned and some pitfalls (or huge gaping chasms) that could be avoided if there is a desire to do better.  I mean if Jesus can learn from women, then maybe male podcast hosts and interviewees can too!  Who knows…?

Men should be having conversations about sexism even when women are not in the room

Platforms are different to rooms.  Platforms are where the power is.  People enter and leave rooms.  People are invited onto platforms.  As such, platforms should not exist without women.   In male-only rooms, of course men should maintain anti-sexist values, call out toxic masculinity and advocate for women’s rights.  However, when a man is invited onto a platform, he can set parameters for involvement in that platform.  Men can ask whether women will be on the platform, and if not, either offer skilled women to join or otherwise decline to join the platform.  Take note, men invited onto platforms.

No one involved in the podcast episode was concerned enough about the lack of women’s voices to change what took place.  And that comes from a place of comfort with how things are.  Women don’t have that luxury.  We notice when we’re not present or when we’re the lone woman in the room.  We notice when we’re assumed to be the note-taker, care-giver, adultery threat.  Men, particularly white, middle-class, able bodied men, get to move through the world not noticing themselves, not recognising who is missing, because they are the default from which all else is noticed.  

“Advocating for the historically marginalized should be done by those who were historically the problem and not just by those who historically were victims of the oppression.”

Men are still the problem.  This is not a historic issue.  It is a current one.  Absolutely, men need to be part of brining change, but very often that will be less about platforms and more about day-to-day life lived differently.  Challenging sexism from other men, making dinner, doing the emotional labour, parenting kids, caring for elderly relatives, passing platform opportunities to women.  Any advocating from the platform must, wherever possible, take place from platforms where women are already present.  Men’s advocating must include insisting women are present in all places of power, rather than in speaking for us.  

Why am I “attacking” the good guys who are “genuinely predominantly diverse, representative and inclusive”?

When I saw the podcast advert, I knew nothing about Two Cities.  My only interaction was via a manel talking about what Jesus learned from women.  I shared this image captioned with RAGING.  After which, I then interacted with McGrath.  It is interesting that such engagement is characterised as an “attack”.  I’ve spent the last week doing a load of media interviews about men’s violence towards women.  The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, the death of Sabina Nessa and lack of coverage due to the colour of her skin, the ongoing failure of justice systems to protect women and girls from men’s attacks in every part of their lives; schools, workplaces, public places, in our own homes.  Margaret Atwood reminds us, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”  

There are nine men and four women in the core Two Cities team (69% male team).  Of their additional contributors 77% are male.  While Christianity is incredibly sexist, I’m not sure it is accurate to describe this as “predominantly representative”.  I’m well aware there are many barriers to properly representative teams, hence why I worked with others to develop Project 3:28 and launch Speaker 3:28, a database for women speakers.  However, when seeking to do better it’s important to recognise if it is predominantly still male.  

I didn’t know when I saw the Two Cities advert that they were a progressive or inclusive organisation.  I just saw four men discussing what Jesus learned from women.  They could just as easily have been highly sexist men, for all their flyer showed.  I would have called the issues out whoever had caused them, that it was people who are supposed to stand for the same stuff I do simply makes it more depressing.

I should ask the podcast why they hadn’t included women.

This takes us back to an earlier point.  If we are committed to improving representation, it is up to each of us to ensure representation that is equitable and appropriate.  It is as much McGrath’s responsibility, perhaps more so as he has set himself up as an expert on learning stuff from women, to ensure that women are part of the conversation.  

Overall, taking a defensive approach to messing up is really not going to convince anyone that you are an ally.  What it shows is that you didn’t notice at the time that there was a problem.  That doesn’t make anyone beyond redemption or unforgivable, but it does need to be reflected on and for change to take place.  Otherwise, those of us impacting by being ignored, silenced, shut down, going unnoticed are left assuming that, at the bottom of it all, you simply don’t care that much about us.    

More questions about Ben Cooley

On 14th June 2021, I published a blog HERE asking serious questions about Hope for Justice sacking Ben Cooley for gross misconduct.  The organisation posted an update on their news page on 22nd June 2021 stating that an Appeal Panel had upheld findings of gross misconduct against Ben Cooley, one of the organisation’s co-founders and CEO. They asserted that no NDA’s had been used and that Cooley had not received a payoff from the organisation.  They neither confirmed or denied that Cooley’s gross misconduct was related to power misuse or whether it had been related to abusive or harmful behaviour directed towards women.  In fact, they gave no indication as to the type of gross misconduct Cooley had committed.  This seems to fly in the face of their four key values of Honouring, Openness, Professional and Empowering.  They also announced that Tim Nelson, a co-founder of Hope for Justice along with Ben Cooley, has been permanently appointed as CEO of Hope for Justice.

On 1st July 2021, US based charity founder, Asher Telleen posted on her public Instagram account two photos of her and Ben Cooley on holiday.  In one of the photos, Ben is pouting near the camera while Asher poses close to the shoreline.  In the other image, Ben is taking a selfie while they both smile and make peace signs.  The text of the post reads, 

“Sharing some sand, sun & tons of laughs with the best of the best.  We have both gone through the hardest seasons of our lives this last year in different ways, but we are determined to not camp in pain, but move forward with grace and tenacity. Choosing to let God fight the battles while finding stillness in him has been key during this season.  Seeking Jesus, rest & fun has been life.  I’m not completely to the end of the difficult…but I’m thankful I go to spend some time with this one as I enter a new year.”

After being sacked for gross misconduct by his organisation, Ben’s wife and children are nowhere to be seen while he holidays with Asher Telleen.  The text indicates that both she, Asher, and Ben have been subject to harm over the last year, and that they righteously know that God will fight their battles.  This aligns with a now deleted Facebook post by Ben Cooley on 28th May 2021, which said, 

“Together my family joined hands with Rob and Marion White and we started Hope for Justice.  Over the last 13 years I have gone without, sacrificed tirelessly, stood on stages with tens of thousands to raise my voice in this fight for freedom! I have had my life threatened, gained friends and lost friends, figured out how to trust, love and rescue sacrificially.  My faith has been challenged, I, I’ve realized who and what is most important in my life, and most of, through it all…I gave everything I had while getting a front row seat to witness the epic change in people’s lives that happens when we link arms to rescue those in need…While I cannot agree with decisions recently made around my leaving Hope for Justice. Hope For Justice will be forever in my heart”

It is interesting that Cooley’s family (mentioned in this post) are not holidaying with him after what must have been an excruciating time for them.  Debbie Cooley (Ben’s wife) is a co-founder of Hope for Justice.  What she has been put through is unimaginable, with her husband sacked by the organisation she co-founded.  She too will have given just as sacrificially as her husband, while likely never being applauded on a platform of tens of thousands.  She is now left in the UK with their children, while Ben holidays in the sun with Asher Telleen.

Last year, Threesixty Consultants Limited became a registered UK company.  They can be found on Companies House HERE.  The four officers of the company (also known as the company’s shareholders) are Ben Cooley, Robert Allen, Tim Nelson and Hope for Justice Ltd.  Robert Allen is a co-founder of Hope for Justice and a Director of Cooley Consultancy Limited. Allen resigned as a Director of No More Slaves Ltd (a clothing company run by Hope for Justice) on 28th June 2021.  He resigned as a Director of Hope for Justice International on 28th May 2021; as Secretary of Hope for Justice in November 2017, and as Director of Hope for Justice in March 2016.  In total he has had 22 appointments with UK companies.  Tim Nelson is a co-founder of Hope for Justice and was the International Development Director of Hope for Justice until Ben Cooley was sacked.  He is now the CEO of Hope for Justice.  

These four company officers (including Hope for Justice) provided the same correspondence address to Companies House: “The Lexicon, 3rd Floor, Mount Street, Manchester, England, M2 5NT”.  According to Companies House Data, there are only 6 companies who use this registered address.  Alongside Threesixty Consultancy, the other five companies are Ben Cooley Dot Com Ltd., Cooley Consultancy Limited, Hope for Justice, Retrak (in 2018, this organisation became part of Hope for Justice), and Slave Free Alliance Ltd. (this organisation is part of Hope for Justice).  The Profit and Loss Account for Threesixty Consultants was £97,575 of turnover and £15,103 of other income.  In total, the expenditure was £112,501.

On 28th May 2021, Hope for Justice announced that they had sacked Ben Cooley and that Tim Nelson was acting as CEO, this was the same day that Tim Nelson and Hope for Justice resigned as officers with Threesixty Consultants Limited.  

The woman holidaying with Ben Coolley, Asher Telleen is the founder, Board Chair and Executive Director of US-based charity, Sole Hope.  The charity was founded to respond to the health needs of Uganda people, particularly the impact of a parasite called jiggers.  This parasite burrows into a person’s skin and latches onto blood vessels, swelling to over 1000 times its original size and laying eggs under their skin.  This infestation causes adults and children to be incapacitated and unable to walk.  The charity reports that, “due to widespread cultural beliefs, people infested with jiggers are often shunned for the ‘curse’ painfully visible upon their body.”  In the charity’s 2019 report, Telleen (listed as Asher Singe) received $44,035 for her work with Sole Hope.  The other trustees (Jeff Hackman, Ray Belcher, Micah Ensor and Kim Cummings) received no reportable compensation for their work on the board.  On Sole Hope’s website, Telleen appears at the bottom of the “Our Team” page as the Founder, she is not mentioned as an Executive Director and there is no indication she is paid for her work within the charity.  This may be because her role has changed since 2019, but there are no more recent accounts to ascertain this.

Alongside Ben Cooley and Asher Telleen’s close holidaying relationship, there are a number of reasons Sole Hope’s work is relevant to Hope for Justice and Ben Cooley’s gross misconduct.  Not least, that Sole Hope seems to have had some sort of partnership with Hope for Justice.  In February 2020, Ben Cooley was featured on the Young Living Foundation Facebook page promoting Sole Hope’s work.

After explaining that Asher is his friend, he says:

“Many organisations, like Hope for Justice…can often slip into this mindset of seeing other organisations as competitors, you might do that in your business, you might do that in your life and in your friends. You might see people, what they’re doing, what they’re achieving; you might position people, in your mindset, as a competitor. You know one of the things I have learnt?  If we’re going to end poverty, if we’re going to increase education, if we’re going to bring water across the world, if we’re going to end exploitation and if we’re going to help with health and wellness and medical issues that are epidemic across the world, do you know the one thing we should be doing together? We should be working together, celebrating one another…”

I have been made aware that Threesixty Consultants were contracted by Sole Hope, to provide some form of management and financial support to the organisation.  The details here are vague, but it seems that Rob Allen provided some form of financial support, with Tim Nelson and Ben Cooley involved in day-to-day management of the organisation.  Concerningly, it appears that both Ben Cooley and Tim Nelson were working with Sole Hope (as part of Threesixty Consultants Ltd.) during the time he was suspended by Hope for Justice for gross misconduct.  This shows Cooley’s comments about adressing competitive organisational relationships in a new light, who knew intimate holidaying with the founder and being paid as a consultant are both part of the deal when it comes to non-competitive practices.

Further questions emerge with regard to relationships between Hope for Justice and Sole Hope.  According to THISand THIS article, Asher co-founded Sole Hope with her husband Drü after they moved to Uganda in 2013 with their three young children.  Drü seems to have been wiped from Sole Hope’s story, but according to his LinkedIn profile, he was Executive Director of Sole Hope Inc. for over ten years, until May 2020.  Drü is now the Partnerships Development Manager for Hope For Justice, based in Nashville Tennessee.  Incidentally, Threesixty Consultants was incorporated in May 2020.

There are various questions that this information raises:

  • What is the relationship between Sole Hope and Hope for Justice?
  • How could Tim Nelson and Ben Cooley work for Sole Hope as consultants while still operating at full capacity within their roles at Hope for Justice?  Is consultancy work with other charities appropriate for senior charity leaders? Especially given that Cooley was paid £80,000 – £90,000 in his role as CEO.
  • When Ben Cooley was suspended from Hope for Justice, why was Tim Nelson still working with him at Sole Hope?
  • Given the way Asher Telleen is publicly framing Ben Cooley’s gross misconduct as an attack on him, how can she protect her staff from his, or any other person’s, unacceptable behaviour?
  • How have the potential conflicts of interest of an organisational partnership between Hope for Justice and Sole Hope been reported and managed by either charity’s board, given that Hope for Justice staff have been paid for consultancy work while employed by Hope for Justice?
  • Why was Ben Cooley able to provide consultancy services for Sole Hope while suspended from Hope for Justice for gross misconduct?  Particularly given that their new CEO was fully aware of what he was doing.
  • What action have Sole Hope taken since the gross misconduct charges were upheld to ensure their staff have not be subject to the same harm that caused Hope for Justice to sack him?
  • How can Hope for Justice’s new CEO, Tim Nelson, be trusted to rebuild trust within the organisation after Ben Cooley’s gross misconduct, when he was working alongside Ben Cooley in another organisation throughout Ben Cooley’s suspension?
  • How is the relationship between Hope for Justice and Sole Hope affected by Sole Hope’s founder posting openly on social media depicting Ben Cooley as a victim (presumably of Hope for Justice) who God is fighting on the side of?
  • Who is Rob Allen and what influence has he had on Hope for Justice, particularly given that he is still an Officer for Threesixty Consultants, Ben Cooley Dot Com and Cooley Consultancy?  
  • Why was Rob Allen still a Director of No More Slaves until 28th June 2021, a month after Hope for Justice announced Ben Cooley had been sacked?  That is a month where a Hope for Justice Company Director was also a Director of three companies with Ben Cooley (two with Cooley’s name in the title). 
  • When are Hope for Justice going to live up to their values of Honouring, Openness, Professional and Empowering and publish a full report on Ben Cooley’s gross misconduct?  And will that report answer the questions raised by the information within this blog?

If you have further information about this situation, please email me at befreeuk@gmail.com.

Posts written before this article:

  1. Why did Hope For Justice remove Ben Cooley?

Posts writen after this article:

  1. Guest blog: My Sole Hope story
  2. Losing Hope For Justice
  3. 24-7 Prayer, Hillsong and Hope For Justice
  4. Maxwell & Marie and Ben Cooley

Why did Hope for Justice remove Ben Cooley?

Ben Cooley is a big name in evangelicalism.  Often perceived to be THE founder of Hope For Justice, as with many charities, he didn’t actually do it alone.  The organisation was actually founded by a group of people who organised an event called The Stand, held in 2008.  This group included Debbie Cooley (Ben’s wife), Marion and Rob White (long time leaders at Spring Harvest; Rob was previously National Director of Youth for Christ), Tony and Viv Jackson, Rob Allen, Tim Nelson, Chris Dacre, and Martin Warner.  In 2014,  Hope For Justice “joined forces” with award winning Christian artist Natalie Grant’s charity Abolition International.  In 2018, Hope for Justice took over” Retrak, a charity working with street children.

While this sounds like a highly collaborative journey full of many significant people, according to the blurb for Cooley’s book (endorsed by previous Prime Minister Theresa May), the Hope for Justice journey was “from one man with a wobbly desk to an international organisation now rescuing victims in the UK, US, Cambodia and Norway.” 

On 28th May 2021, Hope For Justice announced they had a new CEO, Tim Nelson.  On their website’s news page, a small image of Nelson appears above the headline in the corner of the page.  It could be missed if one wasn’t looking for it.  Within the article announcing Tim Nelson as the new CEOwe find that the first half of the article is actually about an investigation into Ben Cooley’s behaviour which resulted in a disciplinary hearing that, subject to appeal, led them to remove Ben Cooley from the organisation. 

Screenshot of Hope for Justice’s news page on 13th June 2021.

This section is directly quoted from the news article:

Hope for Justice is today announcing the appointment of Tim Nelson as its interim CEO, following the departure of Ben Cooley.

Chair of Hope for Justice Trustees, Peter Elson comments: “Hope for Justice stands by its four key values of Honouring, Openness, Professional and Empowering and expects all employees to conduct themselves to appropriate standards. Earlier this year, trustees directly received allegations from two former employees, via the charity’s confidential whistleblowing procedure which maintains confidentiality throughout the process. The complaints were made regarding the behaviours of Ben Cooley.

“While the allegations were not of a criminal nature and no other members of the leadership team were implicated, they were determined to be serious and the Charity Commission was duly informed.

“The trustee board took immediate action in commissioning an independent and experienced investigator and legal counsel on 28 January 2021. The independent investigator was charged with conducting an evidence-based investigation in order to establish the full facts and circumstances relating to the concerns and allegations presented. In order for the allegations to be fully investigated, Ben Cooley was instructed to take a leave of absence.  [Incidentally, Cooley was representing Hope For Justice on the Exodus Road podcast on 12th February 2021, Joy.FM on 25th February 2021, the Backpack Show podcast on 5th March 2021].

“On completion of the investigation a written report was submitted to the appointed investigation case team within the trustee board and, based on the investigation findings and recommendations, disciplinary action was then initiated. Ben Cooley subsequently attended a disciplinary hearing and is no longer with the organisation, subject to the potential of an appeal.”

Co-founder of Hope for Justice Tim Nelson has been appointed interim CEO.

Civil Society News reported additional comments from the Charity Commission:

In January 2021 we assessed a serious incident report submitted by the charity, in connection with concerns about the former chief executive. Based on the information provided, we determined that the charity was handling the matter appropriately and that no further action was required by the Commission. The charity has kept us informed throughout the independent investigation. We recently received an update to the serious incident report and are currently assessing this information. We cannot comment further at this time.”

The article also explains that Hope For Justice state that no payment has been made to Cooley “following his departure”.  They say that Cooley told them, “he thought more consideration should have been given ‘to the fact that there was limited evidence available due to the historical nature of the allegation’…Whilst I fundamentally disagree with the outcome, after 13 years as the founder and chief executive of Hope for Justice, my only hope and prayer is that it will continue to thrive and rescue countless men, women and children caught up in human trafficking”.

These comments are echoed on his Facebook page.  Above a photograph of him staring at a lake, he frames himself as a martyr for the cause of ending trafficking;

“I have gone without, sacrificed tirelessly, stood on stages with tens of thousands to raise my voice in this fight for freedom! I have had my life threatened, gained friends and lost friends, figured out how to trust, love and rescue sacrificially.” He goes onto dispute the organisation’s decision: “One thing I am sure of, Hope For Justice has left a mark on my life that is so incomparable I will never be the same. But, my friends, it is time for me to move on. I look forward to sharing with you the next part of my journey. Whilst I cannot agree with decisions recently being made around my leaving Hope for Justice. Hope For Justice will forever be in my heart.”

While I have no doubt Cooley has had struggles, page 31 of the organisation’s most recent Annual Report declares one salary of between £80,000 – £89,999, which presumably would be Cooley’s as CEO.  Interestingly, a 2020 job advert for Cooley’s Executive Assistant, included the role being paid at between £40,000 – £50,000, it seems that “going without” is not a current element of being a paid member of the Hope For Justice team.  Incidentally (or perhaps not), the job advert states, “The role involves providing comprehensive support and guidance to the CEO, including anticipating his needs, as well as providing critical thinking to problems.”

Some organisations can claim a CEO’s failure is not an institutional issue (for instance, Katie Ghose leaving Women’s Aid) because they are simply a member of staff and some organisation founders’ later views are able to be divorced from the organisation’s current practice (e.g. Erin Pizzey and Refuge).  However, Ben Cooley and Hope for Justice have a highly symbiotic relationship.  Cooley’s rise from “one man with a wobbly desk” is entirely dependent on his role within Hope for Justice.  While he may have lots of skills, what sets him apart from other communicators, speakers or leaders is his story of being a hero rescuing those subjected to modern slavery.  Similarly, Hope for Justice’s rise to having an £8.7 million turnover has been (at least in Christian circles) dependent on Cooley as figurehead.  In our Christian culture, where so much is dependent on the cult of personality, Cooley’s charisma and communication skill have enabled the organisation to get where it is today.  Their relationship has been highly co-dependent.

As such, it seems disingenuous that the Hope for Justice press release on Cooley’s departure does not once refer to Cooley’s role within the organisation, neither as founder, CEO or figure head.  This does not seem to reflect their value of “openness”.  Similarly, while it is understandable that there are confidentiality requirements to protect the whistleblowers in the case, it is concerning that no further information has been given as to the nature of Cooley’s conduct.  In fact, their press release is written in a way that does not directly state that Cooley’s conduct is the cause of his departure, instead that must be ascertained from the overall narrative provided.  

Given the nature of Hope for Justice’s work, I think there are particular questions that must be answered by the organisation.  This is an organisation set up to respond to some of the most egregious forms of power misuse across the world today.  Power misuse which is predominantly perpetrated by men towards women.  Cooley has had a large public platform  trading on this; being portrayed (and portraying himself) as a hero rescuing primarily (but not solely) women subject to severe and sustained male power and male violence.  If Cooley’s conduct has in any way involved power misuse, particularly towards women, then this must be made clear.  While it is understandable to want to protect the former whistleblowing employees, it is also extremely important that if Cooley’s behaviour is related to power misuse and/or mistreatment of women, that must be made clear, not least for the sake of any future colleagues of Ben Cooley.  Given that his EA was expected to be able to “anticipate his needs”, such questions become more prescient.  If Cooley’s behaviour is not related to power misuse or mistreatment of women, it is also crucial for Hope for Justice to make this clear, as in the midst of the Me Too movement, it is far too easy for assumptions to be made which could be damaging to Cooley’s reputation.  

From all of this there are many glaring questions that must be answered: 

  • How is Hope For Justice’s value of openness being enacted when Ben Cooley’s removal is not headline news?  And when the statement is worded in a way that gives no information as to the substance of the issues?
  • Tim Nelson (now interim CEO of the organisation) co-founded the organisation with Ben Cooley and has presumably worked closely with him for 12 years.  Is his new role compatible with his close previous relationship with Cooley?
  • If Cooley was instructed to take a leave of absence from Hope for Justice around 28th January 2021, why was he representing Hope For Justice in interviews in February and March 2021?
  • Ben Cooley has clearly acted in ways that have required for him to be removed as CEO of Hope for Justice, the organisation he co-founded.  This removal has apparently not included him receiving any severance payment.  Given the type of work Hope for Justice do, has Ben Cooley’s seemingly sackable conduct included power misuse and was that power misuse directed at women?
  • If Hope for Justice do not give any further information, what is there to stop Ben Cooley using his platform (built on Hope for Justice’s work) to make inaccurate claims about the situation?  Given that there are clearly ex-employees who have been troubled enough by Cooley’s behaviour to report it, it seems unfair on them for Cooley to be able to make such statements, unchallenged by those who know the truth.
  • Given recent reports of charities using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), can Hope for Justice confirm that they have not used NDAS within this, or any other situation?
  • Given the platform Ben Cooley has had within Christian culture, why have no Christian media outlets (to date) reported on the situation?
  • Similarly, give the number of organisations and those with a platform who have endorsed Cooley (Theresa May, Rend Collective, Jesus CultureNatalie Grant, his current publisher David C Cook, his previous publisher SPCKRob WhitePremier RadioSpring HarvestNew WineGlobal Leadership NetworkEdenAudacious ChurchC3, Life Church and others), what responsibility do they have now if he is using his platform to deny wrongdoing that was compelling enough for Hope For Justice to remove him from the organisation?
  • Given that so much male violence towards women is reported long after the fact, what can be made of Ben Cooley’s assertions that the allegations against are not credible because they are historic?  Is that an appropriate thing for him to say, given that his platform has been built on responding to male violence towards women?  Or could such comments fuel the discrediting of women who disclose historic incidents of male violence?

I’m sure these are not the only questions raised by the situation, but I hope Hope for Justice in the spirit of the openness they hold as a core value, are willing to answer as many of these questions as possible, as publicly as possible.

Posts written after this:

  1. More questions about Ben Cooley
  2. Guest blog: My Sole Hope story
  3. Losing Hope For Justice
  4. 24-7 Prayer, Hillsong and Hope For Justice
  5. Maxwell & Marie and Ben Cooley

Was Jesus Sexually Abused?


Was Jesus a victim of sexual abuse?  According to new book, When Did We See You Naked?, edited by David Tombs, Jayme Reaves and Rocio Figueroa, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”  While I plan to write an article in due course about the book itself, David Tombs’ 1999 article ‘Crucifixion, State Terror and Sexual Abuse’ forms the basis of every contributor’s a priori assumption that Jesus was indeed sexually abused.  From Tombs’ paper springs forth all manner of theological ideas within the book.  Before writing a paper engaging with the book itself, it seemed important to unpick the position taken by Tombs’ within his 1999 article, which forms the basis of the majority of arguments within When Did We See You Naked?.

As an expert in sexual violence, I have been working for over a decade with women who have been sexually abused by men.  My work is now spent training practitioners from across the UK and beyond on how to work with those who have been abused.  I am fully supportive of anyone who wants to ensure the church is a safer space for those who have been abused.  Having spent many hours delivering lectures and training to ordinands, church leaders and others, I am keen to embrace any ideas which will work towards ensuring that churches and the wider Christian community understand and respond effectively to men’s violence towards women, children, and other men.  However, the premise of Tombs’ article is only valid if Jesus was actually sexually abused.  While I applaud the deep concern for people who have been abused, expressed within Tombs’ article, I will argue that Tombs’ approach is highly speculative, to the point that he ignores both historical and textual evidence.  I will also suggest that the unintended consequences of his ideas could include greater harm being done, by Christians, to those who have been sexually abused.  The potential damage that these ideas could generate means that engaging with them is a moral and professional imperative.

Given that liberation theology underpins Tombs’ article, it is useful to understand his location to the subject.   He is originally from the UK,[1] but is now based in New Zealand.  He is a white, male professor who has a “longstanding interest in contextual and liberation theologies.”[2]  The context of Tombs’ 1999 article is that of state terror, specifically perpetrated in the 1960s and 1970s by military regimes in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina.[3]  For Tombs, Roman crucifixion “fits the profile of public state torture very well” when examined in light of the abuses perpetrated by these Latin American regimes.[4]  Following a liberation theology method, he asserts that “biblical texts can be legitimately read with the social and political situations of contemporary cultures of oppression in mind.”[5]  

Defining sexual abuse

The questions Tombs seeks to answer within his article are 1) whether Jesus was sexually humiliated during the crucifixion and, b) whether Jesus could have been sexually assaulted in ways elided within the Gospel crucifixion accounts.  Tombs does little to explicitly define what sexual abuse is; therefore before engaging with the article, I want to provide a definition of sexual abuse to ensure clarity in the ensuing discussion. 

Within UK law, sexual abuse definitions differ slightly between nations.  Broadly, rape is understood to be ‘when a person uses their penis without consent to penetrate the vagina, mouth, or anus of another person.’[6]  Sexual assault includes a person being ‘coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or when a person, male or female, touches another person sexually without their consent.’[7]  Child sexual abuse can involve ‘forcing or inciting a child to take part in sexual activity, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening’.[8]  It may include physical contact (rape, masturbation, kissing, rubbing, touching outside of clothing) and non-contact activities (looking at or producing sexual images, grooming a child in preparation for abuse).[9]  Owning or sharing indecent images of children is also a sexual offence.[10]  Within Scotland, the legislation adds that child sexual abuse ‘is any act that involves the child in any activity for the sexual gratification of another person.’[11]

While these legally rooted definitions are important, feminists have long asserted that, “rape is a crime of violence, not sexuality”,[12] rooted in the rapist’s desire for power over their victim.  Some thinkers informed by this analysis assert that sexual abuse is about power and not sex.  However, it is crucial to understand that this feminist analysis was borne within a context (the late 1970s – 1990s) when sexual violence was understood to be motivated by uncontrolled lust.[13]  Such an analysis of power and violence enabled women to reject being blamed for being sexually attractive or wearing sexual clothes.  It placed the responsibility onto men.  However, this power analysis ‘may not adequately appreciate the full nature or extent of the harm experienced by a victim of rape,’[14]  because it marginalises the sexual motivation of abuse.  Many studies have found that it is the perpetrators’ beliefs of sexual entitlement that bridge the gap between power/violence and sexuality within sexual abuse.[15]  The abuser’s belief of sexual entitlement drives his behaviour, legitimising his right to sexual access to women’s, children’s (and in some cases, men’s) bodies.

Rape Crisis England and Wales include female genital mutilation (FGM) within their definition of sexual violence because it intentionally alters or causes ‘injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’.[16]  As such, acts which injure the genitals or wider reproductive organs can be understood as sexual violence.  This injuring of genitals is quite different to the Scottish definition of sexual abuse as occurring ‘for the sexual gratification of another person’; while the violence involves sexual organs, the act itself is not ‘to do with sexual activity’ but does have unbearably significant impact on victims’ future sexual activity.

While it may be difficult to offer a clear definition that combines these elements, these definitions suggest that sexual violence and sexual abuse may coalesce (e.g. forced penetration, coerced sexual acts).  Some acts may be solely sexually violent (e.g. injuring of genitals) and others may be solely for another’s sexual gratification (e.g. masturbating to images of child sexual abuse).  Within a feminist analysis, sexual abuse and sexual violence are both motivated by the perpetrator’s beliefs of sexual entitlement. 

Having established this definition and clarified that sexual abuse and sexual violence can be separate and/or part of one act (or a series of acts), I move onto analysis of Tombs’ article.  I will start by reviewing evidence within the article.  Following this, I will discuss of some of the points raised, particularly focussing on the lived reality of those who have been sexually abused.  I will go on to make some observations about Jesus’ solidarity with sexually abused people.

Article review

Redefining sexual abuse

It is entirely plausible to state that both first century Judea and twentieth century Latin America were ruled by oppressive military regimes and that their torturous practices, designed to control and oppress, will have some similarities given that that there are only a finite number of ways to torture humans into submission.  However, it is a leap for Tombs to then state that “the Latin American torture practices of the 1970s and 1980s can provide helpful insights into neglected aspects of crucifixion in Palestine [almost 2000 years previously].”[17]  Tombs does not explain why Latin America specifically offers this insight, rather than for instance, Western colonial torture in India, early modern torture of witches in England, or Nazi torture of Jews during the Holocaust.  

Tombs evidences that Latin American torture practices included a “common sexual element”,[18]  detailing horrific practices including administering electric shocks to the genitals, forced nudity, penetration anally or vaginally with objects or animals, and soldiers mutilating murdered prisoners’ genitals or reproductive organs.[19]  After detailing these deeply disturbing torture techniques, Tombs introduces a hermeneutic of suspicion, asking “against this background, the crucifixion of Jesus may be viewed with a disturbing question in mind: to what extent did the torture and crucifixion of Jesus involve some form of sexual abuse?”[20]  Again, Tombs provides no explanation as to why this background, and not some other background, of state terror is of particular relevance to the crucifixion. 

The torture techniques described are horrific.  It seems that Tombs is assuming these acts constitute sexual abuse because they involve the victims’ sexual organs.  However, as already established, such violent acts have very little to do with ‘sexual activity’ as found within UK definitions of sexual abuse.  They are also unlikely to correspond with the Scottish understanding of acts for the ‘sexual gratification of another person’.  In a similar way to female genital mutilation of girls and women or the castration of boys and men, the injury to sexual organs has huge sexual implications and deeply damages the sexuality of those who are mutilated; however, these violating acts are tangibly different to a perpetrator gaining sexual pleasure and arousal from violating another person.  Of course there will be perpetrators of state terror who (disturbingly) will be sexually aroused while perpetrating these acts but, as with FGM and castration, the underlying motivation is generally about violence, genocide and inflicting pain, rather than about the perpetrators’ sexual gratification.  With the exception of FGM, violent state torture is of a different typology to the forms of sexual violence perpetrated across most places in the world.  Generally, those who have been sexually abused are unlikely to recognise injury to reproductive organs, outside of any wider sexualised context as like what was done to them. 

In a separate paper, Tombs and Figueroa argue the well-worn feminist adage that “sexual abuse is best understood in terms of power and control expressed in sexualized ways.”[21]  Yet this is not the whole picture.  Potential, or actual, damage to sexual organs is deeply traumatic; however, those who have been subjected to forms of sexual violence in which the perpetrator overtly, or even implicitly, gained sexual arousal and sexual pleasure from the abuse must reckon with significantly different trauma.  Where the perpetrator has blamed the person they have abused (usually a child or woman), for “leading them on” or “asking for it”, this again produces different aspects of trauma to those subjected to genital injury within a context of torture. 

A powerful resource for understanding the needs and strategies of traumatised people is the British Psychological Society’s ‘Power Threat Meaning Framework’.[22]  This model seeks to offer an alternative to medicalising distress via the psychiatric system, medication and diagnosis.  Instead of asking “what is wrong with you?”, the Power Threat Meaning Framework asks, “what has happened to you?” Within this framework, a traumatised person is encouraged to consider 1) how power was taken away from them; 2) what was threatened when power was taken away; 3) what meaning they made of their life as a result of this; and 4) what they had to do to survive.[23]  

Such a model resists ‘the oppression of totalizing narratives as…played out in the stories we tell about ourselves’.[24]The specificity of each person’s experiences is crucial.  The man who has survived torture which included having his genitals electric shocked will identify the power that was taken away, what was threatened through that, the meanings he has made (and the new meanings he has the potential to make) and the ways he survived.  These answers will be entirely different to the woman whose boyfriend raped her repeatedly, reproductively coercing her into three pregnancies.  While both of their experiences are deeply traumatic and both include a sexualised element, what has been done to them is entirely different.  This helps us to understand that broad categories of sexual abuse may be unhelpful and do not speak to people’s lived reality.  As McCarroll explains, ‘it is in recovering smaller, more local and multiple narratives that the contours of hope can emerge as complexity that defies all totalizing attempts.’[25]

This is why Tombs’ decision to categorise sexual abuse solely along lines that will further his own argument is problematic.  For Tombs, sexual abuse can be sexual humiliation or sexual assault.[26]  Sexual humiliation occurs in two ways; as a sexual abuse perpetration tactic and as an inherent consequence of sexual abuse.  A perpetrator may use explicitly sexually humiliating tactics (urinating or ejaculating on them, making them say family members’ names during sex, mocking their appearance, making them wash before sex).  Separate to this, being subjected to sexualised harm is, in and of itself, humiliating.  Even if the perpetrator’s tactics are not explicitly humiliating, sexualised harm is inherently humiliating, leaving the person subjected to it feeling ashamed.  Being forced or manipulated into sexual activity, being blamed for the perpetrator’s abuse, being rejected by the perpetrator after the abuse, finding elements of the abuse physically arousing are just some of the ways sexual abuse is humiliating.  In the same way that we would agree that bullying is always hurtful, while many bullies deliberately do hurtful things, sexual abuse is always humiliating while many sexual abusers deliberately do humiliating things.  As such, sexual humiliation is not a special category in its own right and cannot be separated from sexual abuse.  In a more recent publication, Tombs makes clear that:

Drawing this distinction between sexual humiliation and sexual assault for a reading of Jesus’ experience is therefore not intended to create a false hierarchy between the two forms of sexual abuse…we offer the distinction as a way to make clearer the sexual abuse which is explicit in the text (sexual humiliation), and to identify the further questions which might be asked of the text (in relation to sexual assault).[27]

While this is an understandable approach when using the hermeneutics of suspicion, grounded in Latin American state torture, it becomes untenable when making broader claims to separate out sexual abuse and sexual humiliation.  Tombs (and others) have made parallels between Jesus’ crucifixion and the #metoo movement.[28]  The #metoo movement focusses primarily on men’s sexual abuse of women in Hollywood, and more broadly their abuse of women within intimate relationships, workplaces or nights out.  However, in these cases, there is no delineation between humiliation and assault; they are one and the same.  The perpetrator is motivated by sexual entitlement and seeks sexual gratification at his victim’s expense.  When someone’s pain is the cause of another’s sexual pleasure, that in itself constitutes humiliation, and produces shame in those who have been abused.  As writer Rana Awdish explains, ‘shame doesn’t strike like a fist.  It rots its way in.  Shame unravels us at our most fragile seams…It’s unique in its devastating ability to make us feel exposed and worthless.’[29]   To make effective parallels regarding sexual abuse between the #metoo movement and Jesus’ crucifixion, Tombs’ analysis would need to work across both contexts which, given his distinction between sexual humiliation and sexual abuse, it does not.

The faulty analogy between Latin America and 1st Century Palestine

Returning to the 1999 article, various categorical assertions are made about crucifixion that seem to be less categorical when the sources (or lack of them) are individually investigated.  Tombs states, “crucifixion in the ancient world appears to have carried a strongly sexual element and should be understood as a form of sexual abuse that involved sexual humiliation and sometimes sexual assault.”[30]  No evidence is provided for this statement.

While it is not impossible to make parallels between ancient and modern torture, it is also important to recognise that the purpose of modern torture in Latin America state torture, as Cavanaugh explains, is about producing the enemy, rather than punishing them: 

We misunderstand modern torture, however, if we fail to see that enemies of the regime are not so much punished as produced in the torture chamber. Torture does not uncover and penalize a certain type of discourse, but rather creates a discourse of its own and uses it to realize the state’s claims to power over the bodies of its citizens.[31]

This process seems at odds with the crucifixion narrative which includes a concerted effort by Pilate to avoid an innocent man being punished. It is worth noting that Romans rarely crucified Roman citizens, saving this brutal punishment for “slaves, disgraced soldiers, Christians and foreigners”.[32]  This suggests that while Latin American state torture was designed to terrorise citizens, within first century Palestine, crucifixion was a technique for ensuring Roman imperial hegemony and their grip on political power, rather than justifying the “state’s claim to power.”  This also suggests that we must be cautious about attributing interpersonal sexualised motives to crucifixion, as is the case when offering parallels between Jesus’ crucifixion and the modern reality of sexual violence.[33]

Tombs goes on to say, “In a patriarchal society in which men competed against each other to display virility in terms of sexual power over others, the public display of the naked victim by the ‘victors’…carried the message of sexual domination.”[34]  The reference for this statement is two stories from 1 Samuel.  The first is of David bringing Saul two hundred Philistine foreskins in order him to be allowed to marry Saul’s daughter Michal (1 Samuel 18:20–26).  This story is provided without comment to evidence that “emasculation and sexual assault were also recognised practices at an earlier time in Israel’s history”.[35]  The passage seems tangential to an argument that the public display of a naked victim carried a message of sexual domination.  Second is Saul saying to his armour bearer to “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not thrust me through” (1 Samuel 31:4).  Tombs argues that this shows a fear of sexual assault, again not evidence that displaying a naked victim carried a message of sexual domination. It also is not a fait accompli that the passage is about sexual assault.  Stephen Holmes argues that the Hebrew translated “thrust” means “to pierce”,[36] rendering it unconvincing to read this passage as a threat of sexual assault (rather than stabbed by a sword).[37]  While there may be some value in exploring the values of pre-Roman Semitic culture, its value in considering the Roman approach to crucifixion and the cultural coding of sexuality and humiliation warrants more caution.

Tombs states, “victims were crucified naked in what amounted to a ritualised form of sexual humiliation.”[38]  Evidence provided for this statement comes from a book edited by Tombs, in which Graham Ward describes Judas’ kiss, the Temple guard’s slap, the Romans scourging Jesus, nailing him to a cross and piercing his side as “manifestations of desire in conflict [that] are sexually charged.”[39]  His overall description is of these as “erotic and political power games.” [40]  This is not an historically-rooted assertion about crucifixion generally, but rather a specific reflection on Jesus’ crucifixion, framing it as erotic and sexually charged.  While someone is of course entitled to argue such a thing, many would instead locate these acts far from eroticism or sex.  Given that Christians are exhorted to “greet one another with a holy kiss,” it seems a stretch for Ward to read erotic notions into Judas’ greeting,[41] and thus for Tombs to rely on this interpretation in building his own argument. 

Tombs goes on to argue, “depending on the position in which the victim was crucified, the display of the genitals could be specifically emphasised”.[42]  The source referenced in support of this (Y Yadin) does not mention an emphasis on the genitals; rather, he is disputing a previous assertion by Nicu Haas.  Haas worked on the only known remains of a man crucified at the time of Jesus.[43]  Haas argued that the remains proved the man was crucified with his legs together,[44] Yadin counters that the man was crucified upside, down with his legs apart.   However, Zias and Sekeles have provided further evidence that both Yadin and Haas are wrong and that the man was likely positioned with legs nailed either side of the cross (with no specific emphasis on the genitals).[45]  In addition to this, Yadin explains, “the main object of the executioners was to increase the pain by deliberately setting the knees apart.”[46]  This position was not about emasculation, sexualisation or emphasising genital prominence; it was about increasing pain.  Alongside this, a sample size of one is a rather small sample size to be using as the basis of any wider generalisations; one might even go so far as to say that the surviving evidence is simply too vague for us to make any sweeping statements of this sort, or to make any assumptions about common practices in Jesus’ Judaea.

Weak methodology 

Was Jesus naked?

Tombs states that, “…the sexual violence against the [crucifixion] victim was sometimes taken to the most brutal extreme with crosses that impaled the genitals of the victim…[this] suggests the highly sexualised context of violence in which Roman crucifixion sometimes took place.”[47]  The evidence for a highly sexualised context comes from Josephus (War I) who describes Hasmonean Alexander Janneus impaling eight hundred prisoners forcing them to watch him kill their  wives and children, “meanwhile cup in hand he reclined amidst his concubines and enjoyed the spectacle.”  This seems weak evidence for such sweeping statement.

With regard to the impaling of genitals, in his second, extended edition of Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World (published in 2019), Cook explicit states that Tombs is wrong in this analysis: “Tomb’s contention that crucifixion included rape by a sedile should be rejected.”[48]  He points out that such impalement would have caused immediate death due to blood loss.[49]  Contra Tombs’ who states that “crucifixion usually took place while the victim was naked”,[50] Cook is not convinced:

The Greek word (γυμνıς gumnos) Artemidorus uses in his book on dream interpretation for crucified individuals (Onir. 2.53), does not necessarily mean “completely nude.” Felicity Harley-McGowan, following a contention of Christopher H. Hallett, writes that those depicted as nudus in ancient sources, usually “retained an undergarment, the perizoma” (περÛζωμα).  In the Palatine graffito, the donkey man wears a short tunic that exposes part of his buttocks, but Alkimilla appears to be entirely nude in the graffito of Puteoli. One of the earliest surviving depictions of Christ crucified (preserved on the Pereire gem) shows him fully nude, and there is no surviving evidence to suggest that Jesus was depicted completely nude on the cross before the middle ages.  Exposure on the cross, even in a loincloth, was presumably humiliating.[51]

At various points Tombs states that the Gospels offer “clear indications”[52] about the “high level of sexual humiliation”[53] involved in Jesus’ crucifixion, and that the sexual abuse of Jesus is “unavoidable”[54] within the text.  Tombs assumes that in being stripped, Jesus’ nudity is inherently sexual.  However, it is not clear that Jesus was stripped.  Brown (who Tombs cites) points out that Jesus was clothed on his way to execution: “…the condemned would normally have been led naked to the place of execution; and so whether for the sake of Jesus, or of Jerusalem, or of the Jews, an exception has been made.”[55]  This suggests that even if one were to argue that forced nakedness is sexual abuse, Jesus was protected more than other crucifixion victims of his time.  When asking whether Jesus would have hung naked on the cross, Brown states “…the evangelists are not specific and perhaps would not have known; all we can discuss is likelihoods.”[56]  While Tombs characterises Brown’s position as “cautious support for the likelihood of full nakedness”, Brown himself gives evidence both for and against Jesus’ nakedness, finally stating “I would judge that there is no way to settle the question even if the evidence favours complete despoliation.”[57]  If anything, Brown seems to be saying that regardless of the evidence, we cannot be confident that Jesus was naked during the crucifixion.

Tombs argues that “full nakedness would have been particularly shameful in the Jewish context.”[58]  To evidence this, he references a Bible passage and a historical anecdote.  In 2 Samuel 10:4-5, David’s envoys have their beards half-shaved and cut off their garments “in the middle of their hips”.[59]  While their nakedness could be the main source of the shame, verse 5 tells us “when David was told about this, he sent messengers to meet the men, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, “Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back.””  As such, shaving the men’s beards seems to have been a core part of the humiliation.  This suggests at least some caution should be exercised in contextualising humiliation, given that in a contemporary Western context, having a beard shaved would likely not provoke such a reaction of shame.  Tombs also provides an anecdote from Josephus, in which a soldier was feared to cause a riot after he bent over, exposing himself to crowds while making “indecent noises”.  While this provides a delightful mental image of a rude soldier, it seems fairly tangential in proving that “full nakedness would have been particularly shameful”.  Josephus offering this detail does not necessarily illuminate the Jewish context, given that exposing genitals at people (while making indecent noises) is generally considered rude, regardless of who they are exposed to.[60]  The assumption that full nakedness would have been particularly shameful seems even less convincing within a Jewish context where ritualised and communal bathing was a religious requirement,[61] and where Jesus would have been naked during his baptism.[62]  This is not to say that forced nakedness during crucifixion would not have been traumatic and designed to humiliate but, unlike the Western twentieth century context in which Tombs is writing, public nakedness cannot be assumed to be sexual. 

Though not referenced by Tombs, Brown does mention Jewish issues with nudity. [63]  These include 1) a reference from Jubilees that God’s requirement to Adam was to “cover his shame”,[64] 2) a mention in the Sifre Devarim that “you’ll find no one in the world more degraded or pitiable than a person wandering naked in the streets”,[65] and 3) another mention in Jubilees of an exhortation from Noah to his sons that they should “cover the shame of their flesh…and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity.”[66]

Although Noah’s exhortation to his sons relates to sexualised nakedness, the other two points refer to nakedness more generally.  From these sources, it is possible to ascertain that nudity could be seen as shameful and/or disempowering, but that doesn’t suggest mean the nakedness was sexualised.  It is quite possible to argue that the harm to Jesus of (possible) forced nakedness may have been greater given his cultural understanding of nudity, perhaps even argued to be shameful.  But that does not mean it would have been sexual. 

Was Jesus raped?

Tombs then moves from what the Gospels explicit state, and uses a hermeneutic of suspicion to assert “whilst the testimonies from Latin America do nothing to establish directly the historical facts of crucifixion in Palestine, they are highly suggestive for what may have happened within the closed walls of the praetorium.”[67]  Tombs suggests that the Gospel writers may have omitted this abuse due to not knowing about it, because they saw it as shameful, or because “…the Gospels are usually seen as notably biased in excusing the Romans for Jesus’ trial and death.”[68]  Given that the whole cohort of soldiers were assembled to mock Jesus in the praetorium, Tombs uses this context of a large group of men being gathered together (including some “Syrian auxiliaries who might have viewed their Jewish neighbours with particular hostility”),[69] to infer that Jesus may have been gang raped: “In view of the testimonies of gang rapes that are given by victims detained by security forces in the clandestine torture centres of Latin America this detail of overwhelming and hostile military power sounds a particularly disturbing note.”[70]

Based purely on speculation, there is barely any historical evidence from first century Palestine to justify the heinous and violent assertion that Jesus was raped.  Tombs cites Trexler in suggesting that a Roman master may have his slaves rape his adulterous wife’s paramour and Josephus’ claims (the historicity of which Tombs acknowledges, “cannot be taken for granted”),[71] that besieged Jewish militants used plants or sharp objects to anally or vaginally violate those potentially in possession of food.  The context of an adulterous wife or desperate besieged militants is totally different to around a thousand men mocking a condemned man.  The contemporary example Tombs uses is that of a woman being raped by soldiers in Guatemala, again a rather different (though equally horrific) context instead of the condemned Jesus surrounded by up to a thousand men.   

In support of his hypothesis, Tombs uses Plato’s description in Gorgias of a hypothetical crucifixion to explain that this “…indicates that castration may have taken place prior to crucifixion in some parts of the ancient world.”[72]  Plato’s description goes:

“How do you mean? If a man is caught while unjustly plotting [to make himself] a tyrant, and when he has been caught and tortured, castrated, had the eyes burnt out, and after many other grievous torments of every kind have been inflicted on him, and seeing them inflicted on his kids and wife, [he is] finally suspended [ἀνασταυρωθῇ] or tarred and burnt; will this man be happier than if he escapes and appoints [himself] as tyrant…”[73]

Samuelsson explains that the term asserted by Tombs as meaning “crucifixion”, but translated by him as “suspended” is not clear, “It is not possible to fully determine in what way Plato uses the rare ἀνασταυρωθῇ… etymology can be notoriously misleading.”[74]  It seems less than certain that the passage is about crucifixion, and within context, Plato’s dialogue does not offer historical evidence about crucifixion, but more a hypothetical list of torture techniques designed by Polus within the dialogue to dramatically argue against Socrates’ assertion that a wrongdoer will be “less wretched if he pays the penalty and meets with requital from gods and men.”[75]  For Polus, this is a ridiculous idea and to prove so he lists as many awful things as he can think of that could be done to a tyrant to prove that, actually, the tyrant who goes unpunished will indeed be less wretched.  This is about as historically accurate as future historians claiming the Human Centipede film is an accurate portrayal of human torture in the early 2000s.[76]

Tombs references Trexler’s Sex and Conquest at various points to evidence the use of male rape in the ancient world.  However, in citing Trexler to demonstrate that anal rape of male captives “was notoriously rife in the ancient world”,[77] Tombs neglects to mention that Trexler’s comments apply to prisoners of war.[78]  Beyond war, Trexler explains that, “male homosexual activity was a punishment ancient Mediterranean and European men might inflict on those who violated their female property.”[79] The other use of male-on-male rape, according to Trexler, related to patronage type systems whereby adolescent boys start as passive recipients of men’s sexual attention, eventually graduating to their own “active status”.[80]  Classicist Liz Gloyn explains that while we would understand this as statutory rape, the ancient Greek frames them as agents with the ability to grant or withhold their sexual favours, “elite Athenians would not have seen forcing the desired boy into sexual activity as acceptable; a significant part of the relationship dynamic involved persuading him to give in to your advances despite his initial resistance. This is, of course, sounding very much like grooming in contemporary terms, but for the Athenians this was a normalised part of the practice of pederasty, and not understood as sexual violence.”[81]  No mention is made by Trexler within the texts Tombs’ references to the rape of criminals more generally. Tombs speculates that in view of this background (rape of male prisoners of war, rape of male paramours and rape of adolescent boys in a patronage system) we should consider whether Judas’ kiss might have “set events in motion that led to some form of sexual assault in the praetorium of Pilate.”[82]  The background suggested seems of little relevance to the arrest of a religious leader and political dissident in first century Palestine, and this is an infirm basis for speculation.

Tombs’ suggests that dressing Jesus in bright clothing may have been a “prelude to sexual assault”.[83] This seems related to Trexler mentioning that “military history is studded not only with dandified captured prisoners, but with gorgeously dressed domestic soldiers who attended the likes of rulers such as Darius III, William Rufus of England and Henry III of France.”[84]  This mention of dress seems far removed from first century Palestine and the crucifixion of Jesus.  As Trexler is careful to point out, “differences not only in space but in time can be massive: fifth century Greeks had a positive attitude toward the male body, yet in the Hellenistic (323 – 31 BC) period that attitude is said to have been superseded by an ascetic, even negative disposition toward the flesh.”[85]  

As other theologians have noted, placing Jesus in a purple robe relates to the wider narrative mocking claims of him being the “King of the Jews”.[86]  As Myers explains,

They ridicule Jesus by dressing him in purple…Mark may mean here one of their own Roman cloaks – symbol of everything their prisoner rejects: the military option and imperial power. Alternatively, it may connote a royal cape, such as the rebel leader Simon bar Giora donned when he surrendered to the Romans as defeated king.[87]

Tombs asserts that as there were up to a thousand men being present in the praetorium, this would make sexual violence more likely because of the “awkward inner tension of omnipotence and powerlessness” experienced by Roman soldiers.[88]  He asserts that an “instinctive response to such powerlessness is to impose one’s own power forcefully on those who are even less powerful.”[89]  The assertion that the tensions of a military professional army are directly applicable to Roman military of the first century AD seems problematic.  Tombs’ suggestion that abuse is an instinctive response to powerlessness is pervasive idea, but it is inaccurate.

Women (who across the world experience powerlessness at much greater rates than men) do not generally have an instinctive response of sexually violating children or others who are less powerful than them.[90]  And for men like Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Saville, Bill Cosby, Ravi Zacharius and John Howard Yoder, their powerfulness was utilised to sexually abuse women and girls.  It is, as mentioned previously, sexual entitlement that motivates sexual abusers.

Attributing sexual violence to a sense of powerlessness is a deeply pervasive and damaging myth which makes it more difficult to effectively addressing men’s sexual violence.  It has also been held by some of the most crucial liberatory thinkers For instance, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed locates as the oppressed a peasant, who “shouts at his children, beats them and despairs.  He complains about his wife and thinks everything is dreadful. He doesn’t let off steam with the boss because he thinks the boss is a superior being.”[91]  Freire does not consider the peasant to also be an oppressor; no attention is paid to the impact on the peasant’s children or wife, because it is power and not entitlement which is centred within his analysis.  As Freire illustrates, this powerlessness myth can lead to undeserved empathy being given to the rapist (i.e. he’s a victim of powerlessness himself), something philosopher Kate Manne refers to as “himpathy”.[92]  It turns out that addressing men’s powerlessness does nothing to stop them sexually violating and raping women, children and other men.

Belo offers an alternative reading of how the Roman soldiers’ relative powerlessness within the military hierarchy can be understood within the Gospel narratives.  Belo sticks much more closely than Tombs to what is described by the Gospel writers, while also bringing in contemporary abuse of political prisoners: 

Throughout this scene (in which the body of Jesus is dressed and undressed at the whim of the soldiers, thus calling attention to its powerlessness in this space that is dominated by the force of arms) we have a parody, a carnival…This scene shows people being unleashed who have been subject to a constricting military discipline, and who now take advantage of a conquered adversary who might have forced them to fight and possibly even be killed. This sort of thing is often shown in the ferocity lower-rank police officials demonstrate when dealing with political prisoners.[93]

It is this analysis of Jesus as a political prisoner that is ironically lost as Tombs focusses purely on sexual abuse.  Jesus was crucified largely because he threatened the hegemonic systems of power, for example in His repeated preaching about another Kingdom with different priorities and rules.  His crucifixion functioned as a warning to others that such resistance was futile. 

Tombs’ survey of the Biblical and historical evidence leads him to assert that “Jesus was a victim of sexual abuse in the sexual humiliation he underwent and he may even have been a victim of sexual assault.”[94]  His very brief theological reflections on what he views as Jesus being sexually abuse, he states that such an analysis “can give new dignity and self-respect to those who continue to struggle with the stigma and other consequences of sexual abuse.”  He suggests that Jesus can become identified with them in line with Matthew 25:31-46, in which Jesus explains that when we neglect the hungry, thirsty, unwelcomed, unclothed, sick or those in prison, we neglect Jesus Himself.[95]  Tombs also asserts that “an a priori judgement that Jesus did not and could not suffer sexual abuse may accompany an unexamined assumption that Jesus was not fully human”,[96] going on to label this a form of docetic heresy.[97]


Tombs’ argument that Jesus was sexually abused requires two things to be true: that Jesus was naked at points during the crucifixion, and that Jesus’ forced nakedness was a form of sexual abuse.  Tombs’ broader assertion is that, based on torture techniques in Latin America in the late 20th century, it is likely that in the praetorium Jesus was raped.

With regards to Jesus’ nakedness during the crucifixion, I have shown that much of Tombs’ evidence is disputed. Trexler does not state that rape was a normative part of first century Palestine’s treatment of criminals.  Brown does not offer confident assertions that Jesus was naked on the cross, with the Gospels suggesting that if anything, Jesus was protected from being led naked to the cross, unlike other prisoners (Matthew 27:31, Mark 15:20, Luke 22:11).  However, even if we were to accept Tombs’ evidence, is it accurate to describe forced nakedness as sexual abuse?  Or is “sexual abuse” more complex?

If a small child has a high temperature, they may feel cold, but be overheating.  In this instance, adults may forcibly strip the child to cool her down.  Would that stripping be sexually abuse?  No, because the intention of the adults involved is to protect the child’s health.  However, if the child was forcibly stripped as a punishment for not doing as she was told, this would be abuse, but would it constitute sexual abuse?  It would probably depend on the intention of the perpetrator (did they have sexualised intentions or want to cause sexual harm?) and how the child experienced the abuse (i.e. did they feel, either in the present or at a later date, as if they had been sexually violated?).  It would also depend on how nakedness (and sexuality) was culturally coded within the child’s context.  This may seem like “picking hairs” when what matters is that the child has been hurt, but when an assertion is made that something is sexual abuse, within a context of severe violence and murder (Jesus’ crucifixion), these are the types of questions that emerge.  

As a teenage girl, when I was surrounded by older adults, one of the men penetrated me vaginally, causing me significant pain.  I cried and asked him to stop, but he insisted he had to continue for a bit longer.  Without any wider context, it is possible to read this account and presume that I was being sexually assaulted; however, the context was that I was pregnant with my daughter and there were concerns for mine and her health.  The doctor did an internal examination with a speculum, in which it felt like some internal tissue was caught in the hinge of the speculum.  It was incredibly painful.  While I would articulate the experience as harmful and painful, it was not sexual abuse.  In order to manage being a pregnant teenager, I had to psychologically detach nakedness from sex.  At 18 years old, I had to be internally examined multiple times and then, when giving birth, had to endure numerous professionals looking at and touching my genitals.  In order to breastfeed my daughter, I had to find a way to view my breasts as hers for feeding, rather than as sexual organs.  This was crucial for me to manage the many invasions to my body that came with the many normalised medical procedures that come with being pregnant.  That my pregnancy occurred within a context of sexual violence (including reproductive coercion) has made my ability to delineate between sexual and non-sexual harm important in making sense of what was done to me and enabling me to be a capable mother to my children. 

In my extensive work supporting women who have been sexually abused (and in processing the sexual abuse I was subjected to), I have found that one of the first barriers to healing from sexual abuse is an inability to recognise that what has been done to us is abuse.[98]  It is rarely the case that we do not understand the abuse to be sexual.  There is something about sexuality that, while often inarticulable, is nevertheless intuitively known when it is experienced. As a child, being sexually groomed, I knew the comments the adult man made about my body were not okay, that the way he touched me felt different than other people.  Long before I had any conscious awareness of my sexuality, I knew what he was doing wasn’t right.  It took until another of his victims explicitly told me to stay away from him because he had sexually abused her that I had a language to describe what he was doing to me. 

One of the most brutal elements of sexual abuse is knowing that someone has gained sexual pleasure from hurting us.  It is why rape is about sex and power.  It does something deeply scarring to the soul, to have that beautiful gift of intimacy and grace defiled when the abuser gains sexual pleasure from coercing, hurting or violating us.  It is one of the deeply painful realities for women and children whose sexual abuse has been filmed or photographed: that the abuse never ends while men (and it usually is men) continue to be sexually aroused and sexually gratified by masturbating to the abuse that they were subjected to.  It is why men taking upskirt photos of women or secretly filming them in toilets is so sexually violating, not because the woman was doing anything sexual herself, but because the man is sexually active and aroused, violating her ability to exist in the world on her own terms.

Mutilation of sexual organs or forced nakedness are brutal, traumatic and deeply harmful, but when perpetrated by someone who is not motivated by sexual arousal, this separates those horrifying experiences from those for whom the perpetrator gains sexual pleasure.  This is not to say that both are not deeply harmful, but the assumption that one can be lumped in with another because they both involve sexual organs or nakedness is problematic and misunderstands how sexual abuse functions.  If the starting point is Latin American state torture, it is possible to see how the end point can be “Jesus was sexually abused”, because both twentieth century Latin America and first century Palestine provide contexts of state torture.  However, liberation theology (which is Tombs’ broad methodology) starts with the concerns of an oppressed population and seeks what the Gospel will say to them;[99]  a reading of Jesus’ crucifixion must start with the lived experience of those who have been abused.  While When Did We See You Naked?, the 2021 book edited by Tombs, Figueroa and Reaves includes contributors who have been sexually abused and a chapter of interviews with five nuns who had been sexually abused, every chapter in the book starts with Tombs’ 1999 article and not the experiences of sexually abused people.   It cannot be that one cohort’s experiences becomes universalised for all sexually abused people.  To make sweeping statements about sexual abuse outside of contexts of state torture, in relation to what Jesus was subjected to, does not centre the experiences of sexually abused people, but instead centres a paper by David Tombs, written in 1999.  If as Tombs states, “biblical texts can be legitimately read with the social and political situations of contemporary cultures of oppression in mind,”[100] this would suggest that each sexually abused person (and others with similar experiences) should be reading the biblical text with their own experiences in mind, rather than the experiences of Latin American torture survivors mediated through Tombs’ theological ideas.

No one can know what took place in the praetorium; however, the historical evidence Tombs provides is weak.  His argument more or less depends upon whether Latin American torture techniques are likely to have occurred in first century Palestine, and Cook explicitly debunks Tombs’ assertion of anal rape being used within crucifixion.  Tombs suggests that the assumption that Jesus was not or could not have been sexually abused may stem from attachment to a form of docetism.  However, that defence assumes that the only motivation for disputing Jesus was sexually abused is an inability to accept the possibility that Jesus could have had that done to Him.  However, if one does not find Tombs’ argument convincing, it is not succumbing to docetism to state that Jesus was not sexually abused.  It is asserting the truth that, while what was done to Jesus was horrific, there is no factual basis to categorise him as a victim of sexual abuse.

Some may ask, “Why does that matter?”  If this analysis helps people, then surely the veracity of the claims is less important?  Do made-up claims of sexual abuse against Jesus damage anyone?  Yes, they do.  One of the rallying cries of the #metoo movement has been “believe women”.[101]  This is because so often, when women disclose that men have sexually abused them, they are disbelieved.[102]  Freud renounced his initial views that women’s hysteria was caused by men’s sexual violence when he realised how harmful such a view was to polite society.[103]  The Netflix series Unbelievable recounts the true story of a young woman who is charged with filing a false rape report; the man who raped her perpetrated numerous other rapes.[104]  Men like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were only brought to justice on the testimony of many women, and Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh showed clearly how deep disbelief of women goes.[105]  It does beg the question, if it was a woman telling us that Jesus was sexually abused, would we automatically believe her?  It does theology and those who have been sexually abused no good to categorically state that Jesus was sexually abused.  There is enough explicit and well-evidenced sexual abuse perpetrated throughout the Bible for theological dialogue and development, without the need to invent it in the crucifixion of Jesus.  If we are to ask the Church to believe those who have been sexually abused, it is crucially important that we do not undermine that message by inventing sexual abuse where there is none.  

Tombs references Matthew 25:31-46 to suggest that if Jesus had been sexually abused then that would enable Him to more fully identify with those who have been sexually abused.  Yet the power in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats is not that Jesus has been hungry, thirsty, a stranger, in need of clothes, sick or in prison, but that Jesus is to be found in those who have been oppressed and neglected.  It is in our care for them that we love Jesus.  We do not care for sexually abused people because Jesus was sexually abused; in caring for sexually abused people, and indeed as we care for any people who are marginalised, oppressed or neglected, we care for Jesus.

The potential unintended negative consequences of asserting that Jesus was sexually abused are vast.  Women have been encouraged to return to a violent or abusive husband with exhortations that, “Christ suffered for you, the least you can do is suffer for your marriage.”[106]  If it becomes accepted that Jesus was sexually abused, it is incredibly likely there will be perpetrators who will use this to demand their victims endure silently, ‘just as Jesus did’.  There may be demands from churches and Christians for sexually abused people to forgive those who abused them.  There may be those who assert that the rapists, the child abusers ‘do not know what they are doing’.[107]  Tombs and others argue that understanding Jesus was a victim of sexual abuse could be a pathway to healing for those who have been sexually abused, to overcome stigma and address harmful pastoral practice.  However, these harmful pastoral practices have remained present even as all the red letters of the Gospels cry out on behalf of the powerless and abused.  It is not a new victim we need, but ongoing challenging of Christian faith communities. 

The stigmatisation of those who have been sexually abused exists to keep everyone else psychologically safe: “if they brought this on themselves, then I can prevent my loved ones being hurt by ensuring they make good choices and keep myself safe by making good choices too.”  Theology is used as a weapon to beat sexually abused people not because we haven’t yet discovered Jesus as the perfect victim of sexual abuse, but because societies and individuals do not want to face the evil of abuse.  Adding new theology will not change that; it will simply add to the arsenal of weapons already used against those subjected to abuse and in collusion with sexual abusers.  

This is a much more profound and powerful argument for why pastoral care with sexually abused people matters so much.  Jesus doesn’t say “I was abused, therefore I am as broken as you.”  Instead, Jesus says, “in your very person, people can meet with me.  Because I am found in you.”  To root Jesus’ solidarity in a shared subjection to sexual abuse makes our relationship with Jesus significant through the unwanted acts done to us all.  That is a solidarity rooted in the abusers’ actions.  Instead, Jesus says to the sexually abused person, “You are how people meet with me; by loving you, they find me.”  In our shame, pain, woundedness and injury, Jesus says, “I am found in you”.  It is not a shared experience of abuse that binds us with Jesus, but the experience of being cared for and loved.  Jesus not being raped does not mean Jesus cannot be in solidarity with me in the rapes I was subjected to.  It simply means that his solidarity with me is not found in rape but in His love for me, and for that I am incredibly glad. 


Although liberation theology offers a hermeneutic of suspicion to consider the possibility that Jesus was sexually abused, on examining the historical evidence presented by David Tombs, there is little substance to the claims.  His article relies on decontextualised historical accounts of sexual violence towards men, asserting now debunked ideas about crucifixion and rape, with no clear evidence provided that Jesus was naked during the crucifixion.  The totalizing of sexual violence in ways that do not pay attention to the specific contexts of those who have been subjected to sexual abuse leads him to universalise torture practices involving sexual harm as relevant to all those who have been sexually abused.  This seems contrary to the underlying principles of liberation theology, which seek to contextualise theology within lived experience.  

The theological implications for asserting Jesus was sexually abused, given the poor evidence base, are concerning.  The potential for this theological idea to be used to hold those who have been sexually abused to the standard of a silent suffering Jesus could result in even more inadequate and damaging pastoral care.  Those who have been sexually abused, and Jesus Himself, deserve better than a fabricated account of sexual abuse, regardless of the incredibly positive intentions with which the idea has been created.

These positive intentions are also held by the twenty-two contributors to When Did We See You Naked?, who trust the accuracy in David Tombs’ analysis in ‘Crucifixion, State Terror and Sexual Abuse’.  Along with Jayme Reaves, in the introduction to the book, Tombs argues that ‘silence around the unspeakable’ is what leaves people unwilling to see Jesus as a sexually abused person.  In fact, the book’s title alludes to an assumption that we have all missed Jesus being sexually abused because we were unwilling to look unflinchingly at the trauma Jesus was subjected to.  If, as I argue, Jesus was not sexually abused, this is not the case.  In fact, we have not seen this sexual abuse because it is a fabrication.  In a future article, I will examine the book itself in more detail, informed by the critiques I have discussed here.

As feminist theologians have long argued, Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed is not rooted in His suffering, but in the power of good to triumph over evil, in love overcoming oppression.  Even the most fatalistic feminist theologians place traumatised people (including those who have been sexually abused) in Holy Saturday and not Good Friday.[108]  Jesus’ solidarity with those who have been sexually abused does not come through His having been similarly sexually abused, but in His identification with oppressed people and His beautiful assertion that loving Him is done through loving those who have been abused, neglected and hurt.  It is in love, and not abuse, that Jesus stands with those who have been sexually abused. 


I am so grateful to those who have read through this article as it has developed.  Mark Hewerdine gave me loads of good ideas, Sarah Williams gave me suggestions about format, Lucy Peppiatt pointed out how my arguments could be clearer, Liz Gloyn strengthened my writing and helped me feel confident in the historicity of what I have argued.

The Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence are running a symposium with David Tombs, Jayme Reaves, Elaine Storkey and Valerie Hobbs on 15th June, for those interested in further engagement with the subject. CLICK HERE to book in.


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Collins, Natalie, Out of Control; couples, conflict and the capacity for change, London: SPCK, 2019.

Cook, John, Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019.

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Figeuroa, Rocio and Tombs, David, Recognising Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse; Responses
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Freire, Paulo, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Penguin, 1996.

Gajanan, Mahita, ‘The True Story Behind the Netflix Series Unbelievable’, Time, (18th May 2021: https://time.com/5674986/unbelievable-netflix-true-story/). 

Haas, Nicu, ‘Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar’, Israel Exploration Journal, 20:1/2 (1970) 38-59.

Hanson, Karl, Gizzarelli Rocco, Scott, Heather, ‘The Attitudes of Incest Offenders: Sexual Entitlement and Acceptance of Sex with Children’, Criminal Justice and Behavior, 21:2 (1994) 187-202. DOI:10.1177/0093854894021002001

Herman, Judith, Trauma and Recover; The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror, New York: Basic Books, 1992.

Hesse, Monica ‘‘Believe Women’ was a slogan. ‘Believe All Women’ is a straw man.’ The Washington Post, (18th May 2021: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/believe-women-was-a-slogan-believe-all-women-is-a-strawman/2020/05/11/6a3ff590-9314-11ea-9f5e-56d8239bf9ad_story.html). 

Hill, Melanie, Fischer, Ann, ‘Does entitlement mediate the link between masculinity and rape-related variables?’ Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48:1, (2001) 39–50. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0167.48.1.39.

Holmes, Stephen, ‘If you’, Twitter, (18th May 2021: https://twitter.com/SteveRHolmes/status/1393550629138743298?s=20). 

Holmes, Stephen, ‘Hmm.’ Twitter, (18th May 2021: https://twitter.com/SteveRHolmes/status/1393549010489708545?s=20).

Jewish Virtual Library, ‘Bathing Bath’, Jewish Virtual Library, (18th May 2021: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/bath-bathing). 

Jewkes, Rachel, Sikweyiya, Yadisa, Morrell, Robert, Dunkle, Kristin, ‘Gender Inequitable Masculinity and Sexual Entitlement in Rape Perpetration South Africa: Findings of a Cross-Sectional Study’, Sectional Study, 6:23, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0029590

Johnstone, Lucy & Boyle, Mary with Cromby, John, Dillon, Jacqui, Harper, David, Kinderman, Peter, Longden, Eleanor, Pilgrim, David & Read, John, The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Towards the identification of patterns in emotional distress, unusual experiences and troubled or troubling behaviour, as an alternative to functional psychiatric diagnosis, Leicester: British Psychological Society, 2018. 

Mackinnon, Catherine, Feminism Unmodified, Cambridge; Harvard Press, 1987.

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McCarroll, Pamela, The End of Hope – The Beginning, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.

Myers, Ched, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008.

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Retief, Francois, Cilliers, Louise, ‘The History and Pathology of Crucifixion’, South African Medical Journal, 93:12, (2003), 938-941. 

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Six, Tom, The Human Centipede, Six Entertainment, 2009.

Slee, Nicola, ‘The Crucified Christa; A Re-evaluation’in Reaves, Jayme, Tombs, David, Figueroa, Rocio (eds.), When Did We See You Naked? London: SCM Press, 210-229.

Smith, Shanell, ‘“This is My Body; A Womanist Reflection on Jesus” Sexualised Trauma during His Crucifixion from a Survivor of Sexual Assault’, in Reaves, Jayme, Tombs, David, Figueroa, Rocio (eds.), When Did We See You Naked? London: SCM Press, 210-229.

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Tombs, ‘Crucifixion, State Terror and Sexual Abuse’, Union Seminiary Quarterly Review, 53:1-2, (1999), 89-109.

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Zias and Sekeles, ‘The Crucified Man from Givcat ha-Mivtar– A Reappraisal’, The Biblical Archeologist, 48:3 (1985). DOI: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.2307/3209939

[1] Figueroa and Tombs, Recognizing, 5.

[2] University of Otago, ‘Professor’

[3] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 90.

[4] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 95.

[5] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 95-6.

[6] CPS, ‘Sexual’.

[7] CPS, ‘Sexual’.

[8] CPS, ‘Sexual’.

[9] CPS, ‘Sexual’.

[10] CPS, ‘Indecent’.

[11] Public Health Scotland, ‘Childhood’/ 

[12] Mackinnon, Feminism, 85.

[13] Maung, ‘Dilemma’. 

[14] Maung, ‘Dilemma’.

[15] Hanson, Gizzarelli, Scott, ‘Attitudes’. Jewkes, Sikweyiya, Morrell, Dunkle, ‘Gender’. Hill and Fischer, ‘Entitlement’. Bouffard, ‘Exploring’. 

[16] Rape Crisis, ‘Other’. 

[17] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 96.

[18] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 96.

[19] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 97-8.

[20] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 100.

[21] Figueroa and Tombs, Recognizing, p5.

[22] British Psychological Society, ‘Power’. 

[23] Johnson and Boyle, Power, 9. 

[24] McCarroll, ‘Hope’, p8.

[25] McCarroll, ‘Hope’, p15.

[26] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 101

[27] Figueroa and Tombs, Recognizing, 3.

[28] Reaves and Tombs, ‘#MeToo’.

[29] Awdish, Shock, 169.

[30] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 101.

[31] Cavanaugh, Torture, 31.  Thanks to Mark Hewerdine for recommending this book.

[32] Retief and Cilliers, ‘History’.

[33] Thank you to Mark Hewerdine for pointing this out.

[34] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 101.

[35] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 101.

[36] Holmes, ‘Hmm’. 

[37] Holmes, ‘If you’.

[38] Tombs, 1999, 101.

[39] Ward, 1998, 179.

[40] Ward, 1998, 179.

[41] 2 Corinthians 3:12.

[42] Tombs, 1999, p.101 

[43] Reuters, ‘Nicu’.

[44] Haas, ‘Anthropological, 57.

[45] Zias and Sekeles, ‘Crucified’. 

[46] Yadin, ‘Epigraphy’, 20.

[47] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 102.

[48] Cook, Mediterrean, XXVII.

[49] Cook, Mediterrean, XXI.

[50] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’102.

[51] Cook, Mediterrean XXVII – XXVIII.

[52] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 107

[53] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 102.

[54] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 104

[55] Brown, Death, 952.

[56] Brown, Death, 953.

[57] Brown, Death, 953.

[58] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 103.

[59] 2 Samuel 10:4

[60] Thank you to Liz Gloyn for pointing this out.

[61] Stern, ‘Jewish’. Jewish, ‘Bathing’. 

[62] Slee, ‘Crucified’, 216.

[63] Brown, Death, p.953 

[64] Jubilees 3:30.

[65] Sifre Devarim 320:3.

[66] Jubilees 7:20.

[67] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 104.

[68] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 104.

[69] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 105

[70] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 105

[71] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 106

[72] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 106.

[73] Samuelsson, Antiquity, 65.

[74] Samuelsson, Antiquity, 6

[75] Plato, Gorgias, 472a. 

[76] Six, Human. Please only search for what this film is about if you have a strong stomach!

[77] Trexler, Sex, 20.

[78] Trexler, Sex, 20.

[79] Trexler, Sex, 24.

[80] Trexler, Sex, 27-31.

[81] Personal communication, June 2021.

[82] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 107.

[83] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 107.

[84] Trexler, Sex, 34.

[85] Trexler, Sex, 12-13.

[86] Matthew 27:11. Mark 15:2. Luke 23:3.  John 18:33.  

[87] Myers, Binding, 369.

[88] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 105.

[89] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 105.

[90] Collins, Out, 46.

[91] Freire, Pedagogy, 47.

[92] Chotiner, ‘Kate’. 

[93]  Belo, Materialist, 224,330-1.

[94] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 108.

[95] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 108.

[96] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 108.

[97] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 109.

[98] Collins, Out, 16-17.

[99] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 95-6.

[100] Tombs, ‘Crucifixion’, 95-6.

[101] Hesse, ‘Believe’. 

[102] Bons Storm, Incredible.

[103] Herman, 10-14.

[104] Gajanan, True.

[105] Sweetland Edwards, ‘Christine’. 

[106] Collins, Out, 95-96.

[107] Luke 32:34. Smith, ‘This’ 284.

[108] Rambo, Spirit, 138.