I admit it, I’m a fan of The Walking Dead. So here’s a warning for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode “Slabtown” and wants to be surprised: this post will be full of spoilers. You will want to watch it and come back. Now if you aren’t a fan of the show, don’t worry and read on- you’ll get my point without knowing the ins an outs of TWD.
I’m not a big fan of gore or horror, but I really like exploring humans and how they might react in extreme situations. So while some might complain about episodes where zombies aren’t front and center, those stories are some of my favorites. In fact, zombies aren’t particularly interesting to me, but they provide a very interesting backdrop to study people. And Slabtown boasts maybe the most horrific scene of the entire show with nary a zombie in sight when a man uses a lollipop to suggest rape. It was so violating and convincing, my skin crawled.
For the quick rundown for those who missed it, this episode stars teenager-growing-up-fast Beth. Blond and pretty, she’s been largely uninteresting in the show, and maybe a bit weak. In a few previous episodes she started becoming stronger and more confident. Fair enough- she lost a mother and a father already to zombies- she’s due to be both weak and strong.
In this episode we find out she was “saved” from zombies by a group of folks who have made Grady Hospital their home. There is one doctor, some police officers, and a few other folks working lower on the totem pole to build a life. It’s revealed quite early on that Beth is not free to leave and that the leader of group, a female police officer, expects her to work off her debts (which is strongly hinted to be unending). The officer wields a tenuous leadership at best over the male officers, while the doctor enjoys a bit more freedom as the only one around who understands medicine.
While zombies infest the outside world, for the people lower in the hierarchy of “Slabtown” it’s the threat inside that is terrifying. One woman would rather flee and be killed by zombies than stay, and it isn’t too long until we find out why. She’s being raped by the male officers who are using their position of power to take whatever they want. Beth is revolted/scared by this, and she and the leader have a pretty serious talk. In that talk, the leader reveals she knows what’s going on and she allows it because of “the greater good”. In her reasoning, she needs to keep the male police officers happy because they are strong and they are the ones who will help the little community survive until help comes.
And then these words to Beth: “You are not the greater good.” The officer tells Beth that she is weak and cannot serve the way the men can, so her role is to be used and “play her part.” In fact, she should be happy that she has a role to play.
Is your stomach turning yet? I know mine was. The idea that any leader could force such a thing on someone is horrific, and yet the imaginary trials of Beth are very much a reality to many in the world today. In other countries under oppressive regimes, yes, but also in our churches.
There are women who are abused, emotionally, sexually, and physically, and are told that they are suffering for God’s glory- not so different from “the greater good.” But that’s something that happens only in fringe, crazy fundamentalist churches, right? Sadly, no. Take, for example, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who, according to his own words, told an abused woman he was happy she was beaten because it led to her husband’s repentance. On A Cry For Justice you can read story after story (especially if you read the comments) about women (and sometimes men) coming from churches that held them in abusive marriages because they believed that the marriage was more important that the welfare of the individual. Some (not all) would graciously allow separation for a time, but always with the goal of eventual reconciliation, a truly untenable solution for someone who has been repeatedly violated by her spouse.
The lead officer in this episode is pursuing peace at any cost, much like many pastors do. Pastors are the shepherds of their flocks, positioned to protect and defend them. Yet I’ve heard woman after woman tell of going to her pastor for help only to be accused herself and told that the marriage is more important than she is. In fact, you can see this sentiment in extremely popular pastor John Piper’s views on divorce where he bluntly states, “In the New Testament the question about remarriage after divorce is not determined by . . . the ease or difficulty of living as a single parent for the rest of life on earth.” No, for Piper, and many like him, it is about the law, the “greater good.” If a single parent separated from her husband is struggling to survive, that’s not the primary concern of John Piper. In fact, he diminishes such struggles to “Temporal frustrations and disadvantages”.
In “Slabtown” we are given a graphic example of all that is wrong with this “greater good” leadership. Like the pastors who diminish abuse victims, the leader at the hospital reduces Beth to a tool for male entitlement. Her worth is found in the lewd desires of men who would abuse her. And sadly, even the “friendly male” in the show turns around and uses her, justifying his abuse in that it was necessary for his own survival. At least he was honest.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about how a good God can allow evil to exist. There is a lot to say on the subject and I certainly don’t have it all worked out. But one thing I do know is that WE are the greater good. How else can we understand “For God so loved the world”? We may go through struggles and pain and suffering, but God never tortures and uses us to bring him pleasure. The Bible says clearly that God works all things for good for believers, and my faith is in that statement, even if I don’t know how it all works out. Yes, evil happens, and yes God permits it. But we should never mistake God’s permission of evil as a deal with the devil. If we struggle, it is because there is greater to come FOR US.
Pastors should take heed from an episode like this because it reveals the ugly truth of what happens when our leaders are weak and permit evil among them. We are not called to make peace at the expense of the weak. We are not called to preach at the expense of the weak. We are not called to have squeaky clean images at the expense of the weak. Because “the greater good” will always be the people of God whom he loves and calls his children.