by Rev. Alexia Salvatierra
Call: We are moved and inspired by the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. He takes her seriously, listening to her questions and responding with the fullest truth possible.
Response: We grieve that women are not always listened to in this way. We mourn when anyone’s questions and creative ideas are not responded to with profound respect. We lament when women and men fall silent because they believe that they will not be heard. Change us, God of all truth.
Call: We are moved and inspired when Jesus treats the Samaritan woman with compassion and warmth, not allowing her sexual transgressions to create any barrier or distance between them.
Response: We grieve that women and men who have stepped across the lines sexually are so often judged in a way that limits or excludes them from full participation in the church. Recognizing that the pain caused by sexual abuse must be faced and perpetrators held accountable, we are grateful that true sorrow for sin, transformation, healing and forgiveness is possible. Change us, God of all grace, whose blood can cleanse and set us free.
Call: We are moved and inspired when Jesus calls the Samaritan woman past her brokenness into her full vocation, sending her as an evangelist to her people.
Response: We grieve that women’s vocations have so often been ignored, unsupported or actively impeded. Change us, God of power, so that every gift will be valued and used for your glory and for the healing and salvation of the world.
Call: We are moved and inspired when Jesus breaks the societal barriers that keep whole communities from abundant life, tearing down the barriers between Jews and Samaritans, between men and women, between the insiders and the outsiders so that justice flows down like mighty waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Response: Change us, God who liberates slaves, so that we may join with all our hearts and gifts in every blessed struggle for freedom and fairness.
Rev. Alexia Salvatierra is the author with Dr. Peter Heltzel of “Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World” (Intervarsity Press) and the founder of the Faith-Rooted Organizing UnNetwork. She is a Lutheran Pastor with over 35 years of experience in community ministry, including church-based service and community development programs, congregational and community organizing, and legislative advocacy. For Rev. Salvatierra's full bio, click here.
by Lynne Hybels
#SilenceIsNotSpiritual is committed to calling the global church to change, not just in the United States. The following article, written by Lynne Hybels, addresses abuse and patriarchy experienced in India and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lynne’s plea is “that we would agree to give our voices, our money, and our time to the people, organizations, and cultural movements that honor rather than degrade women.” - Belinda Bauman
The death of a college student who had been gang-raped in Delhi provoked outrage and anger. More than 2 million Indian students joined a movement to protest the rising violence against women in India. According to official data, reported cases of rape have more than doubled in the past 20 years, and women are the victims of a high proportion of other violent crimes.
But there's another side to this story. "Almost as shocking as the Delhi gang rape has been the range of voices that have sounded after it," wrote Sagarika Ghose, a TV journalist and commentator. "Patriarchy is chillingly omnipresent." Rather than blaming those who attack women, leaders in some Indian villages blame Westernization, liberal consumerism, growing individualism, or even the women themselves—because they wear "skimpy clothes," talk on mobile phones, and work outside the home, according to South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper.
For 19-year-old Kanika Sharma, these leaders miss the point. "It is all about the mentality of the boys," Sharma told the Mail & Guardian. "They think because they are men, they can do anything. But girls should get equal rights and opportunities."
Sharma speaks while standing under a sign that says: Being a woman should not make you feel vulnerable. But sadly, throughout the world women do feel vulnerable.
Before I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—described as the "rape capital" of the world—I studied reports on rape as a weapon of war. In the DRC rebel soldiers have brutally raped thousands of women. They know that if they rape enough women and girls, they can destroy the social fabric of an entire community.
But in the DRC I discovered something worse than rape as a weapon of war. I discovered an underlying culture of rape in which violating women sexually has become normalized, accepted. In this extremely patriarchal society, boys are taught that being a man means dominating women. Rapists are congratulated on being "man enough" to "take a woman."
Congolese surgeon Monique Kapamba Yangoy explained that the DRC has laws prohibiting men from having sex with girls under 18, but they're not enforced. It is not uncommon for girls as young as fifth grade to ensure "success" in school by having sex with their teachers. University students who demand that their professors wear condoms when they have sex with them tend to get lower grades than girls who don't demand condoms. Women are often asked to have sex with potential employers before they can get a job.
Perhaps the deepest problem, suggests Dr. Yangoy, is that women in such cultures are conditioned to believe they truly are of little value. So, they lose the will to fight back, to stand up for themselves, to expect just and loving treatment.
In the DRC, as in many countries, churches have often reinforced this perspective by preaching a perverted message of female submission. Women are to submit, period. No one mentions that men are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church—even to the point of giving his life for his beloved. No one mentions the concept of mutual submission.
But in the DRC that is beginning to change. One reason I work with World Relief Congo is that it actively works toward the slow but sustainable transformation of cultural attitudes toward gender and sex. I sat with Congolese church leaders as Dr. Yangoy challenged them as a woman, a doctor, and a Christian to use their positions of power to protect and empower women and girls.
Recently, at a gathering of women leaders from around the world, I joined women from many faiths in denouncing the actions of those who wrongly use our sacred texts and belief systems to degrade women. Together we agreed to give our voices, our money, and our time to the people, organizations, and cultural movements that honor rather than degrade women. Please join me—for the sake of every woman in India, in the DRC, and in your community and mine.
This article was originally published in Sojourners magazine in April 2013. For more about Lynne, see www.lynnehybels.com
by Micah Bournes
Micah Bournes taught me how to "use my words" to speak justice at a time when I felt my words would never be heard. Male allies to #SilenceIsNotSpiritual not only stand up, and stand for, but use their gifts and platforms to highlight, amplify, and break barriers to the voices of women. In January of this year, the actor Liam Neesen made headlines by referring to the #MeToo movement as “a bit of a witch hunt", and Micah took it personally. - Belinda Bauman
(for liam neeson)
a fictional messiah
who saves the world
in every film says
hollywood sexual allegations
against men have become
"a bit of a witch hunt"
but everyone knows witches
don't have penises
everyone knows witches
don't have earthly power
witches aren't protected by the law
by their influential friends
by a culture that believes
they're generally good people
despite their generally bad everything
witches have never been kings to be dethroned
witches are always the scapegoat of kings
the ones slaughtered on the altars of men
blamed for every man's sin
until all men are innocent again
everyone knows only men are holy
everyone knows priests don't have vaginas
everyone knows witches don't have penises
these fallen titans are too godly to be witches
this is not a witch hunt
these are witches
refusing to be hunted
Micah Bournes is a poet, rapper, and blues singer from Long Beach, California. He's most known for his dynamic live performances of spoken word poetry. His work often deals with themes of culture, justice and faith. He's passionate about helping people unlock their own creativity and fighting evil with poetry. Check out more of Micah’s work at micahbournes.com
by Carolyn Custis James
Current events have a way of shedding fresh light on familiar Bible narratives that some of us have been hearing since we were children.
The desperate plight of millions of refugees in today’s world should surely give us pause before callously and peremptorily dismissing Naomi as a whiner and complainer over her losses and suffering in the Old Testament book of Ruth.
#MeToo and #ChurchToo hashtags may be new, but the underlying stories are tragically as old as human history. The Bible is full of them. These current movements not only raise greater awareness of sexual abuse and violence against women and girls today, they open our eyes to #MeToo stories in the Bible that we have simply overlooked. Justice is finally being served for Hagar, Bilhah, Zilpah, Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, Esther, and others.
Surprisingly, #MeToo also factors into the story of Naomi and Ruth.
For far too long we’ve glossed over Naomi’s sufferings and characterized her losses as merely setting the stage for the propitious meeting between Boaz and Ruth and what is basically a rags to riches romance (a.k.a. Cinderella story) where Boaz rescues Ruth from her dismal life of poverty and widowhood. Not only are we doing terrible injustice to Naomi. This also creates an unjust characterization of Ruth and Boaz.
A more realistic appreciation of the degradation and suffering of refugees better prepares us to grasp the intensity of Naomi’s ordeal. Becoming a famine refugee was only the beginning of her losses.
A litany of agonies follow: widowhood, the marriages of her two sons to pagan girls, ten years of double infertility that threaten the family with extinction, followed by the deaths of both her sons. All this without a whisper of intervention from Naomi’s God.
Under patriarchy a woman’s value is measured by counting her sons. The deaths of Naomi’s sons reduce her from a respectable mother of two sons to a throw-away zero.
Little wonder Naomi is inconsolable and that the road from Moab to Bethlehem resounds with her bitter lament.
“Don’t call me Naomi . . . Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (1:20-21)
This is the story of a female Job. Naomi’s bitter lament invites us to be honest and lament too—over our own brokenness and the #MeToo epidemic inflicting trauma on women and girls worldwide and adding more stories as I write and you read these words.
The threat of #MeToo violence for Naomi and her daughters-in-law becomes an instant reality with the deaths of all the men in her family. Widows globally today are easy targets for those who can abuse, exploit, and violate them with impunity. This may in part explain Naomi’s determination to send her daughters-in-law back to the safety of home and family.
What follows instead, is one of the most radical conversion moments in the entire Old Testament. With her mother-in-law’s lament still ringing in her ears, with a future of suffering and danger ahead, Ruth defiantly digs in her heels and embraces Naomi and Naomi’s God.
The meetings between Ruth and Boaz—in his barley field and at the threshing floor—present situations that could have turned out badly for Ruth. She is young, female, foreign, and gentile. In twenty-first century categories, Ruth is Arab (Jordanian) and an undocumented immigrant. Patriarchy deprives women of voice, agency, and legal rights—but Ruth boldly claims all three anyway. Boaz is male, Jewish, the descendant of one of Israel’s leading families, and a rich landowner. From birth, patriarchy bestows males with power, privilege, and legal rights. The power disparity between the pair is chilling.
In Bethlehem, Ruth’s decision to glean is a matter of survival. At the same time, it exposes her to greater risk by requiring her to venture out alone into the fields of Bethlehem. Even greater danger is involved when she approaches Boaz in the dead of night at the threshing floor. There in the darkness, where no one is looking, Boaz can do anything he wanted to her. If it came down to “he said/she said”, no one in all Bethlehem would take her word over his.
But this is where Ruth’s story (Naomi’s too) changes. Instead of using his power and privilege to exploit, Boaz exercises both to empower Ruth and ensure her efforts on Naomi’s behalf succeed. He lives under the gaze of God, even when no one else is looking. That changes everything—for Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi.
When Boaz connects the unknown gleaner in his field with the young Moabitess all Bethlehem is talking about, he intervenes by telling his men “not to lay a hand on [her].” Later Naomi will urge Ruth to remain in the field of Boaz “because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”
Clearly the #MeToo risks are there. But where men regard power and privilege as trusts before God, the #MeToo stories stop.
During this Lenten season, let us lament with Naomi the suffering of God’s daughters; let us step out in courage like Ruth; and let us pray that God will raise up more men like Boaz to join us in breaking our silence and ending the #MeToo/#ChurchToo epidemic.
Carolyn Custis James, is an author, activist, and international speaker. She is a consulting editor for Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament and an adjunct professor at Biblical Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. She blogs at www.carolyncustisjames.com and as a Leading Voice at http://www.missioalliance.org/author/carolyncustisjames/. She’ll tell you the Old Testament book of Ruth has changed her life. She has published two books on Ruth to get that explosive message out—The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules (2008) and the newly released Finding God in the Margins (2018).
by Kate Wallace Nunneley
I was told once that lament can open up things in your soul that you didn’t know were there. When we feel like we have no words, perhaps borrowing them is a place to start. I’ve borrowed a few from the book of Lamentations. How telling that I only had to change a few words to lament our story – the story of women.
How lonely sits the womanwho was once so full of life.She that ruled over creationis now considered subject.
She weeps bitterly in the nightwith tears on her cheeks;among all her loversshe has no one to comfort her; all of them have dealt treacherously with her,they have become her enemies.
She is alone in this world of suffering and servitude;alive with no resting place;her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper.Is it the Lord that has made her suffer?
And she remembers all the precious things about her life long pastbefore her sisters fell into the hand of the foe and there was no one to help her,the foe looked on mocking over their downfall.
The woman cries out,“Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of my sisters.
My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the Lord from Heaven looks down and sees.
My eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the women around me.
I called on your name, O Lord.From the depths of the pityou heard my plea.You came near when I called on you; you told me, “Do not fear!”
You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;judge my cause!You have seen all their malice,all their plots against me.
You have heard their cat calls,their taunts, their murmurs.Whether they sit or they rise,I am the object of their taunting songs.
Pay them back for their deeds, O Lord, according to the work of their hands!Let them feel my anguishas you judge them for the evil they have done.
You have taken up my cause, O Lord,You redeemed my life.Restore my sisters, O Lord, to what we were meant to be.”
This lament first appeared here, on the Junia Project.
Kate Wallace Nunneley is Co-Founder of The Junia Project and Associate Pastor at Wellspring Free Methodist Church in Bakersfield, CA. A committed Christian and feminist, Kate enjoys writing and speaking on the intersection of politics, religion, and gender. Her favorite theologian is Gilbert Bilezikian, and she holds a Master of Science from London School of Economics and a Bachelor of Arts from Azusa Pacific University. Kate is currently pursuing her Masters of Divinity at Azusa Pacific Seminary.
ləˈment - noun, a passionate expression of grief
We can think of nothing more important than beginning with lament. Where private lament has served to rend our hearts, we also pray for a flood of corporate, congregational grieving for the damage that has been done to women within the church. This pain and harm is not something that can simply be corrected, avoided and addressed with new policies and structures. We are facing the need for deep change that can only begin with feeling the pain and suffering that runs through every church, a silent and raging multi-racial river of suffering. Such suffering is both individual and institutional. In our expressions of grief, we invite the world to grieve. Lament gives depth, nuance and clarity to the story God is telling— his people willingly surrendering long held beliefs, prejudices and defenses.
Choosing to lament the violence women experience in our world requires a change in the narrative that has largely shaped the evangelical church until now.
As we enter into Lent, it seems appropriate that we enter into lament. Not applause. Not standing ovations. Not polite silence. We are invited by God to grieve, wail and mourn the injustice of this world. And in doing so—privately and as congregations—we will become the change we seek.
Laments are prayers for help in times of trouble — threats of violence, drought, disease, and treachery, for example. Sexual harassment, abuse and resulting trauma are threats of their own that can set waste to our health, in body and soul. In this third week of Lent, we call all those who lament the darkness of sexual violence against humanity to break the silence between you and God—making your own heart break known to God personally.
Our lament recognizes that our relationship with God has been damaged by the realities we and those we love have experienced. Lament is an honest attempt at reconciling on many levels with our God. The basic structure of the following psalms can guide us into discovering truth, a progression from complaint to confession of trust has sometimes been explained as a hindsight realization that God has indeed acted. Yet God’s deliverance is often experienced in the midst of suffering, not apart from it. By asking God to allow you to stand “in the GAP” between suffering and response, you can gain trust that God is engaged and NOT far away.
Laments sometimes begin with a short invocation but often skip the niceties and launch directly into complaint: “God, why do you let evil things happen? Why don’t you answer my prayers? Why was I even born? Why didn’t I die in my mother’s womb? Why don’t you destroy my enemies in the same way they’re trying to destroy me?” These complaints allow us to give words to our experience and the thoughts and feelings we have towards them, and can anchor our complaint to God in a place and time-- an integral part of the healing process.
By becoming quiet and listening to God for an answer to our complaint, we can turn from the language of complaint to the language of trust, and our petition for help becomes grounded in faith in God’s attention, attunement, and mercy.
Choose one of these Psalms of Lament and read it aloud to yourself:
- Psalm 10 deals with corruption and the arrogance of power.
- Psalm 13 deals with an enemy.
- Psalm 38 recounts an illness.
- Psalm 69 refers to persecution on account of religious faith.
How do these Psalms sound? Do they sound “religious” or angry? Could you speak to God this way? What kind of relationship do you need to have to have with God to be able to speak to him this way?
Will you risk writing your lament?
- Invocation (very brief and sometimes omitted) or to call on God.
- Description of the situation that is the focus of the lament/complaint.
- Confession of trust or confidence in God, or willingness to wait for hope.
- Listen in quiet and peace for God’s response to your cry in your mind, heart, scripture or image.
- Petition for God to act in justice and righteousness.
- Offer the sacrifice of praise to God even in the midst of suffering.
Laments are made real when shared, from the heart, in safe places, and sometimes in corporate spaces. We challenge you to share your lament with someone you trust as safe. And if you desire, you have the opportunity to share your lament on social media with the hashtag #SilenceIsNotSpiritual and #LentenLament as a sacrifice of your work, complaint and cry, up to God.
All the way to the days of slavery in America, every woman in my mother’s direct line of ancestry suffered sexual violence. This includes me. My great aunt died in the woods after being raped by her uncle. My third great grandmother, the last slave in our family, bore seventeen children by five “husbands”. Family lore says that her husbands kept dying or being sold away. It also is possible that she was forced to breed children on a plantation in South Carolina. She herself was half white, likely the product of a rape. Most of the women in our family suffered in silence, and some suffered again when they raised their voices to name their perpetrators. Fathers, cousins, even sisters and pastors minimized the pain and chastised the crushed ones for disturbing the peace.
The image of God was broken in me at a young age at the hands of a family member.
It was crushed again at the hands of men in the evangelical church who told me I was created to follow, not to lead. They told me that as a woman, I should not be able to co-lead a prayer group with a man. Another told me I could not lead worship if a man was there to lead. I internalized the devil’s lie that dominion was reserved for men.
Healing came gradually, I met the biblical character of Priscilla and was blown away that she was the leader in her partnership with her husband. Paul affirmed that by listing her first in his final greetings in 2 Timothy 4:19. She has become my hero. Then I listened to a sermon by mega church pastor Bill Hybels, who shared that he was concerned that his daughter, a gifted preacher, would not be able to flourish to her fullest capacity within the patriarchal culture of the church.
What will it take for us to restore Ezer (aid; help) in the church and in the world?
How do followers of Jesus restore the image of God in the world through holy disruption of culture, social, systemic, and structural norms? Here are a few practices I have witnessed that aim to restore the very goodness in interpersonal, systemic, and structural relationships between women and men.
Listen to the stories of women. A few months ago, I sat in a room with evangelical men and women leaders of color. Aware of the male-dominant cultures of both evangelicalism and communities of color, the leaders in the group set aside time for the women to share stories of subjugation and healing within the evangelical church. Each of us took three minutes to share our story. After each woman had spoken, the men asked clarifying questions. Men’s mouths dropped as they realized they had witnessed subjugation and not been aware of it. They had systematically or structurally participated in the dismissal of the image of God in their sisters. And, they had been party to injustice, even while working for justice.
Lament. There is real pain just beneath the surface. Women are suffering, often in silence, at the hands of physical or mental abusers and sexual abusers or under the reign of cultural patriarchy. The discussion of gender based violence is a fairly new one for most of the church. Before we allow ourselves to retreat behind protective dogma, we must allow ourselves to feel the pain of our sisters and brothers. And we must allow ourselves to grasp the impact that male domination has had on the witness of the church in the world. We must face it, own it, and grieve it. I recommend Soong-Chan Rah’s book Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times as a good next step to understanding the healing power of lament.
Confess. It is not enough to just see the problem. We must also own our part in it, both men and women. We must examine and interrogate our theological beliefs about gender roles. We must examine and interrogate our language and the systems and structures we build and maintain. Does our language reflect the male and female nature and image of God? Does it cultivate, protect and serve the co-dominion of males and females? Are the systems and structures we build and maintain actively and consciously cultivating, protecting, and serving the image of God in women?
Repent. Go and sin no more. We must mindfully move through the world conscious of the ways that patriarchy is a fallen construct in the kingdom of men. It is at war with the Kingdom of God. We must forsake it and choose God and God’s way to peace.
*Excerpted from The Very Good Gospel Copyright © 2016 by Lisa Sharon Harper. Used with permission of WaterBrook an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
Lisa Sharon Harper is the founder and president of Freedom Road, LLC. She is also the author of several books, including the critically acclaimed, The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right, named by Relevant Magazine, “One of six books that will change the way you see the world.” A columnist at Sojourners Magazine and an Auburn Theological Seminary Senior Fellow, she writes extensively on shalom and governance, immigration reform, health care reform, poverty, racial and gender justice, climate change, and transformational civic engagement. Harper has been recognized by The Huffington Post as one of “50 Powerful Women Religious Leaders” and is considered one of the nation’s most influential voices on a faith-rooted approach to advocacy. Harper speaks extensively, nationally and internationally, and lives in Washington, D.C.
Hear us, Lord Jesus Christ, when we cry to you for all the women and girls who are victims of violence.
Hear us, Lord Jesus Christ, for they are stripped and beaten as you were stripped and beaten, they are humiliated and used as you were betrayed and shamed. For the beaten girls and the battered women,blamed and bruised by angry men, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the young girls given or sold in marriage, and for unwilling brides with no way out, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the women raped as a weapon of warand for the children they bear in grief and shame, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the victims of rape who are killed or take their own lives, and for the rape survivors who live with its scars, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the girls denied access to education,told they are stupid or worthless or expendable, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the girls and women sold or tricked into the sex trade, and for sex workers exposed to disease and violence,we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the mothers, whose children are taken away by armies, governments, churches or family members, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the girl-children who are unwanted and rejected, the first to be aborted or abandoned,the last to be fed: we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the women bashed in their own homes,and for their children who see and hear the violence, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the women trapped in destructive relationships, manipulated, controlled, justifying their abusers, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the women who hide their bruisesand lie about their injuries for fear of the next attack, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the women bullied in their workplaces,belittled, underpaid, threatened with losing their job, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the women in prison, abused and abusing, beset by poverty, mental illness and addictions, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the women attacked because of their sexual identity, targets for physical or spiritual assault,we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the women and girls denied religious freedom, forced to submit by custom or law, we cry out to you: bring justice!
For the older women, frail in body or mind, fearful of violence, manipulation or neglect, we cry out to you: bring justice!
We cry to you, Lord Jesus Christ, for our sisters, our daughters, our mothers, ourselves.
Bring justice. Bring healing. Bring hope. Amen.
The Bible tells the story of King David’s daughter Tamar and how her brother Amnon raped her (2 Samuel 13). In my 40 years of faith, I have never heard this passage preached in any church. I find this curious but also tragic. What if the church heard such a relevant story from Scripture preached on by a woman who has known the violence and shame of being raped?
Still in Tamar’s case, this wasn’t just rape, it was also incest. Amnon and his cousin Jonadab create a devious plan to set up the perfect scenario for Amnon to rape Tamar. 2 Samuel 13:1 speaks of Amnon’s desire, or “love” as it is translated, toward Tamar. I would say this is desire gone mad, and is more accurately translated as lust. The energy of the Hebrew word here is directed at its object and how to possess it, unlike love which seeks to protect and honor, not possess. This is worth a deep second look for men. Many have been tempted to lust but we must consider where lust has led to the objectifying of women and subsequent use of power against them.
This is the nature of sexual abuse: it is objectifying and fueled by lust and power.
We read that Tamar objects, in fact begs Amnon not to do this, and he overpowers her. When he is done, his lust instantly turns to hatred and he sends her away. In an instant Tamar’s life is ruined. Her hopes and dreams, her plans to marry and have children are all destroyed by Amnon’s lust and rage. In a patriarchal society, virginity is the only thing of value a woman has to offer a potential husband, therefore a woman violated by rape is reduced to nothing. Tamar walks into Amnon’s room a beautiful and desirable young woman, and she is thrown out of his room a childless widow dependent on the charity of her father to sustain her for the rest of her life.
What words would you have for Tamar? How would you respond to her story if she came and told you what had happened?
I was nineteen, a college student, volunteering in the youth group at a small church in a beach community. I had dreams of graduate school and becoming a counselor. I loved my youth group kids, and I loved the church.
We had been at a party when a friend of the youth pastor asked me for a ride back to the church parking lot. I remember how he sought me out that night; he was purposeful in his flirting. I remember his smile as we left the party and walked to my car. He made crude jokes as I drove towards the church, and I remember laughing uncomfortably. I remember the feel of his hand on the back of my neck and how his grip tightened before he raped me. I vaguely remember the drive back to my dorm.
A few days later my friend noticed that I seemed quiet and “not quite myself.” I shared what had happened, and he encouraged me to talk to the Sr. Pastor and Youth Pastor. Bravely I made an appointment, and my friend even agreed to go with me.
I sat in the Sr. Pastor’s office with three men and somehow found the words to tell them about the rape. My friend sat quietly nearby while the pastors questioned my story and then told me that while they believed “something” must have happened it simply couldn’t be what I described. Whatever had happened I had played a part in because this was such a good man, and he and the youth pastor had been friends for years, and he certainly wasn’t capable of such a violent act.
I don’t remember much after those words were spoken. Something inside of me went dead.
When I first read Tamar’s story I remember the nausea that washed over me as I saw her words in verse 13, “Where could I take my shame?” And, I felt such connection to the words she spoke when Amnon sent her away, “This evil is worse than you already did to me.”
For me, the shame I carried from the meeting in the pastor’s office feels more traumatizing than the violence of the rape.
In the car as the rape was happening I went numb; I shut down to survive. Walking into the pastor’s office I remember how vulnerable I felt, and I remember I was clinging to the hope that they would do something. I believed telling them was the right thing to do, and I believed they would protect me. I was totally unprepared for the shame that was heaped on me in their responses and it was crushing for my soul. Their responses told me it was my fault. Every message I had ever heard growing up about the importance of protecting your purity and virginity because they are the most important thing you have for your husband was loud in my head. I left that office assured of my worthlessness. No one believed I needed protection or care. I was left alone in my shame and alone to recover from the violence of rape. I dropped out of college. I never made it to grad school. I went silent that day and stayed silent for another twenty-five years.
The story of Tamar gives us a look into why the church has been silent. The Mosaic law left David faced with choosing silence or having Amnon killed and Tamar is ruined, unable to be married to another man. The whole scenario is tragic. There seems to be no hope for a “good” outcome. David is silent and burning with rage, Tamar moves into her brother Absalom’s home, and we read that Absalom’s anger burns against Amnon until he finally murders him. This dynamic is alive and well in our churches today. Pastors often show up like David, looking for a quiet and seemingly ok outcome that avoids stepping into the real mess of the sin and violence done by abusers. Often, unlike David, they are not just silent with victims: their words are shaming and blaming, using scripture flippantly to prescribe a course of repentance. This is usually followed by telling victims to forgive and forget, as if that is even possible. They fail to come alongside like a shepherd, and instead use their power and privilege to continue the perpetration of violence.
Oh, how I wish there had been a priest to enter into this mess with David and his family. A voice to speak to Tamar’s shame and a voice to speak to Amnon’s sin. A priestly presence to engage the burning anger of David and Absalom.
And, how I wish the pastors had heard me and believed me that day. I wish they had felt something for me, been angered by the violation to my body and my soul. I wish they’d told me they would be addressing my rapist. I wish they’d asked me if I’d called the police. I wish they’d told me they would help me find a counselor.
I wish they would have treated me like a precious daughter of king.
Responding well to a victim who finds the courage to tell her story is imperative. Poor responses can be devastating, in some case even traumatizing. Learning to respond well to a story of harm is at the very heart of what it is to be pastoral.
The silence, the violence, that has marked the church leaves me grief filled and compels me to speak and tell my story again and again. I know what is possible when a victim is responded to well, when an abuser is confronted and the people of God lean into the harm that has been done. Sexual abuse does razor sharp damage; it is death for your soul. And, God’s people responding well to that death can be the catalyst for resurrection life.
Please scroll down to read a "Prayer of Lament" by Dr. Mimi Haddad.
Tracy Johnson is passionate about nurturing communities where people experience healing, hope and celebration. Founder of Red Tent Living Magazine she is a writer, speaker and mentor. She has ministered in sexual abuse recovery for nearly two decades and has traveled the world consulting on healing in the context of abuse. Trained by Dr. Dan Allender she is a certified lay counselor and has trained church staff and volunteers in creating safe spaces for victims of harm. Married for 30+ years, she and her husband have five children and make their home in Austin, Texas where Mark is a Pastor at Riverbend Church.
by Dr. Mimi Haddad
Saint Macrina welcomed the poor, the disabled, and the abused prostitute into her home. Her communion with the marginalized, and her commitment to love them as family, embodied God’s presence, compelling the church to serve the outcast as self.
Adapting the prayer of Macrina on her deathbed, we also pray:
Dear Lord, you have redeemed us from sin and its consequences, having taken both on yourself so that what is deformed and corruptible in us might be transformed and redeemed through the power of Calvary. Through Jesus, you have defeated the powers of evil that tempt our weaknesses and enslave humanity. Too weak to rescue ourselves, we place our life and that of neighbor into your hands, that in Christ you will crush evil and human oppression in every corner of our world.
By giving us a Savior, you preserve and redeem life and its goodness. Through Jesus, you have opened newness of life made knowable through Scripture and in the sacraments and services of your body—the church. Lead the Church, oh precious Lord, to bind the wounds of our world, as Macrina did throughout her life.
As the world celebrates, as entertainment, the sexual oppression of women and men, give us supernatural rescue. Through our Savior Jesus protect humanity—body, mind and soul—from evil, from predators, from deception, and from those forces that debase the glory of your image in humanity, both female and male. Bring us a wise and holy rescue from that which distorts the beauty of sex within marriage, and the communion of souls in that most intimate union of one-flesh.
In the strong name of Christ, we rebuke the forces of patriarchy—the domination of male over female. We renounce the power and influence of sin, especially in the lives of girls and women. Created in your likeness, and remade in the image of Christ through the Holy Spirit, we call upon you, holy God, to free humanity enslaved to a love of power and to the domination of one over the other. Let the consequences of sin be nailed to the Cross, that we might overcome sin’s grip, debasement and cruelty.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, help us to crave what is good for our bodies, what redeems our souls and brings health to our minds, and what leads us to newness of life in Christ. Give us, our Savior, victory over our oppressors, both seen and unseen. And we humbly beseech you to lead us beside still waters, green pastures, that in your holy presence we may enjoy nurture, safety and peace.
We ask not only for our own lives, but especially for that of others. Remembering the life and service of your servant Macrina, whose eyes were fixed on the suffering of oppressed and oppressor alike, help us to embrace their anguish as our own. Let us remember their plight in our daily prayers and in our work as the church. Prepare for all who suffer a table of refreshment in your presence. Let your rod and staff guide those who are marginalized and abused to dignity, safety, wholeness and strength. Let us overcome evil, as Christ did, through the power of God made manifest on the Cross.
We ask all of this through Jesus our Lord, and for Christ’s glory. Amen.
Note, this prayer first appeared here on Evangelicals for Social Action's website.
Dr. Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality. She is a founding member of the Evangelicals and Gender Study Group at the Evangelical Theological Society. She has written more than one hundred articles and blog posts and has contributed to ten books. She is an editor and a contributing author of Global Voices on Biblical Equality: Women and Men Serving Together in the Church. Haddad is an adjunct assistant professor at Fuller Theological Seminary (Houston), Bethel University (Saint Paul, MN), and North Park Theological Seminary (Chicago), and she serves as a gender consultant for World Vision.