Last weekend I led a workshop called Shame: Hope & Healing in Vancouver, BC. What timing! The topic of sexual assault has been all over the news lately — stories of powerful men held to account for past behaviors. Women have been emboldened by the #MeToo campaign and are coming forward with their stories of abuse.
Allegations may have begun with Harvey Weinstein, but they have extended beyond Hollywood. In politics, in business — and in churches — there are powerful men who have abused and assaulted women — and others who have colluded and enabled that abuse. The media saturation of #MeToo made for extra tenderness around the subject of our workshop, but it also brought immediacy to our work. One thing we did was wrestle with a scripture story about sexual assault by powerful men. Five intrepid volunteers performed a reader’s theater version of the story of Tamar (2 Samuel 13).
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Perhaps you remember the characters in Tamar’s story: Jonadab (the crafty colluder), Amnon (the rapist, a half-brother), and Absalom (the revengeful brother). All three of the men abuse Tamar: by setting up the abuse, by actively raping, or by silencing her afterward. Absalom uses Tamar’s trauma as an excuse for revenge in order to enlarge his own holdings. Certainly the legacy of David’s abuse of Bathsheba lives on through his sons.
Meanwhile, Tamar’s plea echoes: Where can I carry my shame?
The reader who “sat in Tamar’s seat” was struck by how voiceless Tamar is. Reading her part was a powerful experience for that woman, and for all the others who entered into the story, and those of us watching.
I implore churches to hear Tamar’s cry and respond: Bring Your Shame HERE! Historically churches have heaped shame on victims, but it is a new day. The church has all the necessary tools to alleviate shame.
During the workshop we looked at some of those tools. Using scripture, tradition, compassion, and a passion for justice, churches can:
~ become places where victims carry their shame
~ name the evils of sexism, misogyny, and violence, even in their own midst
~ walk steadfastly through darkness, offering hope
~ advocate for victims to pursue justice
~ help victims find physical safety and emotional healing
In a recent blogpost I asked: Can you go home again? At the time I was somewhat trepidatious about my two upcoming visits to Christian Reformed Churches — to preach and use my story to address sexual abuse. If you have read my memoir or the article in Sojourners, you know that leaving the CRC denomination in my early twenties was traumatic.
Now both of those church visits are behind me and each was a positive experience, for which I am very grateful.
~ At Shawnee Park CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I preached and led a class. I was especially grateful that so many men remained to participate in the class — comprising half of the 75 or so participants. At the end of our time together, an Associate Minister spontaneously suggested the group gather around me to lay hands and bless me, which was a tonic to my soul. During that week I was also thrilled to meet three young women who are seniors at Calvin College. One of them, Rae Gernant, wrote a wonderful article for the Calvin Chimes.
~ In the Vancouver, BC area, I led that workshop for Safe Church Ministry and also preached at Willoughby CRC in Langley. Throughout the weekend I resonated with the excellent aspects of the tradition that raised me, namely: honest-to-goodness hospitality freely dispensed, authentic and deep engagement in questions of theology, and superb congregational singing! It is a treat to travel to the opposite coast — in a different country — and be made to feel so at home among new friends.
I’m curious what these recent weeks have been like for you in the wake of #MeToo? Have you felt empowered? Triggered? Hopeful? Shocked?
I am praying that #MeToo will be more than a “moment” in our national discourse. I pray it will alter the balance of power between the genders in our culture. It’s time that we heard the cry of Tamar and responded with open ears and open hearts.