On the same weekend that the Harvey Weinstein story broke, dominating the media, I was leading a workshop called Shame: Hope & Healing in Vancouver, BC. What timing!
Allegations that began with Harvey Weinstein have extended far 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 the experience of our workshop extra tender, and 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).
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?
Afterward, 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: You Can Carry Your Shame HERE! Historically churches have heaped shame on victims, but it is a new day, it is time for churches to remove the burden of shame, not add to it. After all, 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
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.