Speaking Up for Tamar

Just this morning yet another celebrity has been fired for inappropriate sexual behavior. The Today show’s host, Matt Lauer, was terminated after the investigation of a detailed complaint against him by a co-worker.  Undoubtedly more details will emerge over the next few days.

On one level, the recent flood of stories like this is not surprising. We live in a sex-obsessed culture that prizes individual autonomy above all. Given the pervasive corruption characteristic of Hollywood and Washington DC in general, it is predictable that the worlds of entertainment and politics would be filled with gross misconduct – particularly for those (like Matt Lauer) who operate in the nexus of those worlds.

But what has surprised me is the way some Christians have responded to stories of sexual harassment or abuse, particularly when those stories involve political figures whose ideology they share.

In the last few weeks, I have read (or heard) fellow believers say things like, “Why didn’t these women speak up sooner?” or “Why did these women only have the courage to speak up after someone else did?” I’ve also seen Christians brush aside accusations of inappropriate behavior by rationalizing that there probably isn’t a man in politics who hasn’t said or done something they shouldn’t have toward a woman. I even saw one person on Facebook say that unless a woman is actually raped, she should just “let it go.”

It is stunning to me that fellow Christians would show far more sympathy to the perpetrators of exploitation than to its victims. 

I recognize that not all accusations are true. Those who are committed to truth and justice should be eager to carefully consider the credibility of any allegations, especially those with such a potential to destroy the lives of the accused.  But that is a far cry from dismissing out of hand the report of abuse simply because it came many years after the event, or because it did not rise to the level of a statutory crime.

Such calloused indifference toward those who have suffered harassment or molestation reveals a heartless lack of understanding of the shame and loathing the victims of sexual misconduct feel about themselves. Often, the degrading behavior of the perpetrator is internalized by the victim, who assumes that if something this horrible happened to them, they must somehow be dirty. This is one of the most cruel consequences of sexual misconduct.

The Bible describes just such a dynamic at work in its account of Amnon’s rape of his half-sister, Tamar. As Amnon assaulted her, Tamar cried out,

No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing.  As for me, where could I carry my shame? (2 Samuel 13:12-13). 

And after she was violated, the text says that Tamar spent the rest of her life “a desolate woman” (2 Samuel 13:20).

So there is a simple reason why many victims of sexual assault do not speak up until years afterward – it may take them a lifetime to process what has happened. Several years ago, my house was robbed. Many of you have experienced break-ins as well. And anyone who has gone through this knows the psychological sense of violation you feel when someone who was uninvited has been in your home. I cannot imagine the sense of violation the victims of uninvited sexual attention/harassment/assault must feel in the most intimate of area of human psychology. That it may take months, years, or decades to confront it is no surprise – the fact that anyone is able to summon the courage to address such a deep wound is astonishing.

Further, in many instances, the victims of sexual misconduct are exploited by people in positions of power, power which they threaten to wield against the victim should she say anything. This was clearly the tactic chosen by Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein, men whose personal fortunes and powerful connections made such threats far more than empty warnings. And it reveals just how sinister this kind of sexual abuse is. To use a woman for gratification while at the same time threatening her reveals a deeply depraved heart that has twisted itself into complete self-absorption. It is the heinous attitude of Amnon, who – after raping his sister – “hated her with very great hatred” (2 Samuel 13:15).

What troubles me the most about the unfeeling and unthinking comments of fellow Christians is the impact such dismissiveness may have on those who have been the targets of sexual impropriety. In order for a person who has been mistreated to heal, they must confront the abuse that has taken place, but those who discount the reality or severity of sexual misconduct create an environment in which its victims are discouraged to face their victimhood. This in turn means that the perpetrator will not be confronted, clearing the field for him to prey upon others – as well as shielding the perpetrator from facing the deep strain of evil that has poisoned his heart in the first place.

The tawdry episode of Amnon and Tamar is one of the great blight’s in the life of David, who did nothing to make Amnon accountable for his crime. Tamar was left to suffer as a desolate woman in the house of her full-brother, Absalom. One of the most heartbreaking details in the entire saga is the name Absalom gave to his daughter- Tamar (2 Samuel 14:27), even as he plotted revenge on Amnon. David’s refusal to do anything about the violation of Tamar set in motion a season of misery and despair for his family. We must not make the same mistake for the Tamars of our spiritual family.

2 Comments

  1. I know these days people may be getting tired of hearing about allegations of sexual harassment. However, if the accusations are true, we need to be thankful that women are exposing this behavior and be supportive of them. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced serious misconduct from a guy, but have had vulgar things said to me and received unwelcome touching during my years in school and the public work place. Sadly, I’d be surprised if practically every woman on my friend’s list hasn’t experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. During my middle and high school years (1986-1992), it was just “expected” that guys would pop your bra, pinch your butt, and make vulgar comments to you or about you. Things got better in the workplace, but still there were men who thought it acceptable to make off color comments, flirt heavily, and even make propositions for sex. If you suggested that this behavior made you uncomfortable, they would laugh it off and say they were just joking around. But it’s not funny, at all. One particular episode occurred at the first job I had after high school. The man worked for the vending machine company that supplied our break room. After the incident, I immediately began to question myself. “Maybe he did ‘accidentally’ touch me.” or “did he mean that the way it sounded or am I making too much of it?” A stranger had touched me and made a threatening comment to me and I was concerned with whether or not it was just my perception! A co-worker experienced similar behavior from this man and we decided to report it to our boss. Thankfully our boss was a female who had dealt with this issue throughout her career, and was not going to subject her employees to it. She told us he would NEVER be back to our office, and he wasn’t. I am thankful for the support she gave to me and my friend, and for her insuring that we had a safe work environment.
    So, what can we do about this?
    1) We can teach our sons that they should always treat women with respect (“older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.”) I Timothy‬ ‭5:2‬ ‭
    Teach them that they are accountable to God and others for the way that they speak to and treat a woman.
    2) We can teach our daughters that NO ONE has the right to put their hands on them, without their permission, and that they should feel free to express to someone in authority when a guy is talking or acting in a way that makes them feel uneasy, scared, dirty, or demeaned. While we don’t want our daughters to be scared of every man they encounter, we must make them aware that this behavior can be exhibited from guys their own age, as well as older men who are their teachers, co-workers, bosses, family members and even trusted members of the church. We can teach them to be aware, and if they are treated in a way that doesn’t feel right, they do not have to endure it and “let it go”.
    3) We can be careful in our own speech and actions toward others, and be an example of pure and godly behavior.
    I sincerely hope that this current movement won’t be used to falsely accuse a man, in order to punish or get back at him. But also, that this movement will cause us to be willing to listen to women AND men who have been mistreated and abused and help them make their abusers accountable for their actions and help them heal.

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