There is a terrifying story of sexual assault in the Bible. David’s son Amnon burns with lust for his half-sister Tamar. His friend Joanadab advises Amnon to pretend he’s sick and bedridden, say he’ll only feel better if Tamar spoonfeeds him, and then rape her when they’re alone. And that’s what happens.
Is God silent while an innocent person is raped by someone they trusted? Countless survivors have asked that question.
My book was launched last month at a conference in Johannesburg called “Truth Be Told: Speaking Out Against Gender Based Violence.” But Pastor Pelham Lessing made us ask: Does God speak out against gender-based violence?
As he explained the passage, he showed how Tamar tells Amnon not to rape her – and she is teaching Amnon the Old Testament law that condemns both rape and incest. When he tells her to get out afterwards, she refuses, again referencing the law that a man had to pay the bride price if he raped a woman. She wails and mourns throughout the palace, and lives the rest of her life in protest. She is the voice of God in the passage. God executes poetic and literal justice – Amnon dies in a violent attack from a sibling. Her brother dies quickly, but Tamar is a survivor.
Despite the fact that this was the heir to the throne, God preserved this woman’s words and testified to her innocence for all time! God is on the survivors’ side, speaking through them. (We had better listen when they speak.)
I expected a conference about gender-based violence to be heartbreaking. And there were moments of that. When we see – really see – even part of the suffering in the world, it can threaten to tear our souls apart. We can ask: “God, why aren’t you doing something?”
But at this conference was full of hope. I saw God speaking, doing something – through the people of God.
I saw how Linda sews figurines to animate a stop-motion video about Bible scholarship on women in Ephesus. How biologist Rev. Patti Ricotta teaches Ugandans how Female Genital Mutilation prevents the oxytocin release and bonding that God intended for spouses.
All around the world, God’s Spirit is raising up people who say “enough is enough” to gender-based violence in their communities. Pastor Kavitha Emmannuel’s non-profit Women of Worth fights the domestic violence, rape, sex slavery and dowry practices in India. Their “Dark is Beautiful” campaign to improve self-esteem and end skin color bias went viral internationally.
With wit and hard facts, Lynn van Rooyen examined the connections between AIDS and gender-based violence. As the leader of the Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa, she challenges the church to promote spiritual and physical wellbeing.
I rejoiced at Emma Smith whose started a protection program to educate churches and provide support for the many women raped in Eastern DRC. And how God provided her an English-speaking coworker Fred, a Congolese man who was already running what he called “Tamar Bible Studies” in his village!
I literally sang and danced in my hotel room: “God, you are good! What divine wisdom and power you have to weave people together around the world! You care about your people’s suffering and you are doing something about it through your church!”
I saw what happens when the talents and passions of the whole church are unleashed. So God is not silent… unless we silence God. If we ignore the Tamars that God is using, violence continues. We must not silence half the church, cannot restrict what women can do, or we will never stop gender-based violence. We need everyone we can get, doing whatever they do best, to their full potential. We need gender equality within our churches because it is through us that God wants to bring peace and justice to the world.
Then the body of believers will “build one another up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16) – and how beautiful that will be!