Nancy M. Nealious: What Christians Can Learn From the Biblical Story of Tamar and Amnon

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I was moved and astonished as the pastor spoke. He was preaching about the rape of Tamar. Tamar was the beautiful virgin daughter of King David who was raped by her brother Amnon (2 Sam. 13).

The pastor was acknowledging that the people of God caused suffering and that traumatic events could happen in holy places.

I must admit I was surprised at such a bold message coming from the pulpit, and it stirred hope within me.

Unfortunately, those feelings were short-lived as the pastor wrapped up his message with a warning that although these things happen, we ought not to talk about them to people outside of our families—if we dare speak about them at all.

At that moment, my heart broke, and my anger rose. It was as if the breath had been knocked out of me. I wondered how many others in the pews around me had experiences of trauma and abuse, how many were feeling the beginnings of hope, of the opening of space to share stories that need sacred space to be told, to receive help, only to have it crushed in an instant.

Sadly, this is something that appears to be common in many communities of faith—being silent on matters of abuse and silencing and shaming survivors of various forms of sexual trauma.

However, if we examine the story of 2 Samuel 13, we see that being silent and not naming the evil that had been done to Tamar caused more turmoil and wrath within the family unit.

In my work as a psychologist, one of the things that is most detrimental to survivors is the dismissal and silencing of the survivor by those they chose to turn to for help.

After being silenced by her brother Absalom (2 Sam. 13:20), to whom she turned, Tamar is described as a “bitter and desolate” woman. Not only had her rights been violated and had she been treated like an object and something to be thrown away, but the significance of these events was not validated. In his silencing of her, her brother Absalom confirmed that she as a person was indeed less than Amnon or his desires.

When we silence those who are abused or are silent about the abuse that happens around us, we become complicit in the events. In our attempt to “keep the peace” we may silence the voices of women and men who need help and assistance, who need sacred space to share their stories. When we silence or sit in silence, we confirm to survivors that they are “less than,” that what they experienced isn’t significant, and may be their fault.

When I have listened to others talk about the rape of Tamar, I have heard them focus on the fact that she was a virgin as a reason to be outraged at such an event. We focus on her modesty and sweetness.

In our present culture we often ask questions that focus on a survivor’s clothes, her hair, and or her make-up. We question why she was at a certain place at a certain time; we question her motives for almost each movement she makes.

For example, asking about modesty suggests that the perpetrator is anything less than fully responsible. We often blame the victim for her own abuse and yet we are slow to question the evil intents of a perpetrator’s heart. These actions reveal a deeper root of sexism that is alive in many parts of the body.

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Source: Christianity Today