‘“No…” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me?” …But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her… and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door”… And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.' (2 Samuel 13:12-19)
The past year has been heralded as a landmark in addressing sexual abuse. Following allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, Hollywood’s carpet paved the way for the wider #MeToo movement. Accounts of sexual harassment and abuse flooded social media, reaching 1.7 million tweets in a week. Eighteen months later, #MeToo remains at the forefront of public consciousness. International Women’s Day will doubtless generate a fresh wave of interest in the movement.
I wonder how you’ve responded. Recently I’ve heard people refer to #MeToo with a dose of suspicion, even fatigue: ‘Are we talking about this again?’
Christians, surely, must reply, ‘Yes’.
God calls us to action long before, and after, Twitter does.
Sexual abuse is an evil exploitation of God’s design. Genesis affirms the inherent value of both man and woman, created in God’s own image, and Adam cherishes Eve tenderly as ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh’. In this context, sex is a precious gift. What a stark contrast to 2 Samuel, where Amnon violates and ostracises Tamar, leaving her agonising in ‘disgrace’ and locking the door behind her. Tamar’s frantic pleas have echoed throughout history, and across the lips of so many: ‘Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me?’
#MeToo rightly calls for justice and hope, but it also reminds us that neither will be realised fully by human effort. Lacy underwear is still evidence in courtrooms; a US Supreme Court Justice is embroiled in scandal.
Hope may be found in speaking out online, but this does not work for everyone or guarantee lasting support. Whilst commending the ‘Silence Breakers’ for their courage, we might reflect that justice
and hope aren’t delivered ultimately by a hashtag, but by a cross.
The cross promises that the world’s just judge does not disregard wrongdoing, but has demonstrated the proper punishment for all sin, violence and abuse.
The cross promises lasting hope. Whilst we have all sinned, our merciful God invites us into restored relationships eternally and will ‘wipe away every tear… there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.’(Revelation 21:4)
Living in the light of ultimate justice and hope, Christians should model these values to a broken world. Individually, we must challenge sexual harassment and abuse in every sphere of influence. Perhaps that means asking questions of your friends and listening sensitively. Tackling the language your colleagues apply to women. Confronting behaviour you see in public. Encouraging someone to seek safety, and committing to walk that difficult journey alongside them.
And collectively, we must not fail to address our churches. One hashtag was trending recently: ‘#ChurchToo’. When did you last hear sexual harassment addressed from the pulpit of your church, or prayed about? All of us have the power to initiate open conversations, provide accountability, and ensure that posters which signal help are on display. International Women’s Day offers a crucial reminder to Christians to engage with justice issues on a local, national and global level. These are places where Christians should be at the
forefront, speaking up for those who have been denied a voice.
‘What about me?’ asks Tamar.
How will the Church answer her? How will you?
Katherine works as a parliamentary researcher in Westminster
This is a post by a guest contributor. The views expressed by guest writers are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jubilee Centre.