“As a child, I my father told me that bees make honey from flowers, but spiders make poison from those same flowers. We can do the same with how we handle the Bible.”
Rev. Rethie van Niekerk, paraphrased.
It is a memory I buried for more than a quarter of a century.
I was 13 or 14 when the schools Christian Student Association got in “Uncle Willie” to speak to us. If the name sounds weird to you, “uncle” and “aunt” is used in my culture not only for family, but it is a term of respect children use for adults in general. And “Willie” is a reasonably common Afrikaans name with no lewd connotations.
Uncle Willie spoke about the rape of Tamar. He said Tamar should have known what Amnon wanted to do when Amnon asked her to bring him heart-shaped cakes. He blamed Tamar for going to Amnon. His sermon ended with Tamar a wreck. (The Afrikaans Bible literally use the same word for Tamar, after the rape, that is used for a shipwreck or the ruins of an old building.) I can’t remember that he ever blamed Amnon for what happened.
I cried that day when listening to that. Perhaps uncle Willie thought I cried out of a conviction of sin, but I did not. Perhaps you think I cried because of molestation and being blamed for it, but I reached the age of 14 unmolested. To be honest, I was not quite sure that day why I cried. I think I sensed that blaming women when a man attacks her is part of how we are seen in the world, part of what we as a sisterhood have to cope with. I probably cried for Tamar and other women who have such a story with no consolation, no happy ending. Maybe I cried over the injustice of a whole sermon that did not say Amnon is to blame.
Fast forward to about a week ago, when I heard my second Tamar sermon. This one was by Pastor Pelham Lessing. This time, Amnon was the villain as he deserves to be, and, and Tamar is called … among others, the prophet, and the woman brave enough not to stay silent.
This speaker asked: “You may wonder where God was in all this? If he sent a prophet to David after what happened to Bathsheba*, why did he not send a prophet to Amnon? God did send a prophet to Amnon. The words of God was spoken into this situation through Tamar, who constantly quoted the words of scripture for why Amon should not do this.” He showed us how Tamar quoted the law.
Pastor Lessing spoke of how she protested – how she fought the rape, how she let others know what happened by her actions afterward. She was wronged. She knew it. She made it clear. The way nobody did anything about it was an accusation against them. And if we, the church, do nothing to end violence against women today, it is an accusation against us.
It was during this sermon that the memory of that other one came back to me. What a difference wise words make.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. – Proverbs 12:18
* I think the term power rape, instead of “adultery” best describes what David did to Bathsheba.
If the topic of how sexual purity is preached to girls interest you, you may like to read Laura Genn’s article and compare it to the comment by Vashra Araeshkigal on that same page, a story where sexual issues are preached in a manner that heals.