Blaming Women For Men's Sin Is As Old As The Bible

Commentary
By Nancy Hightower 9-24-2018
Juda Propositions Tamar, Rembrandt

This past week has been one of the hardest of 2018 as I have watched evangelical leaders come to the defense of Brett Kavanaugh in light of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault.

Franklin Graham tweeted: “Judge Kavanaugh has a stellar reputation of judicial excellence, integrity, & character …” Christian blogger Matt Walsh tweeted a similar sentiment: “Kavanaugh's accuser had THIRTY FIVE YEARS to go to law enforcement about her allegations. … This is an absolute joke now.”

But it wasn’t just individual men who called Christine Ford’s accusation nothing more than a political stunt. On Sept. 20, the Faith and Feedom Coalition, which claims “over 1.8 million members and supporters,” called for the Senate Democrats “to immediately cease their desperate and unfounded character assassination attempts” and argued that Kavanaugh “is a devoted Christian family man with a lifetime of integrity …” Journalist Ruth Graham tweeted a screenshot of an email sent out by Focus on the Family, which labeled Ford’s claims as “11th hour allegations” and encouraged support for Kavanaugh as well.

As a survivor of molestation when I was 5 by a “good Christian man,” who happened to be my grandfather, these responses brought back an array of panic, shame, and rage. I realized that many in the white evangelical community were going to stand by a man who would serve their conservative interests rather than seeking the truth.

I should not have been surprised. Blaming the women for a man’s sin is as old as the Bible. It’s told in Genesis 38 that Judah’s oldest son was so awful God killed him outright. As was the law, Judah told his next son to marry his brother’s widow Tamar, so that his brother would have his name carried on. But Judah’s next son was just as selfish and made sure Tamar never got pregnant. Since there were no other witnesses to this crime, God stepped in and killed him, too.

You would think by this time that Judah would start doing some real soul searching about his family given how he was the one to suggest selling his younger brother Joseph into slavery. But rather than looking at his own crimes, he blamed his daughter-in-law for his sons’ deaths. Tamar might have had suspicions about Judah’s opinion of her, but they were confirmed when his last and youngest son grew to be of marrying age, and yet Judah had not married them. She knew that Judah just wanted to forget she ever existed. He was very content to have Tamar live out the rest of her days in silence and loneliness as a widow.

Tamar bided her time until she heard that Judah’s wife had died, and he had gone to the mountains with his sheep shearers to mourn and be comforted. Tamar switched out of her widow clothes and put on the wardrobe of a prostitute, disguising her face with a veil. She waited for Judah by the side of the road, and Judah went into her for the night. He didn’t have any payment, so Tamar asked for his signet and staff as a lien. After their night together, she went back to her father’s house.

When Judah tried to send his payment to her through a friend, there was no prostitute to be found. Judah wasn’t worried though. It was just a night with a faceless woman. Easily forgotten. Three months later, news came to Judah that Tamar was pregnant, and Judah immediate sentenced her to be burnt to death. On the way to her own execution, Tamar sent a message to Judah, asking him to identity his own signet and staff. Judah, perhaps for the first time in life, acknowledged his own sin when he stated, “she has been more righteous than me.”

I doubt the evangelical response to Tamar would have been as enlightened even though she had “proof.” The rhetoric would look more like this: Tamar took advantage of Judah at a time of grief for her own economic gain. She should have had her father speak to Judah about his negligence first and given him a chance to defend his action. They would cite what a good family Judah came from, being the son of Jacob and the great-grandson of Abraham. Except for selling his brother into slavery, he’s been a model citizen. They wouldn’t dare validate Tamar’s subversive act as a form of social justice, as a call for repentance and redemption.

I would argue that the actions of Christine Blasey Ford have opened up a unique rhetorical space for a similar kind of dialogue, as we have seen with the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport hashtags. Ford’s narrative isn’t about revenge or a “desperate attempt” to wreck a man’s life — it is a battle cry against rape culture and the hypocrisies of patriarchy.

On Sept. 23, The New Yorker published Deborah Ramirez’s account of Kavanaugh exposing himself to her at party their freshman year at Yale. Another woman, represented by Michael Avanetti, is prepared to meet with the FBI and take a polygraph test regarding his behavior. Perhaps more politicians and Christians will now come to their defense, but since when does a country ever listen to its prophets?

Nancy Hightower has a PhD in literature/creative nonfiction from the University of Denver and is the author of Elementari Rising (2013, Pink Narcissus Press), and The Acolyte (2015, Port Yonder Press).

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