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July 11, 2019

Be advised: today's Resistance Prays discusses sexual violence and rape. If these topics are difficult for you to engage with, we encourage you to take the space you need to care for yourself today. Know that you are worthy and beloved.
Jennifer Araoz has come forward to accuse Jeffrey Epstein, speaking out both against those who silenced her and for those others who were silenced by the powerful men protecting Epstein.

Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta gave a press conference yesterday to defend the lenient plea deal that he gave to wealthy serial rapist and sex trafficker Jeffery Epstein in Florida in 2008. According to the New York Times, he offered no apologies, but instead suggested that “times had changed in a way that made his compromise a decade ago look different.”

Some time passed. David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; and David’s son Amnon fell in love with her. Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah; and Jonadab was a very crafty man. He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed, and pretend to be ill; and when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me something to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, so that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’” So Amnon lay down, and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, so that I may eat from her hand.”
Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.” So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. She took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. Then she took the pan and set them out before him, but he refused to eat. Amnon said, “Send out everyone from me.” So everyone went out from him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, so that I may eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the cakes she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” She answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile! As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her.
Then Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her. Amnon said to her, “Get out!” But she said to him, “No, my brother; for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence, and bolt the door after her.” (Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for this is how the virgin daughters of the king were clothed in earlier times.) So his servant put her out, and bolted the door after her. But Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went.
Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad; for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had raped his sister Tamar.
After two full years Absalom had sheep shearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons.
Absalom came to the king, and said, “Your servant has sheep shearers; will the king and his servants please go with your servant?” But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, or else we will be burdensome to you.” He pressed him, but he would not go but gave him his blessing. Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon go with us.” The king said to him, “Why should he go with you?” But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him. Absalom made a feast like a king’s feast. Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Watch when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not be afraid; have I not myself commanded you? Be courageous and valiant.” So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons rose, and each mounted his mule and fled.
While they were on the way, the report came to David that Absalom had killed all the king’s sons, and not one of them was left. The king rose, tore his garments, and lay on the ground; and all his servants who were standing by tore their garments. But Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah, said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men the king’s sons; Amnon alone is dead. This has been determined by Absalom from the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. Now therefore, do not let my lord the king take it to heart, as if all the king’s sons were dead; for Amnon alone is dead.”
But Absalom fled. When the young man who kept watch looked up, he saw many people coming from the Horonaim road by the side of the mountain. Jonadab said to the king, “See, the king’s sons have come; as your servant said, so it has come about.” As soon as he had finished speaking, the king’s sons arrived, and raised their voices and wept; and the king and all his servants also wept very bitterly.
But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. David mourned for his son day after day. Absalom, having fled to Geshur, stayed there three years. And the heart of the king went out, yearning for Absalom; for he was now consoled over the death of Amnon.
— 2 Samuel 13
Despite Secretary Acosta’s assertion to the contrary, the times have not changed. Powerful men have been defending, aiding, and enabling the sexual violence of other powerful men forever. We have barely scratched the surface of the Epstein story, and as the months unfold and the SDNY case moves forward, there will be many revelations of other men who not only enabled but also engaged in the same activities with Epstein. His profile was known. His predatory behavior was an open secret in his circle. People were willing to overlook the abuse and rape of teenage girls repeatedly. “Nothing to see here, just keep on moving” was the pervasive attitude — as long as the money was flowing, the deals were being made, and everyone was having a good time.
Correction: not everyone. What about the hundreds of young girls he raped? Who spoke for them?
Our scripture passage today — the story of the rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon — is a long one. I have included it in full because it shows us the layers upon layers of enabling behavior by other men that result in the systemic violation of girls and women. Jonadab helps Amnon plan the rape. David sends Tamar to her brother without asking any questions about why Amnon wanted so badly to eat food “from her hand.” The story tells us that there were many servants nearby — Amnon sends them out so that he may be alone with Tamar. None of them question these actions.
Tamar speaks boldly to defend herself from his attack: none of the servants, who surely were still within earshot, come to her defense. Later, after the rape, Amnon’s male servant throws Tamar out, barring the door to her. Her father, King David, never speaks of the rape, nor does he defend his daughter. His concern is only for his two sons. Even Absalom, her full brother who avenges her by murdering Amnon, silences Tamar. He does so that he may seek justice behind the scenes, proving that he is well aware of the systemic injustice enacted on women which makes it impossible for Tamar to seek justice out in the open.
This passage is not one that appears in the common three-year lectionary cycle of many American churches. Isn’t that omission yet another example of the systemic silencing of women’s voices? Why else was this story not included? Are our ears too delicate to hear a story of rape in church on a Sunday morning? Are we that afraid of making the men in our pews angry? Are we worried that they might stop putting money in the plate if they hear a story condemning their behavior?
While I am sure part of the justification for not including Tamar’s story is that it might be difficult for rape survivors to hear their own story told on a Sunday morning, are we actually failing them when we choose to be silent, when we choose not to tell hear their voices? Tamar’s voice in this passage is one of the strongest women’s voices in the Bible. It is also the voice of the thousands of women and girls who are raped every year, the voice that pleads with men to stop the violence. By not telling her story, are we doing to them what all of the other enablers have done? Are we continuing the cover up of sexual violence? If we cannot talk about this kind of thing in church, where can we? Isn’t that one of the things church is for? To walk with us in the very darkest hours of our lives?
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Mr. Trump told New York magazine in 2002. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
The New York Times reprinted the quote above in the body of a July 9th article detailing a Florida party in 1992 that featured 28 young girls competing in a calendar competition — for the exclusive pleasure of Jeffery Epstein and Donald Trump. Clearly, Epstein’s predilection for children was well known. How many others chose not to see?
For every girl that was exploited by Epstein, there at least several people (both men and women) who chose not to see. This is not a politically partisan concern — the horrific dynamics of rape culture and the tendency to turn away and not see happen on both sides of the aisle. Protecting men remains the default. The silencing of rape victims continues. Catching and jailing one serial rapist and sex trafficker will not solve this problem. The pervasive myth of “out of control false accusations” continues to silence victims as well. The graphic in this article from the Washington Post is a good way to understand and internalize how intractable the problem of rape culture remains.
Times have not changed at all, Mr. Acosta.
#BelieveWomen #MeToo

Educate yourself on the real statistics about sexual violence. Speak up when you hear false information being used to silence victims and survivors. Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world today. Many people think this is a not a problem in the United States: the reality is that is a global problem, and it is absolutely happening right here in our own backyards. Jeffery Epstein’s case shows that it happened in a mansion on East 71st Street.

ECPAT is an organization that is specifically dedicated to raising awareness about child sexual exploitation, but there are many others that raise awareness of adult victims of sexual exploitation as well, like and The Gift Box. Consider supporting and sharing the work of these organizations.

Loving God, you who speaks for those who are on the margins, you who speaks for those who are allowed no voice, you who speaks for those who are exploited and discarded by those with power, shelter and guard your people from the false promises, lies, and violence of rapists and human traffickers. Awaken the consciences of those who enable them by choosing not to see. Give courage to those who continue to expose and end the scourge of sexual violence in the world. Pour forth your healing balm on those whose lives have been irrevocably altered by violence done to them. Send them strength to persevere, to continue to grow and flourish, to take back their voices, and to reclaim the fullness of their being. They are your beloved children, and we believe them. Amen.

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