The Tamar Campaign: Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Women

johonna-mccants_portraitby Johonna McCants

Most Christians are familiar with many stories about David — his humility as a shepherd, his success as a king, his lust for Bathsheba, and his heart for worship. However, many have never heard the story about David’s daughter, Tamar, an assertive young woman who was raped by her brother, Amnon.

In South Africa, a group of male and female theologians are using Bible studies about Tamar’s rape to disrupt our collective silence on violence against women and bring about effective solutions. The initiative, called The Tamar Campaign, helps churches to address sexual violence in particular as well as violent models of masculinity. The campaign has been so effective in South Africa that it has spread to other countries within Africa and to other continents.

The Tamar Campaign was created by the Ujamaa Centre for Biblical and Theological Community Development and Research, which is based at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg. The Ujamaa Centre describes itself as “an interface between socially engaged scholars, organic intellectuals, and local communities of the poor, working-class and marginalized.” The Centre’s mission is to train and empower marginalized communities particularly “women, youth, people living with HIV/AIDS, and the unemployed” to transform themselves and their society. The Centre’s staff uses the Bible as its primary resource to fulfill this mission.

The Tamar Campaign’s primary activities are a series of Bible studies led by facilitators from the Ujamaa Centre. During the Bible study, participants carefully read and analyze the story of Tamar (as told in 2 Samuel 13:1-22), discuss how the passage applies to their own communities, and plan action steps based on what they have learned and discussed. The Bible studies are typically led in churches. While participants spend some time discussing the Bible passage as a large group, they primarily talk in small groups divided by age and gender– older women, younger women, older men, and younger men. To help participants develop their own understandings of the passage, facilitators ask them a series of questions such as:

• What is this text about?

• Who are the male characters and what is the role of each of them in the rape of Tamar?

• What is Tamar’s response throughout the story?

• Where is God in this story?

To help participants relate to their passage to their own context, facilitators pose additional questions such as, “Are there women like Tamar in your church/community?” “What is the theology of women who have been raped?” and “What message does the story of Tamar have for us?” At the end, facilitators always ask, “What will you now do in response to the Bible study?” and assist with the formulation of action plans. Some churches, for example, have started counseling programs for women in their congregations who have experienced sexual violence whereas others have hosted workshops that teach men nonviolent ways of expressing their masculinity.

The Tamar Campaign supports entire communities in talking about violence against women, but it has been especially empowering for women because our voices and experiences are often silenced or marginalized within the church. Finally, the Tamar Campaign provides an important example of how the Bible can be used as a significant resource for peace, justice and healing when we integrate Biblical theology, communal reflection and social action.

For more information, see:

The Bible Story That Became a Campaign: The Tamar Campaign in South Africa and Beyond

Doing Contextual Bible Study: A Resource Manual

Redemptive Masculinities: A Contextual Bible Study

Biblical Texts on Gender-Based Violence

Johonna McCants is a member of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington, D.C. An educator, cultural worker and scholar, she has taught American studies and African American studies courses at the University of Maryland, provided training and program development services to community organizing and advocacy groups, and served as a Soros Justice Fellow with the Open Society Institute.

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