Leading an open Bible Study for 1200 people from 130 nations is not easy. There were inevitable clunkinesses about flow and content. Some points of view, especially from Portugueses speakers, were trenchant. It wasn’t to the taste of all bishops. Stewards reported that over 100 had slid off within an hour — all men! So this was raw, challenging stuff, but all the more worthwhile for that.
Only a dozen or so of the 1200 people there had ever heard II Samuel 13 read on a Sunday. It’s a powerful warning about the way a family can be ruined by civil war arising from politicking behind the scenes à la Jonadab. It tells of a brave and resourceful victim of rape, who refuses to stay silent. The passage unlocked fierce responses to issues of gender and power in the world church. We were reminded of violence by some women against men, too, but the heart of the problem was the other way round. One passionate North Indian contributor told of human trafficking and the abuse of women.
“There are serious issues we are not talking about that matter far more than homosexuality.”This comment was followed by a spontaneous ovation from the floor, lasting almost half a minute. Another male contributor suggested
“talking about homosexuality may be a way of avoiding the greater problem of heterosexual males behaving badly.”It was instructive to explore this Scripture, and various responses and to do some rigorous self-examination of the way the Church can become abusive in its handling of institutional and personal power. The voice of Tamar stands witness within our Scriptures of a need for self scrutiny. These things were written for our learning.
I also want to record that the blunt African way of prising open texts directly and drawing them alongside personal stories, which some English colleagues seem to find so basic and uncongenial, has actually been one of the great spiritual discoveries of this Lambeth for me.