A Response to the Reponses to Nana Agyemang-Asante’s Public Decision to Leave the Church

Amnon and Tamar

In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.

Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.

Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?”

Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”

“Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”

So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.”

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. 11 But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”

12 “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. 13 What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” 14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

16 “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

But he refused to listen to her. 17 He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.” 18 So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate[a] robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. 19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

2 Samuel 13: 1-20

 

That’s probably more of the Bible than y’all have read on a Monday morning. Intense; I know! Why is this scripture important? Because it speaks to the experience and relationship that so many women have with the Christian Church…a relationship that is toxic, destructive and worst of all, ignored.

Two weeks ago, Nana Ama Agyemang- Asante penned a post titled: Sex, Sermons and Submission: Why I left the Church. She can correct me if I’m wrong, but this particular post has garnered the most comments of all the blogs she’s written this year. Ms. Agyemang-Asante is a radio personality and cultural/political critic on Citi FM. On her personal blog, she writes about issues she’s passionate about: governance, food, sex, religion and at times the intersection of all four. This post was one of her strongest, in my opinion, because she took a stand that so many women – not just in Ghana, but globally – are afraid to make for themselves. She left an organization that she examined and concluded as harmful to her as female AND human, and more importantly, was vocal about it. It is for the latter part of that process – speaking up about her decision – that folk have attempted to shame and goad her into silence using pseudo-Socratic thinking and a flurry of rhetorical questions that do nothing to address (or resolve) the issues she raised. And THIS is the frustration that many women face in the church. Those who don’t face it are just refusing to acknowledge it.

The Church at large is notorious for treating women like Tamar. Women bring their gifts, their offerings, their talents and their time into the house of God in good faith. When you look around your church, who’s doing most of the work? The women. They’re organizing events, they’re cooking food, they’re up all night praying, they’re fasting. Meanwhile, men “sit at the gates and boast” of their Proverbs 31 wife. When young/single women enter the church whether through salvation or obligation by proxy of family ties to that church, they are eager to give themselves to the Body. And what does the Church do? Gobble them up; use them; spit them out…just like Ammon did to Tamar. This cycle goes on rinse and repeat, year after year, century after century.

Have you ever found yourself wondering why women who are SO invested in church life are the surliest of creatures? Why Obinim’s wife can sit at the high seat of the church altar and smile while two teenagers are whipped in her presence? It’s because they have become a desolation, just like Tamar. All the love, light and hope that they brought into the church body has been raped out of them by patriarchy, tradition and men’s presumed right to treat women as they will.

This is not Nana Ama’s first time speaking up about the harmful shenanigans that take place in churches all over the country. Likewise, I have also written about the abysmal things said about women by Ghana’s favorite preachers who earn their wealth by shaming and hurting women. Other women in online spaces have spoken up in reaction to these harmful messages as well. It’s not as if, like Tamar, we don’t offer alternative suggestions on how to get along in the house of the King. Could men be kinder? Could they show more charity? Could they consider how their words affect us as their sisters in Christ? Are these suggestions so outrageous that the only natural response is Amnonic in nature – you have to force your will?

And on the other side of these events, the reaction from Bible thumping men, church attending is usually the same:

To shout us down.

To tell us to expect the wrath of God to be visited upon us for touching “His anointed.”

To tell us we’re overreacting because it’s “really not that big of a deal.”

To tell us to shut up.

In short, these Brothers in Christ are doing the very same thing Absalom did to Tamar by telling her to be quiet and not take it to heart. And you know what? It’s easy to advise someone who has been violated physically/emotionally/spiritually to ignore their anguish because you’re not the one who has to live with the trauma day in and out. It’s the path of least resistance, and it never ends in triumph. Tamar lived out her days as a desolate woman in Absalom’s house. Does a single chauvinist understand what that does to a person? I know it’s hard for people to understand what desolation looks like in a woman, so here’s a picture of a city. I hear analogies about rape using jollof, tea and hair cuts are all the rage. Maybe this architectural juxtaposition will connect with someone who just. Can’t. Get. It.

Tamar before, and Tamar after. See? See the difference?
Tamar before, and Tamar after. See? See the difference?

I’ve heard folk counter Nana Ama’s choice to exit the Church with analogies of their own. Do you leave a job because everyone is a hypocrite? Do you stop going to a hospital because sick people are there? The answer is simple: If an organization refuses to clean up its act, then no one has an obligation to utilize its services. Would you continue to work for a boss who slapped you every time you showed up for work? Would YOU continue to seek treatment at a medical facility that washed its tools in feces before administering treatment, despite your protestations and pleading suggestions that they disinfect? Hell nawl.

Nana Ama chose not to live her life as a desolate woman in the house of the King. She broke free. This limb was poisoned and she cut it off. Was it drastic? Perhaps…but it was necessary. Necessary because we live in a time when the Church is still operating in the Dark Ages where relationships between the Holy Ghost and men are concerned. If we’re honest, there are many more women who look at their relationship with their house of worship and know in their heart of hearts that it’s BS. However, fear of a predictable renders them immobile. There’s something about a woman exercising her right to chose that sets chauvinists teeth on edge, sends them careening off the edge of sanity, howling at the wind. Who can reason with someone like that?

I'll cut you with my words before I even THINK of respecting you!
I’ll cut you with my words before I even THINK of respecting you!

There are definitely more subtle ways to fix male-female relationships in the Church that don’t require a total break, but that would require men to do some real work in their own hearts first. But right now, too many are not willing to acknowledge that there is a problem. Like Amnon, they are guided by their desires and presumed right to hurt women in any way they deem fit. In the midst of all this pain, women are expected to keep this family secret. After all, Muslim women are supposed to be the ones who are oppressed, not US Christians. We’re supposed to be ‘free’. What Nana Ama did was expose an ugly truth about what goes on in ‘houses of God’ and like racists who are more invested in controlling reactions of oppressed people of color, Christian chauvinists would have women be silent if they can’t stick to the script. You are more invested in managing the response to being injured than the injury itself!

I hope the Church will reach out in love to Ms. Agyemang- Asante and other women who have left in pain and/or for self- preservation. I hope, but I wouldn’t put money on it. If the comments on her blog and the other sites it was published on is any indication of what’s being taught in Church, it’s not the love of God.