Rape is God’s problem, too

So, the following submission was rejected by HuffPost. Since rejection, too, is joy, I’m posting it here.

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Quick – which famous religious personality voiced this angry tirade: “Remove your veil, take off the skirt, uncover the thigh… Your nakedness shall be uncovered, your shame will be seen; I will take vengeance”? Or this: “It is for the greatness of your iniquity that your skirts are lifted up, and you suffer violence… I myself will lift up your skirts over your face, and your shame will be seen”? Or this: “She did not give up her whorings… in her youth men had lain with her and fondled her virgin bosom and poured out their lust upon her.Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, for whom she lusted. They uncovered her nakedness… and they killed her with the sword. Judgment was executed upon her, and she became a byword among women”?

Yep, you guessed it: The God of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures (Isaiah 47, Jeremiah 13, and Ezekiel 23). The translations of these shining examples of victim-blaming are clear enough, despite the old-fashioned language: I’m angry and you’re going to suffer for it. You deserve to be raped because of your sexual exploits. You’re a slut and it was just a matter of time till you suffered the consequences. Let this be a lesson to you and to all other uppity women.

While Christians, when faced with rape stories, might find it convenient to point fingers at others’ misogyny, our energies would be better spent looking into our own traditions. The sacred text that functioned to justify the genocide of Native Americans, as well as centuries of enslavement and oppression of African Americans, also functions to justify the oppression of women. The God of the Bible, if not a rapist himself, is at best an accomplice and a wife batterer, explicitly using violence to control his “wife” in hopes of beating her into submission and making her grateful that he loved her enough to choose her as his one and only. (Christians who protest that the New Testament God is much nicer than the Old Testament God have much more work to do; they will not get off the hook so easily.)

Some might blame the prevalence of rape on the godlessness of American women, e.g., if they were at home instead of out walking around where men could see them, they wouldn’t get raped. It is certainly true that there are some behaviors that may contribute to a woman’s chances of being raped – like, for example, entering a “rape factory.”  But when it comes to causing rape, there is not a single behavior among victims that even comes close to the behaviors of perpetrators.   As one brave survivor puts it, “We need to put responsibility where it lies: on men who violate women, and on all of us who let them get away with it while we point accusing fingers at their victims.”

Rape has always been with us Americans, deeply intertwined with our religious beliefs and cultural practices. We just didn’t call it rape back when women were actually or effectively the property of men; until 1865, an American man could rape his slave with impunity; until the 1990s, he could also rape his wife. Sadly, it seems that a minority of American men are still getting used to the idea that rape is no longer their birthright – to the tune of one rape every two minutes.  (Perhaps that isn’t surprising, since even today, fewer than 10% of rapes are ever prosecuted and only about 3% of rapists actually go to jail.)

What are Christians doing about this? Are we denouncing from the pulpit the violence and misogyny of our sacred texts and communities? Are we lamenting and apologizing for our tradition’s long history of using God as an excuse to murder, abuse, exploit, or marginalize those who don’t fit neatly into our clubs? Are we educating girls and women about the fullness of their humanity? Are we offering services for rape victims, male and female? Most importantly, are we educating boys and men about the importance of not raping?

Sadly, I would guess the answer to most of these questions is somewhere between “sort of” and “no.” Rape is not a topic for polite conversation, much less for Sunday mornings. And calling out the God of the Bible for his inexcusable behavior is dangerous indeed – you see, after all, what happens to those who refuse to submit.

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If you’re still reading, here’s my question: if you’re part of a church, what is the “good news” regarding rape in your congregation? What are the teachings, and what are the practices, that are working toward ending sexual violence? (And just fyi, here’s a nice piece by Jimmy Carter decrying his lifelong religion’s treatment of women.)

11 thoughts on “Rape is God’s problem, too

  1. Thank you for this timely article, and for the link to Jimmy Carter’s as well. A conversation that needs to keep happening…

  2. I arrived here through Soraya Chemaly’s RT of this post. Thank you so much for your thoughts. I am a Christian and a feminist who writes frequently on rape/sexual assault and its connections with modesty/purity culture and a view of God that is more abusive partner than loving savior. While my faith has certainly been shaken in uncovering how rampant abuse is WITHIN the church, I stand firm knowing that some of the loudest voices do not represent MY God, a God of justice and love, not victim-blaming and evil.

  3. Pingback: » Rape Culture, God and the Bible The Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D.

  4. The Bible does teach that women have the “fullness of humanity”–in Genesis 1:27, it says both men AND women are made in the image of God. Children are supposed to honor not just their father, but their mother as well.

    And if the Bible is as sexist as you think, why is it that when Christianity came to places like Korea, women gained more rights? (I’m a Korean-American Christian)

    “If you’re still reading, here’s my question: if you’re part of a church, what is the “good news” regarding rape in your congregation?

    In Heaven, when we get to be with God, there will be no such thing as rape, violence, etc. Everything will be good again, like in the Garden of Eden.

    What are the teachings, and what are the practices, that are working toward ending sexual violence?”
    My church members and I have gone to screenings of documentaries of the sex trafficking industry, and have raised awareness and donated money to end it.

    • Thanks, DKJung. I agree with you about women and men in Genesis 1, but there’s no denying that Genesis 2-3 tends to be much more popular and better known. I am glad you see Christianity as having had a positive influence in Korea; that probably has something to do with the fact that it arrived there fairly late in its development – in the modern era, right? And it’s true that many of the Korean-American Christians I know are much more progressive with regard to women than many white Protestants. Glad your church is working toward justice – I certainly hope women don’t have to wait to die in order to get it!

  5. Hello All,
    I don’t know if this is the correct forum to have this discussion as it appears that people in abusive situations will read this without the full understanding of God’s Word and who He Really is. We need to remind readers and people in these situations that God wants you to live a saved, righteous life, and being abused and raped is not included in that plan.

    The scriptures referenced are taken out of context and will confuse the reader who does not know the Bible and does not have the background that other Christians have. The Bible does not tell us that we deserve what we get, the Bible teaches us to love and to lead people to Christ so that the Kingdom can be glorified. The Bible warns us that if we continue to live a life of darkness, then we will be surrounded by darkness. It is up to us to seek Christ, who is the Light of the World, in order to escape that darkness.

    These verses that are referenced are taken from books where prophets are describing the state of three different cities and is tasked by God to warn these cities of the destruction that their sinful ways will bring them. He is using the sisters in Ezekial and the prostitues in Jeremiah and Isaiah as analogies to help us visualize the sin and the lust that these cities are subjecting themselves to.

    In all three visions, the cities are defiling themselves by worshipping other gods, exploiting themselves and allowing ungodly people to trample all over them for the sake of pleasure and wealth. The prophets are warning these cities that if they do not cease this behavior and this way of life, then they will reap that destruction that they are sowing. These cities are being compared to prostitues because the people of these cities consider themselves to be righteous and upright. The prophets are telling them that actually, they are being sinful and their priorities and their agendas are in favor of darkness and not in any way a representation of the God that we Serve.

    God tells us in his Word that He is God and He is good and all of His Goodness is within us and we can live blessed lives. He tells us in Deuteronomy 32:36, that he will vindicate us when he sees our strength is gone, and he will be our help and our rescuer. Isaiah 40:29 tells us that God gives power to the weak, and strength to the powerless, so if you are suffering any abuse then God WILL strenghthen you and you will come out of this. John 9:2-3 also tells us that our suffering is not always caused by sin, but “we must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” Which means that once we realize that we have a job to do, we must do it so that we can come out of that situation. Once we realize that we are not meant to suffer abuse from other people, and that we are made for greater things, then we must seek God and work hard to leave that situation so that we can do a greater good in others.

    If you’re still reading, I appreciate your time and I hope that you will take the time to research the referenced scriptures to gain a better understanding for yourself.

    Many of us have a testimony that includes abuse and we can all provide a new way out for someone else, but It is important to remind people that where we are right now, is not where we are meant to be and not where we will stay. Our God has a greater purpose for us, and no where in the Bible is that purpose to be raped and abused.

  6. Read Phyllis Trible’s account of the rape of Tamar in class this morning with students with your various curated reflections on rape in our society rattling through my head. Maybe it’s time we started preaching that text.

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