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