As a young Christian woman, my hope is in a God who values affirmative consent.

Over and over in scripture we see a God who calls God’s beloved people. Whether Samuel in the temple (1 Samuel 3:10), Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:38), or the Disciples on the lake (Matthew 4:20) – God waits for the invitation to be accepted.

But that is not the God that is preached from some pulpits.

Instead, from some pulpits God is depicted as invasive and controlling. This kind of preaching that demeans women and girls and counsels submission is a big part of the rape culture that is being exposed in our society through the wrenching testimonies circulating on twitter in #whyididntreport #believewomen and #believesurvivors.

For example, this past Sunday I attended worship at a mega-church with auditorium seating, shining lights, and commercial breaks. The pastor took the stage and preached the following three-point argument based on 1 Thessalonians 5:23:

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound[a] and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. God’s will is for you to be more and more like Jesus.
  2. In order for this to be so it is your duty to allow God to rule the totality of your life.
  3. When you do this, you cannot be accused of anything.

This interpretation is problematic in its own right because it equates sanctification, being set apart as holy, only as becoming like Jesus. This is an entirely limited and narrow view. But, the truly troubling turn took place when he stated that if you do not submit to God in obedience He will take you by force. The pastor told us that if we withhold from God, He will penetrate our hearts. That God will finish what He started so we ought to yield to His will.

This message is rape culture veiled as the Gospel. It is not a far leap to connect obedience to God with obedience to one’s husband. This same church’s statement of belief claims:

“A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband… [she] has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”

If one lacks obedience to God – He can and will rape you. If one lacks obedience to her husband then, by the same line of thinking, he has authority to sexual assault her. The sort of rhetoric described above claims that God does not value consent. That you only have autonomy over your life so long as you surrender. If you do not personal autonomy over body and spirit is stripped away.

This sermon was delivered to a room full of several hundred people on the same weekend that twitter overflowed with conversations of #whyididntreport #believewomen and #believesurvivors following Dr. Christine Blasey Ford disclosure of sexual assault perpetrated by Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh. Though it is possible that the timing could be a coincidence, I am certain that the rhetoric illustrated in this particular sermon and embodied by this church’s belief system creates the foundation for a “Christian” culture which excuses perpetrators of sexual violence and sweeps #metoo stories under the rug.

God will not use you in ways that you do not permit. God wants you and God created you in God’s image, autonomy and all. God calls us into relationship that is filled with mutual respect. God desires to fill your heart with love. God made you, God knows you, God believes you.

If that God were preached from every Christian pulpit it would go a long way toward dismantling rape culture.


  1. Thanks for reporting on your experience in the auditorium seats, Samantha. I’ve often wondered what draws so many people into that context. Perhaps it’s the seductive nature of certainties, which seem to motivate the vision you’ve described. The decision to build a sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:23 can hardly be anything other than a search for that kind of certainty. That verse is part of the closing formula mandated by the ancient epistolary genre; it doesn’t even qualify as content. Writing a sermon on that verse is like writing about the word “Sincerely” at the end of a letter by Martin Luther King: the only reason to do it would be to serve your own agenda, not the letter-writer’s. Besides, in my experience of reality, it simply isn’t true that God will take you by force if you don’t submit. If it were true, the world would be a vastly different place. It certainly wouldn’t be dominated by the likes of Donald Trump, or by any other kind of bully. If we look to the example of the person God became, that pastor’s position dissolves into a power play. It seems incumbent on the leaders of the next religious generation to recover Christianity — and Christians — from that kind of abuse.


  2. Wow powerful perspective! I agree God will never do to anyone what we don’t allow or want. Obedience is a choice, and to serve God is a choice. The beauty of Jesus Christ is he waits for us to respond to the call. Revelations 3:20 says he will stand at the door and knock not kick the door down and take control. Bible says we shall seek ,and find Christ not he finds us and regulates what we do.
    This definitely can be seen in the light as being spiritually raped, and sounds like the preacher feels we have no choice in life as though we’re programmed robots waiting for a new upgrade from God to make our next decision. I mean if this was true then God could force everybody to believe, and could use everybody to fulfill the will of God on earth. Your perspective is very relative to what we see online with men being exposed for their horrific actions toward women in the past.
    I’m definitely happy women have started to stand up ,and speak out about issues many of us have ignored not understanding that masses who have been affected. This issue has been the unspoken damage to many families, friends,and loved ones. It took for a few women to stand strong giving encouragement to anybody hiding in shame. While it is also women who have taken advantage of this time for self gain other strong women who struggled with this issue spoke up because they wanted justice for themselves and others.
    I definitely could see how anybody who has been raped rather man or women could see God forcing his way into our lives as an issue. Then to know this is not what the word says also draws a red flag. God gave humanity choice, and we have the privilege to chose to love God or not.
    Great Post!


  3. I agree that we have this image of Jesus knocking at the door – not kicking the door in. But don’t we also have the experience of God (ie life itself) boxing us in so that we don’t like any of the choices we are offered? Not violated. Not losing our free will. But at times forced to confront our situation / consequences of our choices when that isn’t at all what we “want” to do. I don’t think this is a gendered experience. The two Mary’s and Martha showed up at the tomb not because they were “submitting” but because they were choosing to act within the limited set of choices that they had – choices that they did not want at all.


  4. Samantha, I could not agree more, this is like a boomerang sermon, it comes right back at ya’. The substance of this sermon will continue to perpetuate limited thinking about a God who is expansive and boundless. Process Theology supports that God is relational and working with us as we make our choices, there is no coercion or re gifting of freedom. Thank You for making your point! The pulpit is the place for change, not the place to count change.


  5. Thank you so much for this wonderful piece. I am encouraged myself to become active with matters like this. Only God can determine one’s destiny.


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