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.
- God’s will is for you to be more and more like Jesus.
- In order for this to be so it is your duty to allow God to rule the totality of your life.
- 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.