Will we ever hear a sermon on rape culture?

Tuesday, 12th February 2013 at 21:04 UTC 7 comments

[Trigger Warning: Contains discussion of rape culture and attitudes to rape, but not historical or theoretical examples.]

With the sexual moralising that has gone on over the same sex marriage debate, yet again many churches are discussing the kind of relationships they think are commendable, or even acceptable, within society. Whilst same-sex relationships have been dividing the church for years, the church is often silent on the scandal of sexual violence and rape culture that characterises much of how our culture talks about different-sex relationships.

For those unfamiliar with the term, rape culture is usually defined as something like the pervasive trend of sexual violence towards women and the excuses made to defend it in our culture. It rears its head in lots of ways, from sexual violence in popular culture and people asking authors when their female leads will get raped to the victim blaming that commonly follows a rape allegation. All of this should be seen as unacceptable by the Church, and yet we hear almost nothing about it.

This ought to be a no-brainer for the church. Surely we all think that rape is an attack on the image of God in a woman, that it is an affront to God’s desire that we enjoy life in all its fullness? Even if you see women’s roles as complimentary to men, and therefore don’t accept that women can be bishops or church leaders, and even if you think marriage should be between men and women, and even if you think sex should only be within the context of marriage, surely rape is rape, and sexual violence is wrong. If we’re going to pick issues to moralise on, why can’t we agree to lift our voice on this one?

I suspect there are a few reasons for this. To start with, most preachers are male, meaning that rape is probably not something most preachers fear. For some, its probably an issue they feel unable to address, far beyond their experiences. True, so many services are now ‘child friendly’ that its not always possible to tackle a tough topic head-on like this. And a few clergy think discussions of sexual abuse must automatically be an attack on them, believing that child protection legislation is specifically aimed at facilitating false allegations against them.

I remember my earliest encounters with the idea of rape as follows: men who love women will marry them before having sex with them, whereas men who just want pleasure will try to have sex with them even if they don’t want to. There is so much wrong with this, but let focus on the lack of a concept of consent. Marriage isn’t a statement of consent and loving someone doesn’t mean you consent to sex with them. The assumption that sex in marriage is good and sex outside marriage is bad is pretty dangerous; its why marital rape wasn’t even a legal thing until quite recently. It also lends itself rather easily to blaming the victims of rape for promiscuity.

Another area where the church is stuck for comment is the wider cultural prevalence of rape and sexual violence. OK, so sexual violence in computer games gets a mention, but only because it confirms ‘what we all know’ about computer games. Lad culture barely gets a mention, despite how obviously problematic it is, and how easy it ought to be to condemn. Disturbingly, I’ve encountered Christian men thinking that joining in with the bants (cringe) is how to achieve the long desired ‘relevance’ that Christianity lacks. It really isn’t – I could write an entire second blog post purely on this area.

I want to see a church that leads on speaking out against rape culture, but I fear it’s going to be a long time before we hear sermons talking about this aspect of our society. If the church still has a voice in society, surely this is an issue around which it should use it?


Entry filed under: Church, Culture, Media, Women.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. fragmentz  |  Wednesday, 13th February 2013 at 9:43 UTC

    yes, yes, yes and yes!
    thank you for putting your head above the parapet with this blog.

    some of us try and try to speak out and have this topic on the agenda, and its really encouraging to see more and more people also gaining a voice, and being willing to start thinking about talking about topics that generally are not out in the open.

  • 2. Helen  |  Wednesday, 13th February 2013 at 16:43 UTC

    Good post, Graham. I have mixed feelings about the sexual morality I learned from church – on one hand, I’m really grateful that I had none of the icky purity balls (pun intended), chastity was seen as being for everyone, not just girls, and there was no “if you don’t have your virginity, you’re ruined”. Additionally, church seemed to talk more frankly about sex than school ever did… But on the other hand, virginity before marriage was still seen as essential at church and neither church nor school ever talked about rape or consent when I was there. So fail.

    I think it would be really refreshing to talk about sexual morality using Shakesville’s “How to Fuck” as a guideline (can’t find the post, it was something like “find consenting partner or partners, use whatever protection you both/all feel comfortable with, enjoy yourselves”).

  • 3. Greg  |  Sunday, 17th February 2013 at 22:26 UTC

    Would you like to give some examples of what counts as rape culture? There are few worse fates I can think of than being branded a rapist, or any sort of sex criminal, in Britain today. I’d say it comes one tiny step above muderer in the street cred ratings, possibly sometimes slightly worse. Ask virtually anyone who is not criminally psychopathic whether rape is a good thing and they’ll say “No!”

    So men watch porn, yes. It’s not good, in fact it’s sinful, but that doesn’t mean that they’re condoning rape, it just means they’ve got normal libidos. If you suggest that it makes them apologists for rapists in any way, shape or form, you’re going to get a lot of backs right up and no-one is going to listen to what you say, except maybe a few hardy souls in the choir.

  • 4. helenspeaks  |  Thursday, 21st February 2013 at 21:22 UTC

    Greg, here’s an example for you… In a study of 1882 college students that asked questions such as “Have you ever attempted unsuccessfully to have intercourse with an adult by force or threat of force?” (avoiding use of the word rape), 120 men admitted to rape or attempted rape. That’s 6%, just over 1 in 20. Which is actually rather terrifying. Especially when you consider that this was for a self-reporting survey, suggesting that people might not be entirely honest.


    Secondly, as the Assange case shows quite clearly, a popular man can admit to having sex with a sleeping woman and he can be defended all over the world. Even though sleeping women can’t consent.

    No one wants to be called a rapist but that doesn’t mean that people don’t rape.

    Thirdly, “There are few worse fates I can think of than being branded a rapist, or any sort of sex criminal, in Britain today” – yes, false accusations are shit, and apparently studies show that 4% of rape allegations are false… which means that 96% aren’t.

  • 5. Greg  |  Sunday, 28th April 2013 at 18:37 UTC

    Helen, sorry but I’m ashamed of you.

    “Apparenly studies show that 4% of rape allegations are false” – use of the word “apparently” is odd as it indicates you don’t know but are reporting hearsay, which would imply that you don’t care enough to check facts on such a serious issue. That would seem strange, so strange that I did my own research. The results? I found several figures, most higher, some lower but none of them 4%.

    So, not only are you unquestioningly passing on hearsay because it suits you, you’re propagating misinformation, and that never helped anybody.

    Please, prove me I’m wrong by giving me a reference for the 4%. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to conclude that you don’t care about the issue, instead you’ve joined the ranks of Grahams who just like the sounds of their own voices. Sad and strange, but logically unavoidable.

  • 6. lizziegawen  |  Wednesday, 27th November 2013 at 21:45 UTC

    I did a sermon recently and mentioned I was a rape survivor. I found it nerve wracking, but it went down well and I’m glad I did it.

    It’s a difficult thing, because I didn’t want to cause other survivors distress. You never know who they are! You also don’t want to be narcasistic in sharing.

    Its a hard subject and I would like to see more people to address the issue in Church. Seeing someone who has survived and moved on in life is helpful and inspiring. Breaking myths around rape is also important.

  • 7. lizziegawen  |  Wednesday, 27th November 2013 at 21:52 UTC

    I did a sermon on Sunday and spoke as a rape survivor. I found it nerve wracking, but I’m glad I did it. We need more people standing up and speaking out on this issue.

    Its difficult, as I didn’t want to trigger anyone else with PTSD, but you can’t not say anything for this reason alone. I appreciate men speaking out on the issue. Thanks Graham.


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