Will we ever hear a sermon on rape culture?
[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?