Monday, February 25, 2013

The one time I won't argue

[trigger warning: rape, abuse]

When the church teaches that we belong to God, not to ourselves, does that promote rape?

When the church teaches that people have a need for God, does that imply that abuse is okay?

So maybe it seems like those questions are totally coming out of nowhere- but I'm thinking about them after reading this post: You can’t say no to God: conservative Christianity and consent. The writer, Somatic Strength, says that she has never heard the concept of "consent" taught in church, and without understanding consent, victims of rape and abuse are less able to come forward and say that the rape/abuse was WRONG- so it gets covered up instead. However, she goes on to say that the idea of consent- that YOUR body belongs to YOU and no one else has the right to control YOUR body- is incompatible with the rest of conservative Christianity. Because the church teaches that people have a need for God, and that God may use suffering in a person's life to draw them to himself, and followers of God must completely surrender everything to him.

(Okay first let's define consent. This is like, the most important thing in feminism. Consent is based in the idea that everyone has the right to their own body, and they do not "owe" anyone sex or other physical contact. And if you have sex with someone without their consent, that's rape. And no, being coerced or manipulated into saying "yes" is NOT consent.)

And anyway, Somatic Strength says that conservative Christianity teaches that your body belongs to God- and in fact, God wants us to give up EVERYTHING and follow him. There is no "consent" in one's relationship with God.

But, she says, in order to combat rape and abuse, you NEED people to know that they own their own bodies and no one has the right to make them do anything.

Also, conservative Christianity teaches that people have a need for God, and sometimes God will give you suffering and loneliness until you recognize that need, turn to him, and ask him to save you. (See also Hosea 6:1-2...) And that's suspiciously similar to what abusers do to their victims. Manipulating them into believing that they can't live without the abuser.

And, so the story goes, God does this out of love. So it makes it harder for victims to recognize abuse- they've been taught that God treats us this way, and it's a good and loving thing.

So... this is terrible.

I mean seriously this is terrible.

Because no one should ever be abused. That's obvious, right? I shouldn't have to say that. No one should ever be abused.

It's terrible that there exist destructive churches that perpetuate such harmful messages and cover up abuse. It's EVIL. And we NEED people like Somatic Strength to speak out against what happened to them, because it ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT HAPPEN.

But I have to confess: As I read her post, I wanted to write up a detailed counter-argument, about how it's all an incorrect understanding of Christianity, and ideas like "we belong to God" do NOT lead to those horrible conclusions about rape.

But seriously? How would that help? How does it help, to tell an abuse survivor, "oh, let me explain how that's not really what 'we belong to God' means"? Does that change the fact that people did evil things to her, things that should NEVER HAPPEN?

If I'm rushing to defend the theology faster than I'm rushing to defend the victim, SOMETHING'S WRONG.

No. The correct response is compassion toward Somatic Strength and other victims, and anger at those who abuse and those who perpetuate the lies that help to cover up that abuse. And maybe even anger that Christianity was used to support that evil. But to be angry at Somatic Strength for just reporting what she was taught and how those teachings led to evil- that is the OPPOSITE of helpful.

If I'm upset at what I read in her post, is it because she's criticizing what I believe, or because PEOPLE ARE ABUSING OTHER PEOPLE?

I'd like to think more about what she wrote, about the connection between specific teachings and a culture that tolerates abuse. But I'm not writing about that right now- if I did, I would be dismissing her experiences, unwilling to even consider the possibility that my religion has been used to hurt someone. (And for those of you who like fallacies, it would be the No True Scotsman Fallacy. "Christians did/said this!" "Well, they can't really be Christians, because Christians don't do that.")

So that's all I have to say. No answers or arguments here- just voicing my agreement that abuse is wrong.


  1. I appreciate your heart on this. People matter more than doctrine. Yes.

  2. Love God? You're in an abusive relationship.

    "We belong to God" is most definitely incompatible with a culture of consent. How can it not be? The claim of ownership is made in an unconditional form: it's not "We can belong to God or otherwise as we choose, and if we choose otherwise, God will be cool with that." is it?