Monday, August 5, 2013

Can we talk about how the Bible has a little bit of a rape problem?

If you asked people, "what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say, 'leather belt'?" You'd probably have a few people tell you it's a useful item for keeping your pants up. Some would probably tell you it's a cute accessory. But for a few, the first thing that comes to mind would probably be something along the lines of  "the misguided parent's weapon of choice." Because those few were probably children of whose parents thought beating their child with a belt was somehow appropriate, responsible, and effective discipline. A belt isn't actually a weapon, but it can certainly be used as one.

The Bible works the same way. You'll have some people who will say, it is a useful tool (for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, natch). Some people would say it's a book with some interesting stories, poetry, and stuff (if that is your thing). And some people would drop an angry, four-letter word in their response. Because like the group that was beaten with a leather belt, these people had a misguided person use the Bible to hurt them in some twisted hope that it would make them a better person. Lately, I feel like I fall into that last group.


At least, I want to believe that is what is happening: that the Bible isn't actually a weapon, it's just that some people are using it as one. {Like in my church growing up, where they used it to teach us how, in spite of being baptized and all that, you (and your friends and family!) might still be going to hell.} I kind of hope the Bible is useful or something but it is just being used inappropriately to hurt, oppress, and silence people. But what if the Bible isn't like a belt, but it is just straight-up like a gun? I mean, what about the verses about murder and genocide (especially the parts where "their little ones will be dashed to pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open."). And then there is slavery. And don't get me started on the gender and sexuality issues in the Bible. And then, there is rape. Something that has been bugging me lately is rape in the Bible. It is all kinds of messed up (not that slavery and dashing toddlers to pieces isn't epically messed up as well).

There has been some great stuff written recently about abuse, and how the church could handle it a little better (or maybe not perpetuate it, cover it up, etc. etc.). But it is almost hard to blame fundamentalist Christians for the way they handle abuse. From reading the Bible, you'd hardly even know it is a thing. Or at least a bad thing.

There are a few big issues with the Bible and rape. First is, the way it appears to condone and normalize it. The Bible describes many situations where women are  raped or entire ethnic groups are forced into what Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD calls, "rape marriage." And these "women" who were forced into these marriages? They were usually pre-pubescent. So it is not "just" rape, but child rape. While I don't like to get into the business of ranking abuse, I have to say that I find child rape extra sickening (a child doesn't understand how wrong it is, how it is not their fault because many, in fact, have been conditioned to believe that adults hurt them precisely because they did something wrong to "deserve" it; *cough* don't spank your kids *cough*). The thing is, the Old Testament has over half a million words in it. You'd think that it could spare a dozen or so to say, "and God said that sh** is messed up, so stop it." See how easy that was?? 

Dr. Gafney discusses tough texts in the old testament at 33min mark 
(but the tough texts in Islam and Judaism are interesting too, if you have 78 minutes to spare)

The second issue is that the closest the bible gets to condemning rape actually makes the situation worse. First, it appears that only virgins can be raped. Because patriarchy. Basically, ensuring paternity was more important to Bible dudes than actual, living, breathing, suffering women. Second, women seem to be punished for being raped (with a forced marriage to their rapist or by being stoned to death). Or, in the case of Bathsheda, her infant son was killed because of the rape and murder committed by David (a "man after God's own heart," WHAT?!). Again, the concern here is with men and their line of progeny. Women aren't even an afterthought. It is almost like they aren't even human. I mean, WTF, Bible?

The final issue is that the Bible is so ambiguous about the topic of rape that it opens the door for religious conservatives to rapesplain (which never works out well for them, but when has something like a little evidence ever stopped an illogical republican?).  You'll see lots of stupid comments on this topic claiming: that's not really rape because she's married/didn't try hard enough to stop it!/must have really wanted it. Like MAKE IT STOP.  (if you can get into translation-related explanation, then I'll listen. but if you're just a rape apologist, kindly save it.) Listening to these people is almost as bad as reading the Bible. Ugh. And not Paul or a single one of his New Testament friends could stop for a moment to say, "rape is bad, you guys. Don't do it." But he had plenty of time to tell women other unhelpful crap.

This comment is from The Blaze. Glenn Beck's website where crazy conservatives go to vomit stupidity on each other and roll around in it like pigs. Lucky for us, the blaze is starting an 'in defense of the bible thing.' According to this lady, commenting on their first post in the series, date rape is legal?? And also, women you get raped because you LEAVE THE HOUSE. hashtag, victim blaming.  Let's ignore the fact that girls are most at risk for being raped by relatives (who generally live with or visit them) and that most rapes happen in the home. That includes lots of girls in the Bible. so much to hate here, I just. I can't.

In conclusion, could somebody please help me make sense of this? Show me how the Bible is actually a useful tool and not just a weapon? Because it is really hard for me to get behind a religion that gets behind a book that treats rape like an inconvenience for men, at best, and a sin of the survivor, at worst.

Related: Rape is God’s problem, too



  1. Hi,

    I just wanted to offer a couple of thoughts--nothing comprehensive, by any means.

    1. Not one passage that speaks to rape condones it or encourages it. The Bible makes mention of sexual immorality in countless instances and it is always viewed negatively, and labeled as sinful. Since the Bible never condones rape, it only speaks to how people are to respond to it when it does occur. This includes the nation of Israel, the rapist, the victim, etc.

    2. Living in the times in which we do, it is easy, of course, to read our present circumstances and views into events that occurred in the past. For example, we take for granted that women (at least in America) enjoy identical (in principle, not always in reality, of course) rights, autonomy, opportunity, etc. as men do. However the events from scripture occurred in an entirely different cultural setting.

    One aspect of this culture was women's dependency on men for their livelihood--most women would be essentially "destitute" without a man to provide for them. The Bible doesn't necessarily prescribe that this is the way it should be, but rather assumes that this is the way that it is. Also, a woman's "purity" (or virginity) was a measure of their worth, so most men would not have wanted anything to do with an "impure" woman. However, a woman being married to a man was actually a provision of security--if she is "impure" and they are married, the woman is not left destitute and in fact is given care, security, etc. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 speaks to this idea.

    3. There are instances in which some punishment is mentioned as a result of some sin, such as David's child dying as a result of him sleeping with Bathsheba. When these instances are mentioned, it is always in the context of God's judgment of the people in question, not people's judgment of others. God's people weren't given free reign to just execute people or exact some judgment as they see fit--God commanded specific judgment in specific instances and He is the only one with legitimacy to do so because He is the only one who is omniscient, knowing our hearts, motives, future actions, etc.

    Again, I'm not offering up anything ground breaking or comprehensive, but I hope these thoughts are helpful to you as you are evaluating the text. :)


    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. I guess my issue is that I don't see rape as an issue of sexual immorality, as I don't see rape as "sex." Also, I couldn't find any verses that demonstrated that the behavior was not approved of by god.

    2. To clarify, rape would be sexual immorality on the part of the rapist. Even if it may not necessarily involve "sex," it is sexual in nature.

      Here's a website that mentions many of the passages related to sexual immorality and rape specifically:

      Deuteronomy 22:23-29 speak to the consequences of rape (for the rapist). They don't state explicitly that it is wrong, but it is implicit like many passages in the law in Deuteronomy. It doesn't say "this is sinful," but rather says something to the effect of "here is how this person is to be dealt with when they do X," so it is implicit that the action is wrong.