Dear Conservative Christian Leaders:
According to the Pew Foundation, the majority of Americans are members of your churches and look to you for spiritual and moral guidance. I am writing because you have been stunningly and tellingly silent on one of the most pressing moral and social issues we face today: rape. At least twice in the past three months, you have had occasion to speak out about the issue of rape, and you willfully cast those opportunities aside.
The most recent example is the press conference/prayer service that six pastors from your ranks held in Steubenville just two days before the trial of two young men accused of raping an unconscious teenage girl. You cited as the reason for calling your prayer service a desire to end the “discord” that was tearing the town apart. You could have moved the town closer to resolving the conflict by using the moral authority you wield in that community to clarify that inserting anything into the body of an unconscious person is rape. You could have used the occasion to denounce sexual assault in more general terms. Instead, you prayed for mercy for “the alleged victim, the alleged perpetrators of the crime and all those who may have somewhat contributed to it” and urged the town to engage in “amelioration.” Your plea for unity and peace sounded an awful lot like, “Sit down, shut up, and stop talking about rape.”
A more global example is what happened this past Christmas. The world’s attention, prayers, and good wishes were focused on the New Delhi rape victim. As the Pope gave his Christmas sermon, the victim hovered between life and death. But rather than use his time at the world-wide microphone to condemn rape or even to pray for the victim’s recovery, he used the festive occasion to rail against homosexuality.
The problem does not seem to be that you feel shy or squeamish talking about sex. You have talked in exhausting depth about a long list of what you see as America’s sexual sins—everything from pornography to gay marriage. You have written entire series of books telling women how to be pure and other books, such as Every Man’s Battle, instructing men on how to keep themselves from lustful thoughts. And on the other side of the equation, there are countless Christian sex manuals that tell married couples in very explicit detail how to have a mutually satisfying sex life.
Yet, in the thousands of church services that I have attended, in the countless hours of Christian radio I have listened to, and in the hundreds of books I have read by Christian authors, not a single one has exhorted the faithful not to rape. I conducted dozens of Google and Yahoo searches and was unable to find a single instance in which a conservative Christian leader has advocated publicly for consent in sexual interactions.
My second year in Bible College I was intrigued by why no one spoke about rape—not in our ethics classes, not in chapel sermons, and not in the churches we visited. I began asking pastors and professors why they were silent on the subject. I continue to ask that question of the many pastors and priests whom I meet as a researcher. Consistently, I get a variation on one of two answers.
The first answer is usually delivered in a very defensive tone. I am told that you do not need to preach about rape for the same reason that you do not preach against robbing banks. It is self-evidently wrong, and nobody in your congregation would do such a thing.
The idea that all rape is self-evidently wrong is belied by the fact that a significant percentage of Americans do not even believe that penetrating unconscious woman is rape. And the notion that no one in your congregation would do such a thing is equally and obviously false. Google the words rape and Evangelical, or rape and Catholic, and you will discover that not only are many of your flock committing rape, but a significant number of your pastors and priests are committing the crime as well.
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