Condemning Rape In Religious Circles

rape, sexual assault, leadership, religion and rape

“Consider it, confer, and speak up!” It’s a message that should be heeded by families, churches and communities today.

Last week, President Obama explained why the nation celebrates Women’s History Month each March during a speech at the White House.

“We have people here who’ve been working together to advance women’s equality for decades,” the President said. “That is why we celebrate Women’s History Month – not to get complacent, but to take a moment each year and celebrate the achievements that women have fought so hard to achieve, and to rededicate ourselves to tackling the challenges that remain.”

The prevalence of rape and sexual assault would have to be at or near the top of any list of remaining challenges. According to a 2010 national survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 women have “experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” So, by the way, have 1 in 4 men.

One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Most rapes, an estimated 80 percent, were committed by someone who was a friend, acquaintance, family member, spouse, lover or in some way known by victim.

Younger women and girls are particularly vulnerable – 15 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12; nearly one-third are between 12 and 17; 44 percent are under 18; 80 percent are under 30. Teenage girls 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

Rape is not just a problem in the United States. The New York Times published a chilling story last summer that began with an unnamed 12-year-old girl recounting her rape by an Islamic State fighter.

She said that before he raped her, he told her that the rape was sanctioned by the Quran because she wasn’t a Muslim. She said he knelt beside the bed on which she lay bound, prostrating himself in prayer before raping her. After he finished his brutal assault, he prayed again.

The child said that she told the man he was hurting her. She asked him to stop. His reply was that by raping her he was deepening his relationship with God.

x-ray priestThis fusion of rape and religion is horrifying, but it is not unique. In 2008, Baylor University began an extensive study of clergy sexual misconduct. Its findings are sobering:

  • More than 3 percent of the women who had attended church within 30 days of being surveyed said that a clergy person or religious leader – minister, priest, rabbi, etc. – had made sexual advances or propositions toward them at some point in their adult years;
  • 92 percent of these advances or propositions had been made secretly and by not by clergy persons whom they were dating;
  • 67 percent of the clergy making these advances were married to someone other than the survey respondents;
  • On average, 7 women in the typical American congregation – 400 members or attendees, 240 of whom are women – have been subjected to clergy sexual misconduct.

The Bible also tackles the problem of rape. Judges 19 tells the gruesome story that is remarkably similar to the main portions of the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19.

It revolves around a Levite and his concubine (a wife or lover of secondary status, a “pilegesh” in Hebrew) who stop in an Israelite town to rest during their journey. They are invited by a man to stay in his home. A group of men go there and demand that the man of the house send the Levite out so they can rape him. The owner makes a counter offer of his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine.

Eventually, the Levite forced his concubine to go out to the men. They gang-raped her all night. When the Levite woke up in the morning, he got dressed and left the house. He found his concubine on the doorstep of his host’s house.

“Get up, let’s leave!” he yelled at her in verse 28. She never responded. He loaded her body on his donkey and headed home.

Verse 30 indicates that the Israelites were so horrified by the gang-rape and murder of the woman – and hopefully by the disturbing callousness of the Levite and his host – that they issued a stern warning:

“Consider it, confer, and speak up!” It’s a message that should be heeded by families, churches and communities today.

The reality of rape and its devastating impact must be acknowledged. Survivors, their families, community leaders and clergy need to work together, exploring ways to help survivors find their voices and experience healing.

Then all concerned must raise awareness by speaking out. The public needs to hear first-hand from survivors and their families the damage rape does. Communities need to know that their leaders are committed to protecting women and girls from predators, and to supporting them if they have been raped or assaulted.

Congregations need to know that their churches are safe places. They need to know that their pastors are committed to promoting awareness and healing.

It’s time, as President Obama said, to tackle the challenges that remain.

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