At the moment, I’m in the middle of trying to write a book on gender based violence, and how we help our young people aim for healthy relationships. As you can imagine, writing this in a church based context is somewhat – fraught. Given the pluarality of views within the church on things like homosexuality, sex before marriage – the list goes on – trying to write in a way that includes everyone feels somewhat tricky!
What (I hope!) is beyond argument is that the church needs to speak out on Gender Based Violence. Asone of the biggest non governmental organisations around, we have a huge influence. So that being said – why have we been so silent for so long?
I’m a sexual assault victim. I’m not brave enough to go into that in too much detail on a public blog, but it’s true. Though it was many, many years ago, the scars are still there. I spoke recently with a friend of mine who was repeatedly abused as a teenager. Most people didnt know about it. On the outside she was a happy, shiny little evangelical – and on the inside, she was afraid to go home at night. She said this –
“I guess I didn’t tell anyone, because it was church – I mean, I couldn’t talk about sex at church! Sex was icky and nasty and something we were only supposed to do once we were married. I remember one youth leader comparing our bodies to toothbrushes – which guy wants to use a used toothbrush? Stuff like this made me know, deep down, that sex was shameful. And if it was shameful, then I was shameful. Broken and damaged and all used up. And if no man would ever want me – how could God?”
Please don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for talking about sexual ethics in church. There’s a place for talking about sex in general at church. But we seem to have created a very scary situation.
On the one hand, sex is scary and disgusting. Good kids NEVER do that. Which is all very well if you’re a good kid, but what if you’re not? What if you’ve had sex already? Or what if you’ve been forced into it? Are you somehow beyond the pale?
On the other hand, sex is an important and integral part of marriage. We should be serving our partners in this way. Which is great – but what if you can’t? What if your sexual history is so broken and painful that even to contemplate sex makes you tremble in fear?
We can fall into other traps too. The idea that wives need to submit to their husbands in everything – including sexual desires. One megachurch pastor even said that fellatio was biblically mandated. Interesting how talk like that always tends to be about wives submitting to their husbands – the bit about mutual submission gets conveniently left out.
I’m not saying that the church is responsible for sexual violence. PEOPLE are responsible for sexual violence. I do worry that our attitudes and words can contribute to a situation where people simply feel they can’t speak out. Jesus was pretty good at giving a voice to the voiceless. It’s probably time we thought about doing the same.