Weeks like this tempt me to quit the internet for good. First there were vitriolic, incredibly sexist and judgmental posts about Rachel Held Evans as she continues the rollout of her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Then there were these two strange posts at A Deeper Story and A Church of No People. There were moments of fresh air with these life-giving, challenging words from Suzannah Paul and Kathy Escobar on what feminism is and isn’t. But then last night I heard Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for senator from Indiana, say this:
Pregnancy from rape is a “gift from God” and “something that God intended to happen.” Just to be clear, Mourdock believes that pregnancy is the gift, not the rape itself. But the rape itself was – to use Ryan’s words – the very “method of conception” that resulted in pregnancy in the first place. In other words, the end (pregnancy) justifies the means (rape).I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
Let that sink in.
Is it unsettling for some reason?
Does it make you feel a bit sick?
Then you’re not alone. Survivors of rape and their allies are sick of rape culture, too.
There are only two weeks before elections and another Republican pulls a Todd Akin. For those of you who (desperately tried to) forget the reference, Missouri candidate for senate Todd Akin denied that pregnancies actually result from rape and therefore there is no need for exceptions for allowing abortions. Now Mourdock claims that pregnancies that result from rape are actually God’s plan.
By Mourdock’s logic, the byproduct of rape is only a gift if that byproduct is pregnancy. What about the other millions of women and girls who are assaulted but do not become pregnant? Does it still count as a gift if she gets pregnant from rape, but then miscarries? What about the experiences of men and boys who are raped, too? Since they aren’t female and able to become pregnant, will they miss out on this potential gift?
The most common byproducts of rape are depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide, substance abuse, self-harm, fear, self-blame, sleeplessness, nightmares, triggers, sexual dysfunction, feelings of worthlessness, despair, hopelessness, and even death.
Oh, and pregnancy, too. Right, that’s the “gift” among all of these other byproducts of rape no one ever talks about.
The politicians’ statements on rape don’t cancel each other out as in some mathematical equation. Akin’s denial of the 32,000 pregnancies that result from sexual assault each year in the United States isn’t the minus-one to Mourdock’s plus-one assertion that even rape babies are gifts from God. I truly wish that they did cancel out. There would then be a net zero for the impact of these types of statements.
But the real impact of these statements are not net zero; they are sobering, heart-wrenching, and traumatizing. Take this letter from a survivor of rape in Indiana to Mourdock who, if he wins, would be representing her and her family. Or read this reasoned piece on why we need better literacy on sexual violence. Or this personal story from a survivor of intimate partner violence.
And yet, in measures of self-preservation to uphold the illusion of safety and control, people like Mark Galli at Christianity Today reaffirm that pregnancy resulting from rape is a gift from God, something good that comes from something bad (emphasis mine):
This makes me want to scream even more than Mourdock’s original statement, which says something seeing as his original statement made me sick to my stomach.It almost goes without saying that for Christians, while rape is a terrible thing, in the providence of God, this too can be redeemed, a tragic event from which love can emerge. And yet we live in a society in which many find this view intolerable, outside the bounds — anathema. This is a delicate conversation we're a part of in America, one that requires us to eschew the cheap advice or platitudes of Job's counselors, to be sure. Then again, it may be even more "disrespectful to the survivors of rape" to fail to tell them about the wondrous redeeming power of God, even in the most horrible circumstances.
When politicians and rape minimizers and apologists tout pregnancy from rape as a gift, they are saying something along the lines of: “If you are raped, it’s the worst thing ever because [a narrowly-defined “type” of] rape is horrible! But if you get pregnant from rape, it’s the best outcome possible of the worst thing ever because God can redeem it, plus it’s a way for you to experience the beauty of being female – of having a baby!”
Victims and survivors of sexual assault have been robbed of their bodily agency, autonomy, and voice. They are further re-victimized by the ill-equipped and callous responses from the media, their families, and even law enforcement if they report the crime. A blanket statement of pregnancy from rape as being a gift from God is misinformed at best and traumatizing at worst, and it has no place in modern society, let alone our churches.
The initial commenters on the Christianity Today post seem to agree. One explained:
Along with the above commenter, I believe God has the miraculous power to heal and redeem situations. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself. But just because God created good out of a horrible situation does not mean that the overall situation was good. That would be like saying, “Jesus is the Light of the world so there’s no darkness in our lives anymore.” Not on this side of heaven, folks.I generally agree with you that God can bring good out of horrific circumstance, but that doesn't make God the immediate author of those circumstances. Also, these types of monstrous events shouldn't be seen as God's “usual” means of grace.
Another proposed an analogy that should resonate with us as equally as ridiculous as the “pregnancy from rape is a gift from God!” rhetoric (emphasis mine):
The second comment touches on the crux of why these statements should anger us: it should be unconscionable for any follower of Christ – or anyone really – to repeat empty platitudes like “God will redeem your suffering!” while sitting back and doing nothing to stop the suffering of the poor. When statements like that are divorced from action, it becomes an excuse to preserve our worldview, our privilege, and our power. It becomes a way to justify our inaction, even if it further silences those who have been rendered voiceless.Christians believe that what the enemy has meant for harm, God will turn around for good, but to say this to someone who is in a circumstance that we ourselves could never find ourselves in is not compassionate. Should I, a citizen of the US, say to someone starving in the third world, "God will use your suffering for good," when I will likely never struggle to get enough calories in the USA to stay alive? Should I say such a thing to someone with a genetic disease not in my DNA? Being a woman is not a disease or a straightened circumstance, but women who are raped and become pregnant suffer from a circumstance no man will personally know. It sounds sanctimonious and scornful to hear such pseudo-piety from a man whose job it is to serve the needs of his constituents, including the women in his community. No discerning Christian should accept this politician's statement as a statement of faith. It is pompous sexism wearing a Jesus mask.
Likewise it should be unconscionable to proclaim blanket statements about redeeming the experiences of rape victims while sitting back and doing nothing to stop their suffering. It should be unconscionable to ask prepubescent girls whether they were asking to be molested by their fathers. It should be unconscionable to stand by while 48 women every hour are brutally raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It should be unconscionable to force women to marry their rapists. It should be unconscionable to live in a world where rape exists, where this grave injustice flourishes.
That should make us all sick. It should make us want to do. something. now.
Followers of Christ are taught that faith without deeds is dead and that if we remain silent, we tacitly affirm the behavior of the oppressors. Elie Wiesel, concentration camp survivor and author of the acclaimed book Night, says it this way:
We are the hands of Christ.I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
We are the feet of Christ.
We are the mouth of Christ.
We are the body of Christ.
We are the bride of Christ.
Now let’s begin acting like it. Let’s go forth and set the world on fire.
Photo credit: Lina Smith, Creative Commons