Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Rape in our Church curriculum

Rape of Dinah, Giuliano Bugiardini

In my last post, I wrote, "I am frustrated that, as Mormons, we aren't doing a better job of teaching young men and women about rape: what it is, what it isn't, what to do if it happens, that being raped doesn't make you dirty or worthless, that rape is fully the responsibility of the rapist and not the victim." In this post, I expand that idea.

Julie Smith recently wrote an excellent post for Times and Seasons titled, "Rape Culture in the Gospels." She brings our attention to specific teachings of Jesus that are profoundly opposed to rape culture. It is important to recognize what the New Testament has to say about respecting women, helping victims, and holding criminals responsible for their crimes.

But try looking for material that specifically addresses rapenot broad Gospel principles, but rape itselfand the scriptures present a painful collection of outdated teachings and heartbreaking stories. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
  • Moroni 9:9. The soldiers in Moriantum rape the Lamanite women that they are holding captive. This is described as "depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue." 
  • Genesis 19:4-11. The men of Sodom surround Lot's house and demand to be allowed to rape his two guests, who are visiting angels. Lot offers his virginal daughters instead.
  • Genesis 34. Shechem "defiles" Dinah, a daughter of Jacob. Modern translations such as the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version use the word "rape." Dinah's brothers retaliate by killing Shechemite males and enslaving their wives. 
  • Numbers 31:15-18.  Moses instructs the army to destroy the Midianites, saving only the young female virgins. Those, he says, you may "keep alive for yourselves."
  • 2 Samuel 13. Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar and is killed by Absalom.
  • Deuteronomy 22:22-27. The law says that a woman should not be punished for being raped, as long as the rape occurred in a field, where no one would have heard her if she screamed.

It is hard to imagine a less helpful set of scriptural passages. But the real shame is that our manuals, in some cases, do further harm:
  • Commenting on the story of Shechem and Dinah, the Gospel Doctrine teacher's manual says, "If Shechem had truly loved Dinah, he would not have defiled her." That is indeed an important principle. But while the word "defile" may have been appropriate in Elizabethan English, it is no longer appropriate today. To "defile" is to sully or to spoil. Words matter. 
  • And here's how the Gospel Doctrine manual describes 2 Samuel 13:15: "Amnon was attracted to Tamar and forced her to commit fornication with him." The manual goes on to give us this contextually inappropriate quote from Elder Gordon B. Hinckley: "I heard Elder John A. Widtsoe . . . say, 'It is my observation that a young man and a young woman who violate the principles of morality soon end up hating each other.' I have observed the same thing. There may be words of love now, but there will be words of hatred and bitterness later." As commentary on the story of a man raping his sister, this is breathtakingly awful. No, Amnon did not force Tamar to "commit fornication." No, they are not examples of young people who violated the principles of morality. 
  • Moroni 9:9 is in the Personal Progress manual as part of the first required value experience for Virtue. Young women are instructed to use this verse to "[s]tudy the meaning and importance of chastity and virtue." To be clear, they are to study a passage of scripture that seems to teach that one's chastity and virtue can be taken away by another person. From a more mature perspective, it is apparent this verse is presenting us with a euphemism: "Chastity and virtue" most likely stand in for virginity in this verse. But if we don't really mean "chastity and virtue" here, then why are we using this verse to teach young women about chastity and virtue? At best, it's confusing. At worst, it teaches girls damaging lessons about sexuality.

We can do better than this. We can be careful to use words that are consistent with our 21st-century beliefs about sexual assault. We can more clearly teach the difference between rape and consensual sex, and the difference between virginity and virtue. It is irresponsibledangerously soto emphasize sexual purity without teaching those lessons.

We don't need to throw out the scriptures, but we do need to provide guidance on language and cultural context for teachers and learners. And we must stop making excuses for any artifacts of rape culture that we find in the scriptures. As a Church, we must prioritize standing up for what's right over defending everything that we read in the scriptures. We are not fundamentalists. We can say, "Not everything in the Bible is of God." That will do far less harm to the faith than trying to reconcile sexual enslavement with the loving God that we know.

And while we're disavowing errors of the past, it is high time that we disavow the devastating statements about rape in Spencer W. Kimball's 1969 book, The Miracle of Forgiveness. We can love and honor President Kimball without condoning the teaching that, "It is better to die in defending one's virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle."

I have great hope that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will more fully engage in the work of educating its members about rape and sexual assault. Rape happens to our brothers and sisters. When we teach chastity without also teaching the concepts of rape, assault, and consent, we are setting up victims for enormous amounts of shame and confusion. We must do better.

I recently wrote about my experience of rape as a BYU student here and here.

4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Thank you, I really appreciated this:

    "We don't need to throw out the scriptures, but we do need to provide guidance on language and cultural context for teachers and learners. And we must stop making excuses for any artifacts of rape culture that we find in the scriptures. As a Church, we must prioritize standing up for what's right over defending everything that we read in the scriptures. We are not fundamentalists. We can say, "Not everything in the Bible is of God." That will do far less harm to the faith than trying to reconcile sexual enslavement with the loving God that we know."

    We so desperately need to smash the "rape culture" that is embedded into Mormon culture.

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  3. I am not sure how one looses his or her virtue. A man or woman can loose their virginity. Virtue definition, moral excellence; goodness; righteousness. Can one act remove someones virtue? The words used to talk about sexual acts and crimes are confusing.

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