I’m trying to remember a sermon I heard against rape, and I’m coming up blank. I’ve heard sermons about hell in which “don’t you want child molesters to be punished for what they do?” as a way to prove not only the truth of hell, but also that everyone deserves to go there. I’ve heard sermons about girls not being “stumbling blocks” for the boys in the youth group. But rape? Nothing.
Nobody taught me about consent. Nobody taught me my body belonged to me. Nobody taught me that sexual abuse was a thing I didn’t deserve, because, as people who have heard me talk about my former pastor, the word deserve is always put in scare quotes. (We don’t deserve anything except for hell, so be grateful for what you get.)
And as I’ve been thinking about how that could change, and how conservative Christianity needs to start speaking out against rape, and needs to start talking about consent, I realized something.
It can’t. Conservative Christianity and consent cannot function together.
Because what does consent mean when you’re told that you say yes to hell if you say no to God? That you “consented” to hell by refusing to sacrifice your life for him? What does consent mean when a relationship with God means you forfeit all rights to say “no” to him? What does consent mean when sermon after sermon says your body belongs to god, and then your body belongs to your spouse, and that it is a sinful and fallen world that says your body belongs to you?
What does consent mean when you’re supposed to forfeit all self, when you are supposed to give up everything, scrap off every last corner of your identity and fill it instead with God?
What does consent mean when the only rights that matter are those on the conservative Christian political level, and are branded gross entitlement on an individual level?
To talk about consent, to actually have conservative Christians say “your body belongs to you, and you have say over what happens to it” borders – if not downright crosses – the line into the heretical for conservative Christianity. Your body doesn’t belong to you, it never belongs to you – this message was something I received constantly.
And God is only a “perfect gentleman” in the negative. Like in the school shootings. The idea that bad things are happening now because we kicked god out of schools, out of our lives, out of the nation is nothing I haven’t heard all my life. When tragedy strikes, it’s because we wanted to do things “on our own.”
But think about what that says:
This is what you get when you tell God no.
This is what you get when you try to take control of your life.
This is what you get when you think you have autonomy.
I heard those things explicitly. This is the suffering you get when you think you can control your life. When you take your life in your hands, instead of giving it to god. This is the lesson God is giving you so you’ll rely on him. This is proof of God’s love. But all that tells me is that God is the abusive creep clutching onto you, demanding everything from you, and when you tell him no he makes sure to let you go off a cliff. “See? That wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t fight me!”
I’m not sure that consent and conservative Christianity can coexist together. Rape and sexual assault are wrong because of purity reasons, because of property reasons, because of a vague “don’t hurt a child of God” reasons, but no one ever taught me that it was because it is my body and no one is allowed to violate it reasons. I have spent much of my adult life asking Why was it wrong? and I had to figure out the answer on my own, apart from my religious upbringing, because nobody there had answers for me.
This reminds me of a passage from Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge:
Why did God curse Eve with loneliness and heartache, an emptiness that nothing would be able to fill? Wasn’t her life going to be hard enough out there in the world, banished from the Garden that was her true home, her only home, never able to return? It seems unkind. Cruel even.
He did it to save her. For as we all know personally, something in Eve’s heart shifted at the Fall. Something set its roots down deep into her soul–and ours-that mistrust of God’s heart, that resolution to find life on our own terms. So God has to thwart her. In love, he has to block her attempts until, wounded and aching, she turned to him and him alone for her rescue. (pg. 96)…..
It might come as a surprise that Christ asks our permission to come in and heal, but he is kind, and the door is shut from the inside, and healing never comes against our will…He knocks through our loneliness. He knocks through our sorrows. (pgs. 100)
This is conservative Christian consent. God created our loneliness, but will wait on our permission…permission brought about by the inability to handle the pain any longer, pain he purposefully created so that we would come to him. He inflicts the knife wounds, hoards the medicine and waits patiently until we can no longer stand the torture and “consent” to the only “choice” we have to keep us alive.
It’s not a consent that says we have rights to our bodies, it’s a consent that says that God is willing to let us believe we have rights to our bodies, until suffering makes us give it up to him. This is the kind of the consent that conservative Christianity preaches, because it’s the kind that doesn’t conflict with their God.
Because what would actually happen if conservative Christianity started preaching consent?
People might hold conservative Christians accountable.
If consent is preached, people might hold God accountable.
People might think they can tell God no and that the repercussions of that are on God’s hands.
People might start demanding more of God.
People might start thinking they have rights, and start demanding things more of you.
People might start thinking that they should have a say in what happens to them, and that a loving God shouldn’t demand absolute obedience and sacrifice.
People might start thinking that love is not a God who coerces you into obeying him.
People might start thinking that the conservative Christian God they’ve been feed isn’t worthy of following.
Conservative Christianity can’t exist without their conservative Christian God. And their conservative Christian God is anti-consent.