April 21, 2017

It’s never a good day when words can send a chill down your spine.

I had that experience recently when I came across something talk show host Rush Limbaugh said a while back about politics, sex and consent.

“You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element,” he said. “Do you know what that is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine, whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation, then here come the rape police.”

The rape police.

It sucks when they get in the way, doesn’t it?

It would appear that, according to Limbaugh, waiting until both sexual partners consent to the act is unsavory — and unnecessary.

Consent, for those unfamiliar with the term in this context, is what a person needs to get from another person before having sex with him or her.

In other words, it’s a “yes” instead of a “no.”

(When you continue on after someone has said “no,” don’t forget, it’s a crime.)

Limbaugh has had more to say about consent:

“Agreeing on the ‘why’ takes all the romance out of everything. Seduction used to be an art; now of course it’s brutish and it’s predatory and it’s bad.”

And, “How many of you guys in your own experience with women have learned that ‘no’ means ‘yes,’ if you know how to spot it?”

Does that freak anyone else the hell out? It should.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and one thing that’s all too true about sexual assault and rape (and consent) — something that contributes to a lack of understanding about these topics — is that people don’t talk about them or acknowledge them enough.

One of the places where I would say that’s true is in the church.

Some might not see that as a problem. “Obviously you shouldn’t rape, right? Everyone in church knows that. We don’t need to talk about it. No means no. Next question.”

But some statements I heard from women this week suggest otherwise.

A recent online conversation between hundreds of people, aggregated within the hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear, got me thinking that as much as you hear about sex in church — and it can be a popular church topic — you don’t usually hear about consent.

And, by extension, you don’t usually hear about rape or sexual assault.

I grew up going to church. I’ve moved around a lot and, as a result, have attended quite a few churches.

And although I am in no way saying every church has these problems, or every church is full of woman-haters or people who rape or excuse rape — in fact, I have come across churches, including in Carroll, that often do a good job of rising above the problems outlined in these online examples — I absolutely will say that many churches, and many church-goers, send very dangerous messages to men and women.

That includes mixed — or missing — messages about consent and sexual assault.

In just about every church, you’ll hear, “Don’t have sex before marriage.”

You don’t usually hear, “Don’t have sex before marriage, but also, if and when you do have sex, you better make sure you’re having sex with someone who has consented to having sex with you.”

And, equally important, you don’t usually hear, “Don’t have sex before marriage, but also, after you’re married, if your spouse isn’t in the mood for sex or says no to sex, you better not have sex.”

Here’s what you hear instead — again, not always and not at every church. These are quotes from people who contributed to the hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear on Twitter. During the years, at many of the churches I’ve attended, I have personally heard statements similar to most of these. And the few I quote here are just a small sampling of hundreds of similar statements I combed through from people (men and women) who attend or have attended church around the country.

“Sometimes you need to just lay there for your husband.”

“Your wedding marks the transition from you-must-always-say-no to you-must-always-say-yes.”

“What he did to you was wrong but should his whole life and ministry be destroyed because of it?”

“You shouldn’t get a tattoo since if you marry, your body belongs to your husband.”

“Consider your attire. You don’t want to be distracting. It’s a small compromise to make for God, right?”

“We would rather you stay and pray that your abusive husband changes his ways instead of leave him.”

“Well, no, he shouldn’t have done that, but as his wife you must submit.”

“Your husband is abusive? Well, it’s your word against his ... and since he’s a leader ... he can stay.”

“Any response a man has to the clothing you wear is your fault. Keep yourself covered so he can control himself.”

Do any of those bring that chill down your spine?

For anyone nodding along with some of these statements about how women should dress, let me clue you in.

If a woman sees a guy without a shirt, yes, “temptation” is very possible.

In other words, the woman might get turned on.

The difference is, the church doesn’t scold the man for taking off his shirt because it was hot out. The church doesn’t remind him that the woman looking at him can’t possibly be expected to “control herself” and that any sort of attack she then perpetrates is the man’s fault — because it was hot and he took off his shirt.

Because that’s ridiculous, right?

But for as long as I can remember, spaghetti straps, short shorts or skirts, cropped or low-cut tops — worn by women — have been considered “sinful” in many churches. Because you don’t want to “tempt” the men or cause them to “stumble.”

And as for the statements about women’s bodies belonging to their husbands, about married women needing to “lay there,” to “always say yes”?

Anyone at a church who says that, who believes that, has lost my trust in his or her capacity or authority to represent the Bible or God. And I’m far from alone in that belief.

But there’s hope, because through the noise of this conversation on Twitter emerged people who stood up and said, “This is wrong.”

“Reading #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear and feeling sad for all the ways the Church has failed women,” one man wrote. “I want better for my wife and daughter.”

A woman added, “My heart hurts for members of the church who grew up believing that faith and feminism are at odds.”

(A quick refresher: Feminism is advocating for women’s equality and rights — rights to equal pay, equal treatment and equal feelings of safety when walking down the street at night. There are female feminists. There are male feminists. There are Christian feminists.)

This Twitter campaign prompted another, called #ThingsChristianWomenShouldHear:

“As men it is our duty to use our privilege to advocate for women and to give you room to educate us.”

“Your sexual assault wasn’t your fault. You are not worthless. You are not damaged goods.”

“I believe you. I’m sorry our Pastor sexually abused you. It’s not your fault. He is no longer in leadership.”

“You have value apart from any man in your life.”

“You are in charge of your body! Dress in ways that YOU feel comfortable.”

“We see that your voice has been marginalized. We are sorry. Now how do we change it?”

“You can always say ‘no’ to a man’s advances ... even if he’s your husband.”

“We believe you.”

“I’m listening.”

“I’m sorry.”

A whole lot of those statements were put forth online by men.

Because not every church has these problems. Not every church is full of woman-haters. And not every church is full of people who rape or excuse rape.

But too many women can relate to hearing from someone at church, “Lie there,” “Always say yes,” Stay with your abuser,” and “It’s your fault.”

And that’s unacceptable.