Rape in Marriage: A Domestic Violence Awareness Alert

(Trigger warning: rape, abuse, domestic violence)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, also referred to as DVAM. Few people are aware of the extent to which rape occurs in marriage and how it is not only overlooked or tolerated, it is in fact justified.

That makes it hard for those who are being raped in marriage to be believed when they try to report this abuse; it can even make it hard for those themselves who are experiencing it to believe that this is wrong. If you think this might be the case for you, here are some resources to help you. And domestic violence, including rape, can occur in any home, including LGBTQ intimate partnerships. If this might be you, here are some resources to help you.

There’s so much misunderstanding about rape in marriage, and some of it is deliberate to keep the one being abused quiet about this form of domestic violence.

One current example of a political and cultural misconception is here:

It may be easy to dismiss this misconception as an exception due to the high profile of the people involved as well as political and legal implications of association with the word “rape.”

Unfortunately, the church has aided and abetted this misconception. Do a quick Google search for “Bible verses about sex” or “sex for Christians” and one will find no shortage of commentary and resources for church-approved sex. This sex is quiet (i.e. obedient), saved for marriage, only between one man and one woman, intended for procreation, and private. Scratch a little bit below the surface, however, and it will come as little surprise that these sexual values can lead to a culture of shame and violence.

Culturally, messages about sex are becoming increasingly complicated in some healthy ways. Netflix original show Jane the Virgin, for example, is about a young woman who pledges to remain a virgin until marriage and ends up accidentally artificially inseminated. As the story unfolds it engages questions around sex and virginity, love and marriage, and how these things intersect with healthy intimacy and faith.

A positive theology of sex is important to address and change the misguided messages from sex-avoidant theology. Those who follow Jesus have an opportunity to alter the narrative about sex not in spite of their faith but because of it.

We inhabit bodies; we are bodies. Our bodies are not merely ambulatory containers for our brains. They were created good, blessed as images of the Creator, and deemed good. (Genesis 1:27-28, 31) God took on a body in the person of Jesus, blessing bodies through a willingness to inhabit one. (John 1:14) Jesus taught that his coming into the world was so that life may be lived abundantly. (John 10:10)

Jesus touched to heal. Jesus fed people. Jesus took children onto his lap, into his arms, and blessed them. Jesus reclined with his disciples. Jesus looked people in the eye. Jesus broke bread, called it his body, and offered it to his disciples to eat, to take into their bodies. Jesus loved, blessed, and sanctified bodies, particularly when they were condemned by popular culture or the church of his day. Lepers, prostitutes, blind, lame, or demon-possessed, the work of Jesus loved and liberated bodies.

When the teachings of the church give abusers ammunition to dominate, the church sins (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1, and many more). When the teachings of the church shame its members into silence and lies of omission, the church sins. (John 8:31-32) When the teachings of the church deny healthy and abundant living in human bodies, the church sins.

America’s domestic violence crisis is one symptom of evil in this world. A positive sexual ethic can liberate the captives trapped in a cycle of violence. It can set free those in bondage to unhealthy marriages. It can break the chains of shame and silence for those who dare to love and enjoy bodies. Any church professing Jesus as Christ must confess and become a true sanctuary free from any and all violence.

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2 thoughts on “Rape in Marriage: A Domestic Violence Awareness Alert

  1. Bethany, Thank you for taking on this issue so many are unwilling to talk about and for including resources to help those who might see themselves in your words. It is unconscionable that Christians and churches help perpetuate domestic violence and marital rape instead of fighting determinedly to stop it. And the notion that we should feel some shame in having a body should not be scriptural; it should be absurd. As you say, we are bodies. It’s pretty hard to be human without one.

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  2. Bethany, I really appreciate your willingness to tackle this issue and the way in which you frame it. You wrote, “Those who follow Jesus have an opportunity to alter the narrative about sex not in spite of their faith but because of it.” I couldn’t agree more. I didn’t grow up with a very “positive theology of sex,” but really a “sex-avoidant one,” which ultimately did me a disservice. Modesty can be so highly valued and preached (only to women, it seems) that it results in shame, which empowers abusers and perpetuates cycles of violence that must end.

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