Although we were not intended to be founded on a Judeo-Christian foundation, many fundamentalist Christians believe we were and if they literally apply their Bible, rape is not a sin.
Interpreting the Bible is sort of like interpreting the Constitution. Although Justice Scalia might believe in a “dead” Constitution, that what is written is what is written and it should not be interpreted to make it applicable to current events. For instance, the “cruel and unusual punishments” that the Founding Fathers forbid are the same ones we should forbid today. You can’t decide what knew tortures fit under this category. He is giving all the power to some guys who have been dead for hundreds of years and didn’t even agree amongst themselves about what they wrote.
“Look, society may have changed, but the Constitution hasn’t. The Constitution is the Constitution. It doesn’t change in order to meet the assumed needs of a changing society,” Scalia has said. But at the same time he is for the lifetime tenure of judges which is simply an interpretation of the phrase that says “The Judges…shall hold their Office during good Behavior”
This, of course, is the same thing that goes in the fundamentalist Christian arena. They say the Bible is literally true, yet pick and chose what they want to apply to themselves. Usually this is used to detrimental effect, they pick up the verses that they can interpret to mean homosexuality is bad while dismissing those that adulterers should be stoned. And although “adulterers” which has now been interpreted more broadly as not just those who cheat in marriage but also to those who don’t wait till marriage, although they are no longer stoned, the residual animosity against them remains.
It seems though, in the instance of rape, the opposite has occurred. The Bible never condemns rape, but modern day Christianity has interpreted passages to say it does. Although it is of course great that they see the immorality that exists, there is still residual animosity towards the victim that I think could be said to come from the fact that they follow a “moral” creed that does not condemn the practice and instead sees it as a sign of the submissiveness of women.
So where does it talk about rape in the Bible?
There are numerous passages in the Old Testament where God instructs the Israelites to “ravish” and “rape” enemy women in conflict. This is now a war crime but it not only has a long history, it had a long history to even get it declared a war crime. Just one example of many is Deuteronomy 20:10-14:
As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.
And if that’s not explicit enough for you. God uses rape as punishment for those of “His Children” that don’t follow his rules.
Lo, a day shall come for the Lord when the spoils shall be divided in your midst. And I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle: the city shall be taken, houses plundered, women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be removed from the city. (Zechariah 14:1-2)
Or Ezekiel 23:43-44
Then I said about the one worn out by adultery, ‘Now let them use her as a prostitute, for that is all she is.’ And they slept with her. As men sleep with a prostitute, so they slept with those lewd women, Oholah and Oholibah.
So its only natural that you get stories like that of Lot who offers his daughters to the townspeople to rape. If that was ever talked about at all in my Bible lessons it was made to seem that Lot was unworthy to be saved yet God saved him anyway. When in reality there is nothing negative about him in the text regarding this action.
But you know one major part of the Bible where rape doesn’t make an entrance? The 10 Commandments. The closest we get is “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery” which in this context means you should sleep with your neighbor’s wife because she is his property, not yours. This is further enforced in the commandment “Thou Shall Not Covet” where “your neighbor’s wife” is listed alongside “your neighbor’s house” in things you should be lustful after. We are used to seeing the 10 Commandments simplified into 10 lines but there is a lot of commentary right in the passage itself. Deuteronomy also sheds more light on the subject
When I first came across the somewhat infamous passage in Deuteronomy regarding rape after having been raped myself, I sent a message to my pastor, hoping (in vain) that he could help me figure out what the secret meaning was behind the passage. I had been taught that although the Bible was “literally true”, a lot of passages needed to be interpreted. Which is why we had Pastors and Priests, to study those verses and tell us what they meant and how we could apply them.
In it’s nakedness the verses from Deuteronomy 22 read:
If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife.
If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.
I was appalled thinking these were verses regarding rape. They are not, they are regarding property. The English translators have put in the word rape because that is what is happening but really the first translation is better “have relations with her” because it is not seen as rape in the sense as it being sexual activity without her consent. It is seen as sexual relations with the property of another man without HIS consent.
The woman “who did not cry out for help” is seen as being complicit in the act of devaluing her husband’s property. If she isn’t married, well they don’t need to be stoned because the father was going to give away his property anyway, this man just took it before it was time. He raped himself a wife.
The answer I received from my Pastor was that this no longer applies to use, we are living in the Age of Grace. A term many Christian Leaders use to say, we can pick and chose what rules to follow, because although we can’t say it out loud we recognize that the laws set down in the Old Testament are not really based on moral precepts but on outmoded cultural traditions.
If that were to be said, then one would have to acknowledge that such things as discrimination against homosexuals are outmoded, sexual relations outside of marriage where it does not hurt a third party are outmoded, the Bible itself is outmoded.
But somehow this “Age of Grace” where we can be forgiven for not following all the laws circumscribed in the Old Testament lets us straddle this strange line like Scalia does of interpreting what we also hold to be unalterable text.