I am asking this question in light of the recent cases of rape involving student athletes. My question doesn’t really have to do with the cases themselves for the most part, but that they served as a spring board for a conversation my wife and I had.
My dear wife, Julie, had been talking online with a group of her friends about the cases. In the course of the topic it had come up about how to prevent rape. If you Google “rape prevention” you will find some excellent hints and tips for women. One of Julie’s friends asked, “but what about for guys?” When Julie first told me this I jumped to the reality of men being raped (which does happen); but, no, the question was how can guys prevent rape from happening to women. Or in other words, they meant how not to rape. I will admit when I first heard this my reaction was to be upset that they were treating all men as if they were rapists. Outrage culture has made me rather sensitive and prone to seeing false accusations. My wife was quick to say, “No, you’re a nice guy. You were always careful to take me into account.” Slightly mollified we were able to continue the conversation. Yet, while I was pleased to hear my wife say she thinks “I am a nice guy.” I still, though, did not feel like a nice guy. And this is where I get to my question. Have Christians enabled the Rape Culture?
I know myself. The student athlete could have been me. I have been in that place of being around a woman who was out of her mind drunk. I will come back to this story later, but to put minds at ease I helped make sure she stayed safe. However, if things had been different my story could have been the student athlete’s story and it’s not because I had parents who failed to instill values and cared more about external prestige. The reason I say it could have been me is because I learned good behavior from the school of thought of how far can I go before I sin. This is the school of thought that says if you think it, it’s ok so long as you don’t do it. It’s the school of thought that says you can run right up to the line and maybe put a toe across and still be a good person. It’s the school of thought that dismisses locker-room talk as boys will be boys. When we were taught sex-ed by the well-meaning school counselor it largely boiled down to this “how far can I go without having sex.” Essentially, this is asking what can I get away with but still have my fun. This is not a wise course. In fact, in the depraved mind of sin sick people it quickly becomes “it’s not wrong if I don’t get caught.” For most of us, it manifests itself in the snatching of a cookie from the jar when no one is looking, or speeding on the highway when the cop isn’t around. Occasionally though, it results in a young man raping an incapacitated young woman and then running when he is caught.
We, Christians, have adopted that question, “How far can I go before I sin?” I hear it all the time in the form of question like “Is it a sin if I ______?” In Bible Studies it is not unusual to have a whole series of questions that are essentially an attempt to draw a logarithmic graph coming ever closer to zero without ever crossing over zero. And so I wonder, have we Christians enabled rape culture by adopting this line of question? To some extent, I think we have. Please don’t hear me saying that we have condoned rape. We do not. I was taught, and I know that we still teach rape is wrong. Rather, I think we haven’t done our part to stifle rape culture by adopting worldly thinking rather than Biblical thinking. In doing so, I think we have in a sense enabled rape culture without meaning to do so.
So, biblically thinking, how should we be thinking. Solomon, still the wisest man ever wrote:
Proverbs 7:1–27 (ESV) My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and call insight your intimate friend, to keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words. For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, …With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life. And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
Solomon uses this story teach wisdom in living life. The seductress is the personification of foolishness and temptation. And Solomon illustrates that when the you act foolishly you place yourself into temptation and temptation is incredibly powerful. So, powerful in fact that we will gladly walk to our doom none the wiser. So, Solomon’s advice is don’t even go down the road of temptation. Rather than asking how far can I go down the road he says, don’t even turn down it. Walk on the road to wisdom and embrace her. Essentially, the passage is about the folly of our question “how far can I go before its wrong.” Solomon makes it very clear the question is “which path is wise?” and the answer to the question is go down that path.
How can we apply this to the situation at hand and reverse our unintentional enabling of the rape culture? We start asking which is the path of virtue. In other words, how can I love my neighbor. When we read the explanations to the Ten Commandments we find that not only does Luther explain how we sin in regards to this commandment, but also how the commandment translates into the positive action of loving our neighbor and God. Using the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder” we can see that hurting our neighbor goes against the commandment as thus is sin. And at the same time, we can see that in accordance with the commandment we should actually help our neighbor, defend our neighbor from harm and protect them.
We can begin to end our enabling of rape culture by teaching how to be good to my neighbor rather than how far can I go before I sin. Essentially, we teach boys how not to be a rapist by teaching them how to love their female neighbors. The ancient practice of chivalry was such an attempt. And to some extent it could behoove us to adopt the idea of this code as the code good men live by. I know it won’t be perfect, nothing we establish will. However, it is worth pursuing an ideal that benefits our neighbor. I said earlier that I was in a situation that if it played out different I could have been just like the swimmer from Stanford. A female friend of mind decided to celebrate her birthday in the sadly stereotypical manner of going on a pub crawl and drinking until she is too plastered to walk straight. Looking back, I’ll be honest, I wish I hadn’t gone a long with it. Friends shouldn’t let friends drink in such a fashion. I regret this part, but I don’t regret other parts. My friend proceeded to get very drunk that night. We stopped her when she tried proving she was sober and took her back to the dorm room that served as my group of friends communal living room. There we spent the rest of the night holding her hair out of the toilet. What didn’t happen was any of us taking advantage of her. In my case, what held me back was the fact that I knew it would be wrong. It would hurt her. While I had been brought up with the question “how far can I go before I sin.” I was also brought up with the idea that men protect those who can’t protect themselves. She was in no position to protect herself, so I stuck around to make sure she was safe.
Christians, we need to emphasize in our teaching how can I love my neighbor not the idea of how far can I go before I sin. We identify what is sin and temptation so that we can take the road that leads away from them. And we do so not because it will save us, but because our neighbor needs us to go down that road. Women, and men for that matter, need us to walk down the road that seeks to love our neighbor. They need us to teach our children to be the one who sees the young lady passed out in alley and calls for help. We need to teach our children that we sacrifice our time and our habits for the benefit for the other. In days past a brother wouldn’t dream of letting his sister walk alone in the dark and I think we need to return to that. We teach our sons and our daughters to follow the path of wisdom and not the path of folly and temptation.