Trigger warning: rape, abuse, sexualized violence.
One of my blogger-jokes is that I like to think about and write about the stuff we don’t usually discuss in polite company – things like marriage and religion and politics, for instance. But I have to say I’ve never in my life considered or entertained the idea of writing about a topic like this. To those of you who need to avoid this topic or to click away because it will violate your peace of mind or heart, please do so with my complete understanding.
But my conscience won’t allow me to remain silent, I’ve got a fire in my bones today.
I read it. Oh, yes, I read it. I read Jian Ghomeshi’s statement about his firing from the CBC. I have loved Q for years. My sister and I both listen to it and we swoon regularly over the opening essays, over the thoughtful and deep interviews, over the brilliance of the contributors and, of course, the host, Jian Ghomeshi.
So when Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC this weekend, we were stunned. And let’s be honest: it takes something incredibly horrific to be fired from the public broadcaster. Don Cherry has enjoyed immunity for 35 years even though he’s offended everyone at least twice on matters of race and politics and sexual identity. So for CBC Radio’s golden boy to be fired, well, this was a big deal. We all knew it.
I read Ghomeshi’s statement from the standpoint of a dedicated and long-time fan, someone who was inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. And the further I read, the more my heart sank: it reads entirely like abuser rhetoric and gas-lighting. It was raw and emotional, yes, but it was textbook justification. Of course an employer has no place in the private or sexual lives of its employees – this was clearly not that.
Then came the article in the Toronto Star this morning, detailing conversations with four separate women who allege that Ghomeshi did, in fact, abuse them without consent. So much for the “jilted ex-lover” defense. And they will likely never come forward to press charges or make public accusations because they fear Internet retaliation. A very real and very terrible reality, one I completely understand. I have experienced my own share of violent threats for being a woman online: one needn’t exercise much speculation to understand why these women would shy away from public court cases or lawsuits or accusations. It’s dangerous enough to be a woman these days, let alone a woman who dares to stand up publicly against abuse. Who among us doesn’t understand that fear? We can make the logical arguments about why we are obligated to report cases of abuse or rape and how victims names are shielded (tell that to the victims of Internet doxxing) but the truth is that most cases of abuse and rape go unreported for very real reasons, let alone the public interest component here. The lack of formal charges proves nothing, either way: it doesn’t prove it happened but it doesn’t prove that it didn’t either. And now come the women weighing in on the comment sections of the articles, claiming similar experiences.
So I’m left not knowing whether to cry or throw things. Instead, I’m sitting down to write this post – against my better judgement, if only for the spam comments I’ll receive alone, let alone the rest of the very real and rational reasons as both a Christian and a feminist to never write on this topic.
Because this isn’t really about Jian Ghomeshi right now. After all, we have no idea of the particulars or details or truth here, not yet anyway. He claims persecution for his sexual appetites, the victims are claiming abuse. It’s complex and I pray that the truth will come out and that justice will be done.
Really, this is about the acceptability of sexualized violence against women.
Feminists have long been split on these sex-related issues, from being anti-pornography to pro-pornography, pro-sex-work and anti-sex-work, anti-BDSM to pro-BDSM. There are scholarly arguments for all sides, I’ve read them and I understand how each side arrives at their conclusions on a purely academic basis. I also know why I land where I land on those issues for more reasons than simply my Christian convictions.
Consent always lies at the heart of the arguments: is there consent? If yes, then go for it. Mutual consent is the new moral arbitrator for our sexuality.
I understand that logic. It makes sense to me from an academic or secular standpoint, absolutely. I understand that if Ghomeshi is proven to have engaged in these acts with consent, that it falls within acceptable boundaries for most.
But that logic fails to take one thing into account for me: the whole “Jesus” part of being a Jesus feminist.
I’m a feminist because I follow Jesus, my feminism is shaped by my discipleship to Jesus. And so yes, I dare to have an opinion precisely because of that distinction.
I’ve grappled with writing about sexuality on several occasions – mainly because I think the Church has often gotten it so wrong. Over the years, I’ve taken issue with everything from purity culture to modesty rules to how we treat those of us who not only engaged in premarital sex but dared to enjoy it as “damaged goods.” I’m never one to argue for repression or shaming as healthy sexuality, let alone someone who places one individual in the relationship (typically the man) as the sun around which our mutual sexuality should orbit. I rarely fall neatly on any one “side” – I’m often too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives.
Christians rarely hear a healthy and freeing message about their sexuality, about the importance of consent and mutuality, about being in charge of our own bodies, about the realities of sex right alongside of the delights and desires, let alone a sexual ethic that tenderly cares for victims of abuse. We tend to take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to sexuality, painting with broad brushes across complex people, ignoring nuance and making up a new law, one that – let’s be honest – usually puts women at risk of abuse or shame-based rhetoric.
I remain wary and yet here I am with a broad brush and a soapbox: this way of treating each other – violence, dominance, bondage, abuse, exploitation – is wrong. WRONG.
We who claim to follow Jesus know that there isn’t really any corner of our lives that is exempt from our discipleship. We are a people who are meant to be a glimpse of life the way that God intended it to be, we’re to be about the business of living prophetically into the Kingdom of God right now. We are people of shalom.
This means seeing the humanity in one another, justice, mercy, faithfulness, loving one another well, peace-making, even purity (a much misunderstood word) and mutual honour. And that commitment includes our sexuality and our most intimate partners.
These kinds of sexual acts are dehumanizing, period. Full stop.
Even if there is consent, it is dehumanizing to fantasize about and enact sexual violence against women. It’s a short walk from fantasizing about violence and rape to becoming someone who commits violence and rape – and even with consent, it is wrong to do so. These acts are dehumanizing and soul-sucking for all participants.
As we think in our heart, so we are, according to Proverbs. Or as Marshall McLuhan wrote, beholding is becoming.
So here, this theologically and socially progressive Christian feminist will say it:
These sexual acts have simply become a socially acceptable way of excusing dehumanizing each other, of abuse, abuse grooming, oppression, language of hate, rape, and violence. Even with consent, it’s exploitative, evil, and wrong.
All of those acts of sexualized violence run completely counter to the way we are to treat one another, according to the Church and to the Spirit. We are called in Scripture to honour God with our bodies – these acts are not honour. And even apart from the specifics in Scripture about sex in particular, we have a whole ethic for how we treat one another now in the Kingdom of God – with love.
Christian relationships are meant to be characterized by mutuality, not dominance.
Our sexuality isn’t exempt from our identity in Christ.
Scripturally, sex is intrinsically connected to love. And the one who is Love is described in 1 Corinthians 13 among other beautiful qualities as patient and kind, not boastful or rude, it doesn’t demand its own way, our example is to be a people who are faithful and hopeful. We’re made in the image of Love. We are to treat each other in this way.
People are sacred. Women are sacred. Men are sacred. Our bodies are not separate from our spirituality – our bodies matter, our words matter, the way we treat each other sexually matters, the way we believe we should be treated sexually matters.
Then there is this….
In a world where women are repeatedly and consistently raped and abused, how dare we?
Oh, I’m angry. How dare we?
How dare we make light of the very real terror and horror that women have endured and are enduring? You talk to a woman who has been raped or sexually violated or beaten or abused and then try to tell me that it’s okay to be turned on by that. It is NOT okay. It is never okay, it never will be okay. Violence against women is epidemic and evil, it’s not to be mined for sexual pleasure. How dare we forget our sisters? How dare we make light of or sexualize for our own pleasures the unmitigated horror that is endured by women even at this moment? Whether in the context of a classroom power dynamic or a war torn refugee camp, women are preyed upon, groomed for abuse and abused in horrifying numbers in this way from the youngest to the oldest. There are women who believe they deserve to be treated in this way – think about that for a second.
From the account of creation in Scripture, we see that we are all made in the image of God. These acts are part of the Curse in the garden, right along with patriarchy: dominance and an absence of mutuality is not our identity in Christ. Calling these acts by pithy acronyms or pontificating about consent don’t remove the inherent violence and evil of them.
What a tactic of the enemy – to take the very thing that is a curse upon us and twisting it to make it seem acceptable.
I don’t care if it’s soft patriarchy or BDSM, this is an example of the enemy twisting the very thing that enslaves us, the curse, a consequence of the Fall, and making us think it’s not only acceptable but sexy and desirable. We have been set free from walking in that oppression.
This post isn’t about Ghomeshi. Not really. We don’t know enough to make claims yet and it might very well be none of our business. We can only pray for true justice to be done now, however that shakes down.
But it is about the larger question – how do we view women? how do we treat women? how do we think about women? what is an acceptable way to treat another human being who is made in the image of God? and what do those things say about not only us but the God whom we claim to know? what does this say to the women among us who are abused and sexually violated?
We should be part of redemption, not part of promoting the acceptability of oppression.