Content note: this post discusses purity culture, divorce and marital rape.
The UK only formally recognised marital rape as a criminal offence in 2003. That is, within my adult lifetime.
It took that long partly because of something the Chief Justice said centuries earlier. It was published in 1736:
“But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.”
Sir Matthew Hale
In 1991, the House of Lords deemed this statement as “based on a fiction.”
Their ruling was part of a landmark case where a husband appealed his guilty verdict of attempted rape. The couple had already separated when he came to where she was living, physically assaulted her and attempted to rape her. He said it was not possible in law for him to rape his wife. The lords disagreed and upheld the guilty verdict.
You remember the Nashville Statement, right? No? OK…
Imagine Martin Luther in 1517 when he nailed his 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, inviting a public debate on the church’s flagrant injustices.
The Nashville Statement was nothing like that.
Though it was published in a year ending with the number 17.
Fourteen articles, from conservative evangelical Christian leaders (some of which were prominent Trump supporters), the Nashville Statement was an overtly sexist, homophobic and transphobic exercise in ideological line-drawing, dressed in theological language.
CONTENT WARNING: This post reproduces some of its sexist, homophobic and transphobic language and arguments.
I was recently listening to a compelling sermon by Austin Channing Brown, that was all about Rizpah. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, she’s a woman in the Old Testament who undertook a months-long one-woman silent protest. Her actions eventually persuaded King David to bring an end to something which he had commanded. (If you want to hear the sermon, it’s on episode 2 of the Evolving Faith Podcast.)
Brown’s sermon focussed on speaking truth to power and she applied Rizpah’s story to racial justice today. But as I sat and thought through Rizpah’s actions, I realised they may have been much more far-reaching, even in her own time, than just changing David’s actions.
And while I’m yet to visit the library and validate my suspicions here, I’m now willing to bet that Rizpah’s protest changed the law.
“The most pervasive — and pernicious — false teaching of our day is that “love your neighbor” is the greatest commandment in the law.”
It was written by a Southern Baptist pastor in the US who later doubled-down with a looooonnnng thread about the law and what Jesus meant when he talked about the two greatest commandments. (For those less familiar: these two commandments are (1) to love God and (2) to love your neighbour.)
If you’re wondering why I’ve given no direct links, that’s because a couple of weeks later he followed up with another tweet (which I didn’t see but was screencapped) about the Old Testament law and slavery. When that thread blew up he deleted his entire timeline. He then said people should be able to ask questions and acknowledged that his thread had caused hurt, but did little more.
I’m not interested trolling a particular person, but I do care deeply about how Christians understand the Old Testament and apply it in their everyday lives. Because that application – for good or for bad – can have far-reaching consequences.
I’ve seen a number of stories recently about individuals and organisations standing up for what they believe is right.
Some left me with fuzzy warm feelings. Others not so much.
In their midst is much talk of “cancel culture,” though most uses have negative connotations of “intolerance”, “outrage culture” and “mob mentality.” And it makes me ask: when does cancel culture become bullying? Because withdrawing support for public figures isn’t always a bad thing.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen some pretty horrific things passing through my social media feed the last few weeks. And I am not OK.
I’m not going to re-share the relevant images or specifics, but I want to pause for a moment and talk about what to make these stories. Because their haunting horror isn’t easing and I need to find a way to get through my grief and sense of helplessness.
Content warning: Non-specific mentions of martyrdom, suffering and ‘thoughts and prayers’.
So, I saw someone asking why white Christians were repenting of the sins their ancestors committed against people of colour.
And I want to write about this.
Caveats: I’m mainly going to talk to how I understand the Old Testament, because the Old Testament was being quoted and it’s something I’m familiar with as a Christian. But just because I’m taking this angle, that doesn’t mean it’s the most relevant or comprehensive angle; I just want to demonstrate how this particular argument doesn’t stack up.
In short, the argument was this: if we’re all responsible for what we do ourselves, not what other people do, then white people shouldn’t have to apologise for the racism of other white people. See, for example, the principle of individual responsibility promoted in Ezekiel 18:19-20.
However, I think this fails to appreciate the context of Ezekiel and the attitudes the book was responding to.
I just checked the photos from our 10th anniversary celebration last summer (that is, in 2019) and it turns out I was still wearing them then. But somewhere in the months since, I zipped my wedding and engagement rings into a pocket amongst my toiletries — and I haven’t worn them since.
As for what prompted this change in habit, I guess I just gave up waiting for my husband to wear his wedding ring.
You see, a few years ago the knuckles in his left hand flared up and it became painful for him to wear it. He’d had the issue in his right hand and after a few years that hand recovered. But with his left hand, the problem seemed to be worse and lasting longer. So, not through any lack of love for me or from me, he stopped wearing it.
I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind, particularly since the #metoo hashtag started trending back in 2017.
The sharing of stories is undoubtedly one of the most important things in breaking open and exposing systemic abuse. Grooming frequently brings survivors to believe that they’re the only one it’s happened to, or that what happened was their fault. When stories are shared, that lie is shown for what it is.
And yet, telling one’s story doesn’t guarantee that a person will be heard and supported in the way that they need; nor does it guarantee that justice will happen as a result of them speaking up. Meanwhile, testifying can turn a witness into a harassment target, as happened with Christine Blasey Ford when she spoke about Brett Kavanaugh.
So we have this dilemma: sharing our stories can be powerful and important, yet it can also come with huge risk, especially when trying to shine a light on systemic abuse.
I have no doubt that survivors are aware of this risk. For many, it’s why they don’t disclose or only do so after a long delay. And yet, what does a survivor do when they witness the great outpouring of story-sharing that took place in 2017? What do they make of the high profiles of women like Christine Blasey Ford, Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann? Is it now possible to hope to be believed if a survivor does share their story?
CONTENT NOTE: This post discusses the dynamics of domestic abuse and victim-blaming.
A few years ago I was volunteering for a charity that helped women facing domestic abuse. I remember my team leader explaining how survivors sometimes defend themselves with violence – but that this creates its own problems.
She wasn’t finding fault with survivors; she was explaining how if a survivor acts aggressively towards her abuser (or attempts to), then that one incident may be held over her as leverage, regardless of how serious the woman’s actions actually were. Such decontextualisation and blaming is, of course, an abuse tactic, aiming to reverse the victim and perpetrator in the eyes of onlookers (e.g. police). It’s also an example of what the acronym ‘DARVO’ is getting at: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.
I was reminded of this conversation more recently as I read about an instance of spousal domestic violence that seemed to fit this pattern. It was in James Dobson’s 1983 book Love Must Be Tough.
I see the same essential marriage advice given time and time again: “be self-giving, not self-seeking”. Depending on who you listen to, and in what context, the message ranges from the quite helpful to the incredibly toxic.
It can push for balance and mutuality — if both spouses seek the other’s wellbeing, then both will also be on the receiving end and good things tend to happen. But it can also give the impression that marriage is about work or indeed ‘sanctifying’ your spouse. Throw in false assumptions about what men and women need for their well-being (e.g. women need security, men need sex) and it’s a recipe for abuse.
That said, it’s hard for Christians to shake the feeling that marriage is about more than one individual and that marriage shouldn’t come at the expense of one spouse. So, you can see why Christians might encourage self-giving rather than self-seeking for good marital relations.
But I think this approach is fundamentally flawed.
Complementarians, egalitarians and kinksters are three groups of people who all frequently talk about submission in the context of a sexual relationship but using different words with different meanings.
“Breathe in the good s***, breathe out the bulls***.”
As I told a friend I was going to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak, he said she was the only person he’d ever heard swear in St Paul’s Cathedral. She’s probably also the only person people have heard swear in Southwark Cathedral too – which is where I heard her speak about her recent book “Shameless.” Trust me, when I use asterisks in this post, you can be sure that she didn’t.
For those who don’t know, Nadia is a rather unconventional Lutheran pastor. She was the founding pastor of a congregation called “House for All Sinners and Saints” and she’s gone on record saying that ethically-sourced porn is OK. Her Twitter handle is @sarcasticluther and she puts “SHAMELESS af” after her name.
I’m grateful to say that gun violence is something quite remote from my experience and everyday life. The UK has tight gun controls and most of our police don’t carry firearms. I don’t think I’ve seen a gun fired, ever, let alone at anyone.
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