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May 18th, 2013

Jesus & The Oxford Rapes

Stunned into sympathy

Rape is not a women’s issue. Gender-specific problems do exist, but rape is not one of them. By definition, men are essential to its perpetration and so they must be key to its eradication. That so few men see their responsibility in this is compounds the evil.

How can rape ever be laid at a woman’s door, assigned to her as an issue that she has to deal with? That it is often described, even in campaigns to combat it, as a ‘women’s issue’ is evidence of the ingrained gender divisions that lie behind the act itself. There are men who view women as separate, as objects of their private fears and desires, creatures to have something done to them rather than have lives spent in loving and honouring them.

Ashamedly, I admit that over the years the gross injustice of rape has simply passed me by. Some choose to turn a blind eye to it all, whereas I appear to have gone well beyond that point, failing to register any sense of empathy or anger. It was almost as if, like PMT, rape was something I could not understand and was best left for its victims to get on with.

Yet recently, my dulled senses were roused as I listened to the gut-wrenching details of how members of my community had serially groomed young girls for rape in Oxfordshire. These were children being abused in the most perverted ways. And they are not the only victims of rape. They are just some of many women here and throughout the world who fall prey to rapists – to men like me – every day.

Ancient reality & modern pain

It is said that prostitution is the oldest trade, and it seems that rape is just as ‘traditional’. Since the Fall, described in Genesis, a chasm has been cut, not just between humankind and God but also through the heart of humanity itself, between male and female, man and woman. Rape is the ultimate manifestation of this. Chronicling this origin of division, the Bible does not pretend to gloss over the brutal consequences of humankind’s alienation from God and from one another. In the Old Testament, casual gang rape, perverted infatuation culminating in incestuous sexual assault, and rape by a random stranger to satisfy a man’s short-lived lust, all are recorded. In addition to these devastating individual stories is the background of a culture where sexual violence against women could be a normative event in peacetime and a sickening weapon of war during hostilities (Judges 19, 2 Samuel 13, Genesis 34, Ruth 2, Lamentations 5) .

I have seldom made a stand for the weaker party. But today I chose to write this pamphlet because something within me has been stirred and I don’t want to shake it. I don’t quite know what this reflection will achieve. I don’t even know if many people will read it, but I write nonetheless because these girls matters and because every victim of rape matters. May these children not be just further statistics that adorn the press pages, but along with other victims of rape may they be seen as real people, real individuals with hopes, dreams and aspirations, born in the image of God. May they all be esteemed as women of life, of laughter, of love, precious daughters and sisters, one day to be loved mothers and wives.

Jesus’ radical new approach

The Bible records a key change in the New Testament – Jesus, who came to bridge the divide between humankind and God, also came to heal the split between male and female, to make the two one again. Throughout His ministry, Jesus treated women in a way that astounded those around Him, offering a model of whole masculinity that most could not have imagined possible.

In one famous incident, Jesus stood up for a woman who had been caught in adultery. John 8 sees the Pharisees bring a woman to Jesus declaring their charge against her and demanding that she be stoned in accordance with the Law. Of course, the Law also demanded the death of the man she had committed adultery with but, perhaps unsurprisingly, he is nowhere to be found. It is the woman, the stereotyped temptress, who is deemed to be the guilty party! In this most public of settings, Jesus responds with, ‘Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.’ Unable to pass this test, one by one they slip away, the blame not transferred from the adulteress to her accusers but equally shared with them. All needed to consider their ways.

The sheer scale of what Jesus does in this passage is enormous. This was a patriarchal society where the males ruled the roost. If there were decisions to be made, they were going to be made by men. And it was in that culture, at that time, in the most public of places, that Jesus stood up for a woman. Jesus’ response to this misogynistic accusation is all the more powerful because it comes against the background of the Old Testament stories of rape, where the fruit of this overwhelmingly patriarchal culture are not veiled.

One may choose to believe in Jesus or not. One may believe He is the Saviour of the world or not. Whatever one’s perspective might be, one cannot help but marvel at how, in this biblical passage, Jesus went against the grain and with it presented a totally different worldview to that held at the time. Most certainly, Jesus was a revolutionary, challenging the status quo whilst painting a beautiful picture of how the world could potentially look if only we heed His wisdom; a world where we value one another and look to the interests of others.

From boys to men

How does this apply today? Even the most ardent feminist might not argue that our culture is as patriarchal as that of first-century Palestine, but the great divide between the sexes that drove such a male-dominated society persists. And all suffer for it. At that time, men could exercise domination through social structures and societal positions. This is something that for many men is not the case today – academically, women outstrip men in much of the world, and in key professions women now outnumber men in the leading western economies. But some men, where they cannot control in public, do so in private. The Pharisees who wanted to stone the adulteress and not the adulterer were assuredly operating from a core of immense immaturity, young boys cased in adult bodies, perhaps right to uphold the Law but utterly failing to see their own complicity in the crime, and distorting the role of the woman to exculpate the man.

Today, the same puerility is manifested in the inundation of pornography that fills the digital web. Boys, in men’s bodies, feeling unable to cope with and control their lives, act out fantasies online where they can dominate or be dominated, taking a twisted control or perversely ceding all power; a crass physical titillation and brief release belying emotional immaturity and spiritual weakness. Women, willingly or unwillingly objectified, are the ‘means’ to this end. That men have failed to take responsibility for themselves and their kind, closing their eyes to the all too obvious links between this private play and the unimaginably cruel abuse of some girls here in the UK or the unspeakable atrocities committed in recent wars such as in Democratic Republic of the Congo, is symptomatic of sin in all its forms. We will justify our unrighteousness; we will please ourselves at others’ expense. It’s the woman’s fault, said Adam. She asked for it, says the rapist. When will men grow up and stand up?

Jesus did stand up. Not only did He expose the misogynistic hypocrisy of the culture, as with the Pharisees and the adulteress, but He also empowered women wherever He went. He trusted women where other men did not. In His day, in most legal cases women were not permitted to give evidence. So when He rose from the dead who did He appear to first? Two women! Some may argue for different roles for men and women, but in light of this none can argue for differing worth. The most important message ever carried in history was trusted not to men but to women. This was a paradigm shift in trust, ennobling women in a way they had not been since before the Fall. Jesus’ resurrection heralded a new Creation, a new Eden, and here was the first evidence of it. Men and women united in trust – the opposite of the distrust and hatred that inspire rape.

Disquieting home truths

In all this, Jesus showed how men and women might relate to one another. His is a kingdom of mutual submission, where mutual service is the fruit of mutual love. This is so far removed from our world, saturated as it is with loveless online erotica and top-selling BDSM (bondage-dominance-sadism-masochism) titles, that we can fail to grasp just how phenomenal a revolution His message heralds even now – and just how impossible it is for us to realise without His grace operating in our lives. The physical expression of the divide that has been rendered between the sexes – rape – may be legally and socially restricted, but the perverting of how men and women relate cannot be. This will always find sexual manifestation, for this is the most fundamental element of our gender identities.

Incidents of rape may be reduced, but the desire to control and be controlled will remain, only to be limited by the degree to which our world experientially knows the love of Christ. ‘Beat & delete’, the practice prevalent in some teenage groups of a boy sleeping with a girl only to delete her number from his phone and move on to the next conquest, may not be criminal, but it is it not on the same spectrum as that which culminates in rape? Such a practice is thankfully still perceived to be odious by most, but is that only because we observe it in a youth culture that is so different and alien to ours that it, rightly, offends? Surely it is just a rawer expression of our own culture, a culture where parents smile nervously as their children sing along to Rihanna as she expounds the glories of S&M, and countless fathers take their sons to see Skyfall, to see James Bond sleep with a woman he is rescuing from the sex trade – the only work she has ever known – without any comment on the deeply dubious morality being played out by the ‘heroic’ protagonist.

It is some 2,000 since Jesus modelled a better way of relating, and one would assume we would be living in this type of world now. But the stark reality was made poignantly clear to me when I saw a powerful image of a protestor holding a placard which read, ‘Our Mothers Sisters Daughters Are Not Safe In Our Own Country India’. This ‘women’s issue’ is too big and pervasive for only half the population to deal with it – all of us must engage if we are to see change.

Empowered to ennoble

I despair and yet I find comfort and hope in knowing that Jesus cares. For some, this may mean nothing at all, but for me as a Christian it is what I hold on to because I see in the eyes of the God I serve and honour a God who values women enormously. This world may fall short of valuing women, but I can do no better than to put my trust in a God who is committed to the welfare of women. Through His words and actions, Jesus introduced a new kingdom with a unique mindset. The ideals of this kingdom were countercultural back then, and to many today they are still countercultural. In my opinion, society is still playing catch-up.

The physical relationship between a woman and a man is intended by God to be the ultimate expression in human relations of what love is, of who He is. It is two becoming one in flesh and spirit, each laying themselves bare physically as an expression of their openness of spirit and soul to the other. Rape is the ultimate perversion of God’s intent, and just as it would be madness to view the sexual union of a husband and wife as a women’s issue, so it is an aberration, a lunacy, to consider rape as such. Sexual intimacy in the bounds of loving covenant enables each partner to give life and freedom to the other as they give and receive love and affection. Rape, the definitive power play, has the potential to destroy both the perpetrator and the victim, seeding death and shame, though, of course, one party cruelly dominates where the other is wholly innocent.

That rape is still so prevalent can only be the result of the immaturity that pervades so much of masculine culture, even its more healthy parts. How can it have gone so far that women can feel so bereft of support in combating this scourge that they describe it as a ‘women’s issue’? As men have abdicated their God-given role to protect and nurture, to initiate the loving, mutual submission of needs to their mothers, sisters and wives, so they have accentuated the divide at humanity’s core, compelling women to take up their role and defend themselves. Rather than being empowered to trust men and flourish in the freedom of safety, they find themselves forced to react against them and fight for themselves – alone. Jesus’ promise of a new paradigm of living is not just for women but also for men – in Him they can find a type of who they can be and how they can act, a promise of masculinity redeemed, emotionally and spiritually whole. To the degree that the woman is objectified, the man is dehumanised; Jesus comes to restore both.

Rape is not a women’s issue. It is everyone’s issue. It speaks of the division we all fall victim to and all conspire in creating. The women whom Jesus first met when He rose from the tomb were filled with joy because they saw that He and the message of transformation He had lived had triumphed. Perhaps if we can all rediscover this message then we, too, can know deep joy as through new life men are empowered to stand up, women are ennobled, and no more are violated.

About the author

Manoj Raithatha has been a Bafta award-winning TV writer and successful businessman. Raised a Hindu, he has been a Christian since 2008 and today runs Instant Apostle publishing house and the South Asian Forum team in the UK Evangelical Alliance.

 

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