Like most women, sexual assault is a personal issue for my wife and I. The red, spittle-flinging faces on computer monitors and television screens this past week reminded us of why we chose to stay silent, the times we chose to stay silent. To top that off, a friend told me they'd been raped on Wednesday.
The first time it happened they pressed charges, and the trial was so degrading and adversarial toward them that when it happened again, they just kept quiet.
My wife and I are attending a new church. As we got ready to leave for the service last Sunday, we wondered if the week's news would be mentioned in the sermon. Our previous pastor avoided national social crises as if they were dirty tissues during a flu epidemic. While the world learned about children being kept in cages, we sat in our pews and listened to sermonized versions of Kumbaya. Sermons at the new church focused on justice issues the two times we'd attended, so we were cautiously optimistic.
We were not disappointed. Pastor Joshua had thrown away his planned sermon, and stayed up until the early hours Sunday morning writing a new one, focused entirely on the issue of sexual violence toward women.
Here are a few gems from his sermon:
Men: if you discover that there is a woman in your life who never told you about her rape, it’s because she probably didn't trust you to actually believe her! And the only person to blame for that is you. ... If any woman in your life – your daughter or granddaughter – heard you make some remark about doubting Dr. Ford’s testimony against Kavanagh, you’ve have just set yourself up to not be trusted by that woman if she is ever raped or assaulted. I just hope you can live with that reality.
These are things that women learn from this rape culture. That you just accept it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Because when you do, when you draw attention to yourself in a male-dominated world, you’re going to suffer the consequences.
He took the opportunity to educate us about the grotesque statistics of sexual assault in our country:
I can’t even call myself a Christian, much less a pastor, if I allow people to get away with saying things that propagate the rape culture behind the statistic that 1 in 5 women will be victims of rape. 1 in 5. Do you realize that statistic means that every person in this church either is or knows somebody who is a victim of rape? If you know at least 5 women, then you know at least one victim of rape. Statistics say 1 in 3 women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. 1 in 3. Meaning, if you have a wife and two daughters, you can almost guarantee that one of them will or has already experienced sexual violence. That between the ages of 16 to 19, a woman is FOUR TIMES more likely to be a victim of rape or sexual assault. And that the risk of sexual assault among female college students between the ages of 18-25 is THREE TIMES HIGHER than the general population.
Pastor Joshua even admitted his own failure to stand up against the toxic banter which characterizes the current rape culture.
Men should especially break out of our comfort zones and say something when we hear other men saying things that only perpetuate violence towards women. And we all need to listen and believe. It will be extremely uncomfortable – because rape culture has been the status quo for so long. And upsetting the status quo is painfully uncomfortable – but I’m sure it’s a lot less uncomfortable than being sexually assaulted.
He forced back tears several times during the sermon. We also cried, but with relief; moved deeply both by things Pastor Joshua said, and the response of the congregants around us, who showed they were capable of listening to a hard, necessary message.
This is being church. This is what Jesus would do. This is what called ministers should do.
What did your pastor preach about last Sunday?