More on Christian culture and consent

For those of you who are unfamiliar with how Tumblr, the blogging platform I use, works, one of the big features is the ability for reblog others’ posts and add your comments to the post. One blogger who reblogged my post added a lengthy comment that I think deserves further discussion. 

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This blogger suggested that discussion of consent needs to be motivated by something outside of the individual, and suggested that the motivation should be doing what Jesus wants. Now, while I do not in any way disagree that faith can definitely play a role in the discussion, if the only reason for making sure that the other party is giving full consent is because to do otherwise makes Baby Jesus cry, then if you remove faith from the discussion you have no framework for ethical sexual behavior. If consent is only about what Jesus wants, then what about those who don’t believe? 

It’s still just a system based on following rules.

In this case, the blogger suggests that since, if you’re a Christian it means Christ lives within you, if you have sex outside of marriage–sex that in a traditional Christian framework is going against what God wants–then you are, “raping Jesus.” See, Jesus lives within you, so what you’re doing with your body isn’t just your body, it’s like doing it to Jesus, and since Jesus doesn’t want you to have sex outside of marriage, then it’s like raping him. Now, aside from the fact that this isn’t an entirely scriptural interpretation–the Bible teaches that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, which is rather different than an interpretation that brings to my mind the image of Jesus wearing people like a skin suit–it once again shifts the discussion away from the right of each person to maintain bodily autonomy. 

In this framework, you don’t teach consent because each person has the right to say what other people do to their his or her body, you teach consent because Jesus wouldn’t want you to have sex outside of marriage. That’s just another variation on the same rule-based standards that ignore consent that I was critiquing to begin with. It does nothing to explain why consent would even be part of the equation within marriage, and it gives no reason why anyone who is not a Christian should care about consent. That’s not a discussion of consent at all, it’s a religion-based rule for people who follow that religion. 

Not only that, it doesn’t distinguish between consensual and non-consensual sex outside of marriage. In that framework it’s all bad and there isn’t a real distinction between a person who had sex consensually and someone who was raped. Is there any wonder that women who are sexually assaulted feel guilt and shame in a culture that doesn’t make distinction between consensual and non-consensual extramarital sex? Is there any wonder that women who are the victims of marital rape find it hard to find the strength to leave the marriage when the only standard for what’s right is whether you’re married? What the woman wants doesn’t matter, it’s only what those outside of her want. 

This is the same logic that winds up with Dubai prosecuting rape victims for having extramarital sex. When you don’t make distinctions between consent and non-consent and you combine it with an ultra conservative religious system, that’s what you get. This kind of fundamentalist, rule-centric view of sex and sexuality is pretty much the same across the fundamentalist versions of a lot of religions and it’s harmful in whichever religious flavor we happen to be discussing. I write about it in Christianity because that’s what I know, but it’s a problem in any system that focuses on a set of rules without bringing consent into the discussion. 

To be clear though, when I write about this, I’m not at all suggesting that waiting until marriage is wrong or that religions teaching people that they should wait is wrong. That’s a whole different discussion that’s tangential to the consent issue, (though, because we’re talking consent, if a person believes sex outside of marriage is a sin, then they shouldn’t be pressured to act against that belief because actions taken under pressure and duress aren’t enthusiastic consent). The bottom line is that when religious communities are teaching abstinence, they need to make sure that kids understand what consent means. 

Kids need to know that no matter what the action, whether it’s a hug or touching or sex itself, no person should be pressured to do something that they don’t feel comfortable doing. “No” needs to be respected. Personal boundaries need to be respected. It may be something so chaste as the Christian side hug, but if other person doesn’t want it, they have the right to refuse consent and that refusal should be respected. If the other party isn’t enthusiastically consenting, you shouldn’t do it. 

We shouldn’t raise another generation who makes it into adulthood before it dawns on them that they spent years in the church being lectured by religious leaders about sex (and how they shouldn’t be having it), all without hearing a word about consent.