Christian Sexual Ethics: Feminism, Rape Culture, and Christianity

This paper is a paper I wrote for a Women Studies Class at Towson University entitled: Christian Sexual Ethics. The class was an interdisciplinary class in which Christianity and its ethical beliefs on sex were explored starting from Paul to the New Evangelical Abstinence Movement. The essay will be broken up into two sections on my blog.

Part 1: Feminism, Rape Culture, and Christianity

Part 2: LGBTQ+ and Christian America

DISCLAIMER: As I am not a women nor a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I wish not to put a straight male face on the forefront of a movement that does not implicitly belong to me, but I wish only to add to the bulk of work of a pulsing community and critique commonly held Christian beliefs in order for the world to be a better, safer place for all.

Sexual ethics, like all kinds of ethics, can be debated and has been debated for years. The ethics of sexuality within a Christian context, however, is on the verge of a change, and change is always the birth of a great debate. With the rise of the LGBTQ+ equality protest, third-wave feminism and the language of female liberation within it, the sexual culture has been experiencing an increasingly new dynamic. Female liberation, calling for women to have greater freedom in the context of the expression of themselves and their bodies, has led to a disagreement in the context of consent and potential “justifications” for non-consensual sex, and the LGBTQ+ community’s equality protest has led to the disagreement on the morality of homosexuality outside and inside of the church. Nevertheless, I believe that any sex that is not consensual is immoral – no matter how much of the woman’s body was expressed, no matter how much foreplay was commenced, and no matter how deep into the action the participators are in, the moment the words, “I no longer want to have sex,” enter the air by one of the participators is the moment that sex should and must end. Also, I believe that any dissent towards the LGBTQ community and their right to express love and sexuality is immoral in-and-of itself.

            To understand my reasoning for saying, “Any sex that is not consensual is immoral,” one must first understand two principles that are immovable within this thought process. First, a principle that most can agree on, sex is a connection, and the way the connection is defined by both individuals can cause adverse or positive effects.  Margaret Farley, Professor and writer of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, describes this by saying,
“Diverse feelings and emotions related to sex can include pleasure and pain, joy and sadness, peacefulness and anger, a sense of well-being and a sense of shame” (Farley, 161). Regardless if we are to believe that this connection is spiritual, emotional, mental, or purely physical, it is undeniably a connection. Understanding sex as a connection is important because if consent is not given towards that connection then the adverse effects of pain, sadness, anger, and shame can generate because of it. The second driving principle for arguing that sex should always be consensual is: non-consensual sex is a stripping of one’s freedom. By understanding that sex is a connection we understand that there is another person involved with the act, and by understanding that non-consensual sex is an act of stolen freedom we understand that there is another person involved in the act who has a right to their own autonomy. “This right or this obligation to respect individual autonomy sets a minimum, but absolute requirement for the free consent of sexual partners. This means, of course, that rape, violence, or any harmful use of power against unwilling victims is never justified,” Margaret Farley so eloquently states (Farley, 219).  Any form of non-consensual sex is rape, and rape is dehumanizing as a form of control. Rape is a thievery on a higher level. Rape is a torture because it does not just steal from a person once, it keeps stealing from a person. It robs them of their stable mind, their feeling of safety, and their free will. Professor of Theology, Kelly Douglas, while speaking on the rape of Black women by way of their slave masters during the American Slave times says, “The weapon of rape provided an effective means of control” (Douglas, 44). Sex is not something where power should be stripped or taken away from another; sex is something where power should be shared and freedom must be maintained.

            These two principles are usually not too difficult to understand or agree on, but it is the following of these principles within certain context that is hard for people. There still must be consent when the individuals are in a relationship/married and there still must be consent if the women is wearing “scandalous” clothing. Many argue that relationships where the couple are kissing, fondling, and cuddling are possible grounds for consent. Their reasoning comes from my first grounding principle – there is a connection. However, a mere connection is not consent, even in marriages. Even as the Apostle Paul writes, “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourself to prayer” consent is still crucial; however, in this modern age of progressive social justice, mutual consent must go beyond mutual consent for abstaining from sex, and it must extend to mutual consent in participating in sex (1 Corinithians 7:5, NRSV). “This norm [social justice] derives more generally from the obligation to respect all persons as ends in themselves, to respect their autonomy and relationality, and thus not to harm them but to support them,” Margaret Farley says (Farley, 228).  This is a norm that must be affirmed in our age and ages on if we are to progress in understanding ethical sex; for by this  norm, sexual social justice and equality is reached, but equality can only be reached if both partners – lovers and non-lovers – commit to the idea of mutual consent in abstaining and consenting.

Then, there is the argument of “scandalous” clothing or the “liberated female” who, the rapist, influenced by the woman’s free expression of self and body cannot resist the temptation of her sensual aura. This argument also finds some of its roots in Pauline writing when Paul says, “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead to never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (Romans 14-13, NRSV). The “liberated female” is deemed as a stumbling block for the man without control of himself. It is her fault for his fall as it was Eve’s fault for Adam’s. On the contrary, however, autonomy is a two-way street. The “liberated female” has the right to express herself and her body to the fullest extent of an equal and moral law of her respective society, and the “liberated male” has the obligation to respect the freedom and ability of the woman to choose to say, “Yes,” or, “No,” to sex.

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