Yesterday we looked at Gothard’s advice for young women in how to repel a “moral” attack (i.e., what to do if you are sexually assaulted). I want to take another look, for two reasons. First, Gothard actually misquotes the Bible, mashing verses together in such a way as to make the Bible say things it directly doesn’t. I do not understand how he can do this and yet be so revered by so many as a man who loves and teaches the Bible. Second, Gothard isn’t the only one to use apply these verses to rape victims today, so these verses are worth digging into on a more general level as well.
Here is what Gothard says:
God has established some very strict guidelines of responsibility for a woman who is attacked. She is to cry out for help. The victim who fails to do so is equally guilty with the attacker.
Again, this is actually quite typical of fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. It is also part of the reason so many conservatives have a problem talking about rape, and use terms like “legitimate rape” or even “violent rape.” The idea is that a woman has a responsibility to call for help or fight her attacker (etc.). Why? Because if she doesn’t—if she just lets it happen—how can we tell it wasn’t consensual sex (their argument, not mine)? And indeed, Deuteronomy 22, the chapter from which Gothard cites, is all about how to differentiate between consensual sex and rape.
Gothard quotes it this way:
“If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die . . . the damsel, because she cried not . . .” (Deuteronomy 22:22, 24)
I frankly do not understand how Gothard can do things like this and still be respected by so many as a man who knows and reveres the Bible. For one thing, the way he cites it, it speaks only of women who are married, but the training module this is in is for unmarried girls and young women. But the bigger problem is that the bit about a married woman actually contains nothing at all about crying out. Here is Deuteronomy 22:22 in full:
22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.
And that’s it. There is nothing about whether a married woman cries out or whether the act was consensual. The passage states that if a married woman has sexual contact with another man (whether an affair or rape), she is to be put to death. Period. Adding on the bit about crying out, as Gothard does, edits and changes what the Bible says. Again, for someone who claims to be some sort of Bible expert, this is completely indefensible. As an evangelical teenager, I was taught a verse from Revelation that condemns adding things to the Bible that aren’t already there:
Revelation 22: 18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.
I was taught that this verse discredits progressive Christians, such as those who claim that God is okay with homosexual behavior, but it seems to me that this verse applies more to conservatives like Gothard than anyone else. I have a serious distaste for Christians who claim to see the Bible as infallible and inerrant and condemn Christians who take a more historical approach, and then flat out lie about what the Bible says.
What’s only more odd is that Gothard didn’t have to mash this together. He could have just quoted the following verses:
23 If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;
24 Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.
25 But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die.
26 But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter:
27 For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.
The idea here is that if a woman is sexually assaulted in the city and cries out for help, help will come. In other words, the assumption is that if a woman engages in a sex act with a man in a city and no one hears anything and it is not disrupted, it must be consensual, because if it wasn’t the woman could simply cry out and someone would come and stop it.
Now first of all, even were the assumption true (i.e. if people lived in towns small enough that if you yelled for help, someone would hear you and come), it ignores the reality that some rape victims are stunned into silence, especially when their assailant is someone they know or a significant other as is frequently the case. The idea that a rape victim will always be collected enough to cry for help does not square with what we know of human psychology, and putting the burden on them to do so is both extremely unfair and morally abhorrent.
But second, even if it were once true that people lived in such close quarters in cities that crying for help would always bring said help (and I’m skeptical of this), it is not true today. This is one reason we should be wary of applying passages from Old Testament law to our society today—we no longer live in a tribal agrarian society.
When I was a girl growing up in an evangelical megachurch, I was taught to consider the intent of the passage and then how that intent would apply to our society today. Yes, the result would still be problematic given that the intent of this passage is a problem in and of itself, but I’d like to think that I at least would have noted that we no longer live in such close, personal quarters, and that that should affect the application of a passage like this.
But we haven’t finished the passage yet. Note that the above verses apply only to women who are already betrothed. Here’s what comes next:
28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
So, let’s go over what this passage says, shall we?
- If a married woman has sexual contact with a man other than her husband, whether it is rape or an affair, she must be put to death.
- If an engaged woman has sexual contact in a city with a man other than her fiancé, it is assumed to be consensual and she must be put to death.
- If an engaged woman has sexual contact in the country with a man other than her fiancé, it is assumed to be rape and she may live.
- If a single woman has sexual contact with a man, whether consensual or rape, she must marry that man.
Gothard wants to use this passage to argue that women who are sexually assaulted have an obligation to cry out, but he completely ignores the vast majority of what is going on in this passage. Does Gothard believe that rape victims should be required to marry their assailants? I hope not (though I suppose I wouldn’t put it past him). My point is that it’s inconsistent to apply only part of the rules laid out in this passage while ignoring the rest. Gathered does not mention, for example, that it’s moot whether a married woman cries out when being raped, because she’s guilty regardless, but if he’s consistent, that should be his position.
Next time you hear someone mention women’s biblical obligation to cry out when being raped, point out that the same Old Testament passage that makes that requirement also requires the death penalty for married rape victims and mandates that single rape victims must marry their rapists. Now it may be that the individual making said argument will agree to both of these requirements, but they he do, hey, at least their morally repugnant views will be out in the open.
This passage of Deuteronomy belongs in a comprehensive history of how human societies have dealt with and understood rape over time, but it does not belong in either Gothard’s training manual for teenage girls or Republican politicians’ talking points.