Nonviolence and rape

Tonight I preached about Jesus taking on all of our violence on the cross and responding in love. I talked about how he was humiliated, abandoned, beaten and killed and, through it all, he responded with love, grace and forgiveness. The resurrection, I said, was God showing us that love wins. That responding to violence with love and forgiveness is God’s call to us, and love wins. I preached that our instinct to respond to violence with violence only harms the world and we are called to follow Christ’s example to respond to violence with love.

Then I ran into a problem.


How does one tell a woman to respond to rape with nonviolence, forgiveness and love?

As a person who has provided pastoral care to survivors of sexual violence and relationship violence and a survivor of both myself, how do I talk about nonviolence and rape?

I know too well the shame that comes with feeling like you didn’t fight back hard enough. I know the questions victims are asked. “Did you scream?” “Did you fight?” “How did you let that happen to you?” I know that the level of resistance a person puts forward somehow, both to others and ourselves, speaks to whether we “wanted” it to happen or not. That when a person stays in a relationship with someone who hurts them, that person is branded as weak, as someone who is asking for it or even likes it. We live in a world where government officials refer to differences in rape and have coined the phrase, “legitimate rape,” as though some rapes count more than others. Not fighting back can make it impossible not only to protect yourself, but to convince others that your rape was real.

The Bible doesn’t speak to sexual violence, at least not in a way that helps me figure this out. The Bible has many instances of sexual violence, and, all too often, it seems condoned (or at least passed over) by the writers of scripture. David rapes Bathsheba and becomes king. Lot offers his daughters to the men beating down his door as a way to get the men to not harm his visitors. In the prophets, God is written as committing sexual violence against Jerusalem.

I know that nonviolence is not passively accepting what is happening to you. Nonviolence is a form of action, it is withholding, freezing, keeping violence from being done by standing strong. But how does that apply in cases of sexual violence?

I would never, ever tell someone to accept rape. I don’t know how to tell someone to actively resist rape in a nonviolent way. I would fight with my last breath to keep myself or someone I love from being raped. I would accept beating, I would accept many things being done to me in the name of nonviolence. But not rape.

How do we rectify this? How do we speak of nonviolence in cases of sexual violence? Is there a nonviolent option? Or do we accept violence as a necessary response in this world? Is nonviolence always the answer?



About Elizabeth Rawlings

Lutheran. Feminist. Child of God. Thinking about how to be a leader in a church that is trying to rediscover itself and what it means to live simply so that others may simply live in tandem with what exactly is the fast God asks of us. Chronic alliterator. Generally silly person. View all posts by Elizabeth Rawlings

2 responses to “Nonviolence and rape

  • This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

    […] Rawlings shared important and powerful reflections and questions about “Nonviolence and rape.” She closes with the following thoughts and questions that I repeat now, “I would […]

  • Pastor Tomi Thompson

    Genesis 34 tells the story of the rape of Dinah by Shechem, son of Hamor. Levi and Simeon, two sons of Jacob are naturally resentful of this and plot a massacre. When Jacob heard about their action, he was enraged and demanded that these two sons should not have been so rash as to have slain the circumcised men of Shechem. In turn, the sons reply, “Should our sister have been treated like a whore?”. Clearly, both of these actions are bad-the rape and the brother’s revenge. This story from God’s word about sexual violence teaches that forgiveness should be encouraged.
    Now, I suggest that the rapist should not be allowed to go without any consequences. The consequences should be worked out by the courts, though, and not by a lynch mob. I believe that women who are raped have a moral obligation to report the rape and describe the offender to the police so that the offender is taken off the street. This way, other women are protected.
    Briefly speaking about shame that the raped woman feels, two factors are operating: the “just world bias” in the courts that tries to make the victim look even more guilty than the perpetrator and the woman’s own false sense of guilt
    Finally, forgiveness without someone being held responsible and having to learn through consequences is “cheap grace” and useless. Nobody profits by cheap grace-neither victim nor offender.

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