Last month, I inadvertently started a war on my Facebook wall by posting something that seemed so obvious to me that I was shocked that anyone could see it differently: the rape of Hagar and Bathsheba by Abram and David respectively. The impassioned debate that ensued opened my eyes to a lot of perspectives and nuances that I had never considered before.
Contexts, colour, and conclusions
Many of us draw conclusions about a matter based on who we relate to most in a given situation. Outside of gender, other demographics may have subconsciously been at play, such as race and nationality. Jamaica was colonized for over 400 years and its native Arawak and later imported African populations were enslaved by the Spanish and the British respectively.
Picture this scenario: a white slave master’s wife instructs him to have sex with one of his black slave girls so they could create a new slave instead of buying one at the market. Would that slave girl be viewed in the same light as Hagar, a woman who consents in order to improve her position in the household? Or would the Jamaican slave girl be seen as a victim threatened to have sex or be tortured?
Again, and in a more modern setting, imagine a scenario that, regrettably, occurs far too often in impoverished areas in Jamaica: a gangster in a ghetto sees an attractive woman and sends his sidekicks to summon her to his house to have sex. Would we assume, like Bathsheba, she was willing to have sex in order to win the favour of a powerful man? Or would we see her as doing so under the threat of certain death?
We all need to ask ourselves how the reputation of the person in question change and shape our approach to a situation. Is it easier to assume a white British slave master engaged in coerced sex with one of our ancestors than ‘the father of the faith’? Is it easier to accuse a Jamaican “don man” of rape than it is ‘a man after God’s own heart’? Even if we eventually draw the same conclusions for the two comparisons, a delay in doing should move us to reflect on why one is easier to condemn than the other.
Priorities vs definitions
I believe the lines really fell along the priority placed in each person’s analysis. On one hand, some people were primarily concerned with defending an innocent influential Christian man from false accusation. According this camp, if the Bible did not explicitly use the term ‘rape’ (as it does in Genesis chapter 34, verse 2 and 2 Samuel chapter 13, verse 32), it should not and cannot be interpreted as such. Furthermore, and especially more deleteriously for men, when the definition of rape is suddenly broadened without clarification or warning, it can feel like an encroachment and blurring of the range of morally acceptable actions they are free to take.
On the other hand, others (including myself) were primarily focused on highlighting the horror of the woman’s ordeal. The notion of being placed by an external party in a situation in which your only choice is to have sex or be whipped or killed is horrendous. It is an act of coercion and an abuse of power, even if the power is legal or financial instead of physical, brute force.
Although both women would have risked brutal physical repercussions for not complying, it is still possible that they could have desired the opportunity to have sex with Abraham and David for material, social or romantic reasons. But even then, it amazes me that sex is still assumed to be desired even in the face of the threat of torture or death. Is there any other human activity that would succumb to that presumption under the same circumstances?
Relevance to today
If there’s one thing this debate brought home, it was the gaping chasm that still exists in the church on the issue of sexual consent, both in terms of its definition and its weight in defining sexual assault. But if we don’t bridge this gap, we run the risk of rationalizing existent abuses of power with a possibility of desire or willingness, thereby blinding ourselves to the destruction of vulnerable people around us.
Prostitutes may not be kicking, screaming and fighting off their clients during sex, so people can say the client is not guilty of rape. But if she, like Hagar, is a victim of human trafficking and essentially a slave, her sexual encounters cannot be seen as consensual or desired, irrespective of a country’s laws on prostitution. A wealthy, handsome, powerful, influential man is very attractive on multiple levels. Nevertheless, sexual attraction is not sexual willingness. Like Bathsheba, it’s possible for a woman to not desire or consent to sexual activity with a man that others would be fawning over.
The notion of sexual consent is messy, sensitive and deeply personal, making it a difficult topic to explore and discuss. While I was lovingly and wisely reminded not to risk adding to scripture, I believe this debate is necessary for such a time as this. We, the church, have the indwelling Holy Spirit that guides us into all truth (John chapter 16, verse 13), so we should lead the society in understanding and sharing God’s heart on these matters for the sake of vulnerable women and girls on our streets and in our pews. Their dignity and safety deserve nothing less.
Kacy Garvey is a Christian poet, speaker and activist. In 2011, she launched "Rahab", an outreach to prostitutes in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a USAID certified HIV Testing and Counselling Provider and has also successfully completed training in Trafficking in Persons conducted by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM). She performs original pieces of spoken word poetry to various audiences, and in 2014 and 2018, she launched “Undone” and “Water Jar”, the first and only Christian poetry albums published in Jamaica thus far. As a founding member of the Love March Movement (since 2012) and #MarriageMattersJA (since 2018), she is a regular presenter on the science, politics and biblical worldviews on sex and sexuality. She hosts the new TV series “MTM News Magazine” which can be streamed live on www.mercyandtruth.tv.
Kacy Garvey is a Christian poet, speaker and activist. In 2011, she launched "Rahab", an outreach to prostitutes in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a USAID certified HIV Testing and Counselling Provider and has also successfully completed training in Trafficking in Persons conducted by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM). She performs original pieces of spoken word poetry to various audiences, and in 2014 and 2018, she launched “Undone” and “Water Jar”, the first and only Christian poetry albums published in Jamaica thus far. As a founding member of the Love March Movement (since 2012) and #MarriageMattersJA (since 2018), she is a regular presenter on the science, politics and biblical worldviews on sex and sexuality. In January 2021, Kacy launched Caribbean Christian Response, an online movement that reviews the news from a biblical worldview and gathers millennials across the region to pray together and seek God’s heart on these issues.