When Christianity and Feminism Don’t Get Along

The following is part of a real text conversation that took place February 2, 2012.

ME: Did u know the “punishment” for men who rape virgins in the O.T. is they get a bride at a discount?

Bill1phd: Well… there was also a death penalty if the virgin was engaged

ME: But only if she was engaged. And only then because she was somebody else’s property already.

Bill1phd: I know.

Bill1phd: Yes. Single Women were not held in high esteem.

I discovered the Old Testament punishment for rape some time in 2005. My roommate had left a book about the bible and sexual purity out in plain view, and I picked it up to browse through it. In the opening chapter, the author instructed the reader to read the laws about virginity in Deuteronomy 22 and write down the punishment for each sin.

The author went on to give the answer the reader should have discovered: “It’s death! It’s always death! Sexual immorality leads to death!”

But she was wrong. I noticed an instance where the punishment wasn’t death.

“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” (Deut. 22:28-29)

“Huh,” I thought to myself. “Dude gets a bride at a discount. Some punishment.”

I had read this before but never noticed it in relation to the other punishments. I get it, sort of. At that time and in that culture, a single woman had no rights and no worth. Some scholars attest to incest and rape being rampant (as they still are when huge clans live together), consenting adults and fertile teens probably bent the rules often to contribute to a fast-growing population, and polygamy was sanctioned. Nevertheless, the entire nation at this point after the Exodus story was supposed to strive for holiness and obedience. No devout Hebrew man wanted a Hebrew woman who wasn’t a virgin. It didn’t matter that she lost her virginity by force; a Hebrew woman who had been raped would never get a husband, and therefore would also never have sons, and without either a husband or sons, she would be cursed to a life of destitution and scorn. God mandating a husband for her would guarantee she was taken care of for the rest of her life. God was looking out for her.

In context, it makes sense. It modern times, the laws in Deut. 22:13-29, which are separated under the heading “Marriage Violations” in the bible I use most often, don’t do women many favors. Verses 28 and 29 are particularly hard to take because they reflect how we as a society still look at victims of sexual assault and how they sometimes see themselves—as damaged goods that are worth less than they were before they were raped. Compared to the case of the married or engaged (synonymous terms in those days) woman, there’s also room for blame on the unmarried virgin. Additionally, these verses leave the bulk of the burden on the woman. A woman married to her rapist would be expected to have sex with her husband and even have his children.

Just like the GOP wants women to do today.

I’ve not hidden my opinions of the Republican Party. I think it’s full of compassionless, bloodthirsty, money-lusting people who embrace white supremacy and who are stuck in a time when women had no rights and no purpose other than to satisfy men sexually and have their babies. And I have to recognize that in that time, as in the Old Testament’s time, their religious claims would stand strong.

As a feminist, it’s hard to love this faith when I read the Old Testament. I object to reading the bible without taking its cultural and historical context into account, but this year’s presidential race has made me question God’s sense of fairness even in the context of 1407 B.C. He’s God, right? So why not implement some rules that change the culture and make it fairer for women rather than hand down laws that continue male dominance? It’s possible he did and the men who wrote his words down just heard it wrong, or they heard it right and decided their position of power was just too good to give up. Or God really does favor them and kind of hates women. Or …

Clearly, I don’t have the answers here, and I’m still claiming Christianity as my faith of choice as I explore them. If you have answers, or questions, get at me in the comments.

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