I fumed in my pew while women around me cheered for rape culture and victim-blaming.
To be fair, I don’t think the pastor realised he was promoting rape culture. That’s the definition of culture: our foundational attitudes, customs, and beliefs—ways of thinking ingrained so deeply that we only notice them when they’re challenged. Attitudes like, “Cover up. Nobody wants to see that.” Customs like asking what a victim was wearing. Beliefs like, “If women are modest, men won’t lust.”
The pastor expounded on liberty in Christ. The snag came when he mentioned I Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
To his credit, tight trousers and low-cut blouses weren’t his first example of ways we make each other stumble—they were his second.
Here’s the thing: that verse comes at the end of a passage about whether or not it’s okay to eat meat that was used in a pagan religious ceremony. Paul reminds his readers that since idols have no power, it’s okay to eat the meat. But if your buddy still feels guilty about it, you shouldn’t eat meat in front of him. What Paul does not say is, “If your buddy has a problem with meat, you should hide all the meat in the world so he can’t possibly have to deal with it.”
And I am not a piece of meat.
Let me turn this into a modern day example for you, because I haven’t had to deal with idol meat ever in my life, and I doubt you have either. I’ll even use the lust example:
Say you have a buddy who has a problem with lust, and you don’t want him to stumble. You’re walking through the mall and you see Victoria Secret coming up; you know you’ll have no problem walking past the display, but your buddy will. So although you’re free to walk by the store, you suggest an alternate route. That is helping your brother not stumble. That’s intentional and considerate, and it does not make you responsible for preventing his problem. And if you walk away from Victoria Secret and happen to pass a girl in a low-cut shirt, it’s still your buddy’s job to look away. It’s not your fault for picking that direction, and it’s not her fault for wearing the shirt.
Because she is a human, not a stumbling block.
I’ve heard this idea over and over again: dress modestly to “protect our brothers.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s wrong. Unless our brothers live ascetic lifestyles on desert islands, a handful of youth group girls in long skirts will not “protect” them from what’s bombarding them anyway. They know what’s under that floor-length skirt. Men are intelligent humans with free will, not drooling animals who can’t control their impulses. Forcing responsibility onto a woman not only undermines attempts at justice after an assault but also creates a situation in which assault is nearly inevitable.
Women are not objects to be covered or uncovered at mens’ whims.
Let me throw a few new ideas out there at you. “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” That means that no matter what she’s wearing, you don’t have an excuse to rape her. There’s also, “Each will have to bear his own load,” or “…we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” To me, that sounds like, “The perpetrator is guilty.” I don’t see, “…unless the victim wore a miniskirt” in there anywhere.
And this isn’t just a theological debate. This is happening every day. Most rapes are underreported, and fear of victim-blaming is one cause. (If you need victim-blaming explained, check out this video.)
If this were merely a matter of denominational differences or personal opinions, I might have caved to peer pressure and clapped with the rest of the congregation. But this is not about what we say in church or how we interpret obscure ancient Greek. This is about people—people with faces, people with names, people with scars they will carry forever. And it is not their fault.
It’s time to stop dehumanising women.
You, whoever you are—no matter what you wear, no matter what has happened, no matter what will happen—you are not a stumbling block.