[caption id="attachment_4169" align="aligncenter" width="636"] Rembrant's Bathsheba[/caption]
[possible trigger warning: mention of rape, references to rape culture]
I was but thirteen, a near decade to today, the first time I was told that by nature I was a rapist.
We were sitting in the upstairs portion of the church, the long hall with the offshoot rooms, in the largest one where the choir would practice, that night arranged with foldout tables covered in opaque white plastic, little red cards on the table in front of us with Comic Sans TRUE LOVE WAITS embolden across the top.
I was told that women should cover their bodies, lest they tempt men to stumble, that a v-neck could be the undoing of a man of God, that Scripture gives us a clear example---Bathsheba at her bath, enticing David by her nakedness---and that it is a warning to us all of the danger of our bodies, which have become the guilty ones.
So I signed the red card in front of me with a teenage scrawl and vowed then and there as a pledge to God and my genitals that I would never lust again.
I believe this lasted about an evening.
When it was over with, when the pledge had been broken---because as I have said before, the virginity line is grey---I wondered what the point of it all had been. Was it simply a setup to shame me, a guaranteed trap I would stumble right into as quickly as I had raised the pen to promise that I would never compromise myself or another man's future wife.
Notice the central focus of this discussion, to this point, has been about me.
I mention that I was told I was a rapist by nature, though I must admit these words were never explicitly said. Yet, the implication was resident in the articulation of the sin.
Women should cover themselves up lest men stumble implied that men could not help but stumble.
We had no control in the matter.
And if rape is in its most minimal sense the taking by force and power possession over another's body that has not been consented to you, I had been told in the space of a sentence that by nature I could not help myself from taking something from a woman if she chose to dress so as to ask for it.
If I lusted, it was her fault. She chose to dress the part of my desires. I was only being natural.
Another man's future wife.
Notice, too, the phrasing.
It wasn't that I would violate her, per se, as a woman formed in the image of God, but that I would have shamed her before she had been handed over to another man, the man who she was intended for, the man who, for all intents and purposes in this vocabulary of commodity, owned her.
I was stealing her from the one who was to possess her.
The emphasis on that card I signed to God and my genitals was that I was to keep myself pure so as to not defile another woman for the sake of another man.
Respect was defined in terms of masculine pronouns and the possibility that a woman could ever have a sexual desire outside of a motivation to destroy the men of God was largely not entertained.
(Though, I should make a firm note in that the culture of my home was completely antithetical to this line of thinking.)
Purity culture hurts men, too.
It makes us poor readers of Scripture.
The story of David and Bathsheba is perhaps one of the most misinterpreted passages in the Text.
A close reading reveals that several narrative clues point out that David purposefully coerced Bathsheba when she was doing nothing more than the faithful working-out of the levitical code, having ended her monthly cycle and bathing herself as an expression of her purity before God. David was the one who violated her purity, who sinned against her. It wasn't because she was undressed, but because David acted on his sinful desires.
I resent the culture of modesty that has shamed all of us into thinking modest is about dress codes or property when modest is about a faith worked out humbly, together, respecting image of God in one another, and before and within and a part of our God.
And people are hurt.
And people are angry.
And it's a confusing time to try and discern what we should do, what we should say.
Because I do think we should still wear clothes, that some things are immodest, that Beyonce isn't a Christian prophet, and that sexuality isn't a no-strings-attached freedom.
But if we are not dignifying men and women alike in these conversations, we're missing the point.
It needs changing.
It needs healing.
It needs Gospel.
Because purity culture told me that I couldn't help violating a woman, because if she wore something revealing, I was naturally inclined to have my way with her.
And you know what? I'm not buying it anymore.
And I think it's time we said, loud, but steady, but clear: Enough.