Note: If you are not accustomed to looking at the Bible from a historical, textual perspective, this blog may be a new way of looking things, and it may be uncomfortable.
I want to explore the way in which the Bible may be used to adversely affect a believer’s sexual beliefs and development. Once adversely affected, these attitudes can carry on, having unintended consequences like perpetuating poverty, contributing to domestic abuse and high rates of divorce.
At the outset, I feel the need to say that I look at the Bible, not in literal terms, but as a historian. As an historian, I often start by asking who wrote it, when did they write it, and what do I know about the culture at the time. I cannot understand how to approach the text if I don’t understand those things. The answers I find, then inform my faith. For me it is of utmost importance to understand that the Bible comes from a time when women were viewed as property. Examples of this are laws in the Bible discussing how men could sell their daughters, or when men make decisions for the entire family, such as when the Centurion and his whole family were baptized, or Paul’s language about womanly submission. It’s hard to ignore that the Bible was written in the context of a deeply-rooted patriarchy.
Here are a few of the situations that come about by people 1) adding to what is written or 2) not knowing the context and culture of the text, or 3) choosing some passages to emphasize over other passages. Often there will be a focus on the letter, not the Spirit of the law. What I am about to describe does not apply to all Christians, but here are some situations I have observed:
Some Christians read their Bibles and then become fixated on purity and virginity. They teach their sons and daughters to wait until marriage. Along with this there is often pressure to “date one and marry young.” Thus, we see a consequence, in many cases, of young couple marrying the wrong person because it is the only person they’ve ever dated. They marry quickly so no one, especially the girl, loses their virginity prior to marriage.
The concern with female virginity goes way back to the times of the Torah, when women were owned by their father, and then later by their husbands. For instance, if a woman lost her virginity, through rape, the offending man had offended her father--not her. He had violated the father’s property and reduced her worth as a potential mate (i.e. lower dowry). He then had to marry her.[i]
A second area of concern, is how the teachings about sex get tangled with the idea of wifely submission. Here we have a situation where people wait, get married, and then the inferred message is, now you can have all the sex you want. There is little attention spent on teaching consent or honoring one’s another’s needs. To add to it, many Christian women receive the message that they need to give sex all the time, or their husband might stray. If the husband strays, the woman is at fault. Obviously, this is a corruption of all ideas of a couple loving one another as Christ loved the church.
If we add “date one, marry young” to women being pressured to always provide sex, we encounter other side effects. We now have two young people, often with limited income and education, who are at higher risk for having multiple children. Some groups even encourage this, like the “quiver-full” movement or those who read Genesis and believe they should fill the earth and multiply. It’s no stretch to understand how financially demanding it is to raise a large family. Nor is it difficult to understand what pressure this puts on mothers and fathers.
A third unintended consequence on families, of using Scripture without knowledge of history or context, is domestic violence. Many abused women have had Bible verses quoted to them about being submissive and being silent. But again, this violent outcome results when some passages are highlighted and others are ignored.
What I offer for consideration are questions and some further reading.
Those who want to control you, will recite easy answers and will tell you exactly what to think. It is your job to prayerfully search out information beyond surface knowing. Meaning, do your research. What scholarship have others read, that you haven’t? What might the Spirit be trying to reveal to you? Ultimately what you teach your children is within your control.
[i] Thank you, Rachael Jackson, for reminding me that the rapist had to marry the victim.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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