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Bill Cosby and America’s troubling culture of rape

More than 40 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct, including rape. Cosby denies the allegations.
More than 40 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct, including rape. Cosby denies the allegations. AP

When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage there was an angry howl from the Christian community. All over the nation Christians could be heard saying “Legalizing gay marriage has turned America into Sodom and Gomorrah.”

In contrast, as women have come forward about allegations of sexual violence at the hands of Bill Cosby, there has been no angry howl from the Christian community. Instead, the conversations I have had around the issue have centered around the age-old tactic of apologizing for the perpetrator by blaming the victim:

What would Bill Cosby want with those women?

He didn’t rape them, they wanted it.

In such conversations, my first instinct is to use reason, to explain how it makes no sense to blame a victim for sexual violence. And then I get angry. And then I become resigned, thinking: this is what it means to live in a rape culture. My sense of resignation is the most painful and shocking aspect of this story.

No woman is exempt from sexual violence or the threat of sexual violence in America. We have learned to accept that fact and navigate the dangers as safely as possible.

I have had to learn how to be explicit about physical and sexual boundaries. I have had to learn to state out loud what I will and will not allow, what I do and do not want to happen to my body.

I have had to learn to state clearly, "I will not have sex with you." I have had to learn this because I am a woman who has come of age in a culture of rape.

But many women know all too well that explicit refusal does not protect one from sexual violence or the threat of sexual violence.

I have had several instances while living in Charlotte when I was confronted with the threat of sexual violence.

For example, one Sunday morning, I was alone in the church preparing for worship. A stranger wandered in off the street looking for assistance. I politely informed him that we could assist him but he would have to come back in an hour, as the church was not yet open. Upon realizing that I was alone in the building, the man came toward me as if to attack saying, "Come here girl, let me see what is underneath that dress."

I pushed him away and yelled directly in his face,

“Get the hell out of my church!” He looked at me for a second and something happened. He recollected himself, I suppose. Because he turned and walked out of the building. I was just lucky. There are tons of female ministers and females in churches who have not been so lucky.

I called the police and they arrived to find that the man had left the building but not the property. They searched him and found a knife on him. My trustees were so angry. “You could have been lying on the ground of your own church bleeding to death! You can’t be by yourself in the church anymore. We will just have to make sure that someone is here early for when you arrive.”

The message was clear: We live in a world where not even sacred spaces are safe from sexual violence or the threat of sexual violence. It just is what it is. It is that sort of resignation that is the most painful, and shocking, and disturbing part of the story.

American culture is deeply reminiscent of another culture – Sodom and Gomorrah. Many do not realize that Sodom and Gomorrah is not a story about homosexuality, it is a story about a community where sexual violence and the threat of violence was normative.

In Genesis 19, Lot begs two angels to come home with him instead of spending the night in the square. And when the men of the town come looking for the angels, Lot says:

“Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men.”(Gen. 19:7-8)

In other words, “Here, rape my daughters instead.” It is this resignation that is the most painful, shocking, and disturbing part of the story.

And we are guilty of this same resignation. When we cry out strongly against homosexuality, and yet we remain silent about the sexual violence girls of all ages are experiencing in their nurseries, homes, and even churches – we are making the same public statement, “Here, rape my daughters instead.”

If the Christian community could get as angry about Bill Cosby as they are about the Supreme Court decision, then things would be different in this country. If the Christian community cried as loudly about the prevalence of rape and sexual violence against women as they cried out against the homosexual community, then things would be different in this country.

America is just like Sodom and Gomorrah.

But not because of the homosexual community. It is like Sodom and Gomorrah because of the unquestioned acceptance of sexual violence in our culture.

And I can see God’s clouds of judgment. I can smell sulfur burning in the air whenever I hear someone say,

“She wanted it.”

“She was asking for it.”

Or in other words, “Here, rape my daughters instead.

It is time for the Christian community to support and stand with each woman who has bravely come forward with her story of sexual violence at the hands of Bill Cosby. And it is time for the Christian community to support and stand with each and every woman who has ever texted, stated, or screamed:

“I will not have sex with You.”

The Rev. Tiffany Thomas is senior pastor of South Tryon Community Church.

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