I’ve been thinking a lot about consent lately. What it is. What it isn’t. And how this fits into my world view. I’m not just talking about consent in sexual relationships, though consent is a HUGE part of sexual relationships. From the one night stand to the committed monogamous relationship. Without consent, enthusiastic consent, sexual partnerings are not equal. Ever. Consent goes deeper than sex. It should be a part of the very fabric of our lives. Which is why I’ve been thinking about it so much these days.
I’m a Christian. I’m learning that I’m a very strange breed of Christian. I believe in love. And acceptance. And inclusion. I don’t believe I have all the answers. The Bible is not to be taken literally in all cases. God gave us free will and expects us to actually use it. I believe in ethics before theology. I think sin is overused as a focus for faith. And seriously, why should we be focusing on sin and hell when God is all about life? I’m not sure I even believe in hell. And I’m not 100% sure that Jesus died for my sin. Or of how the concept of the trinity really fits into the foundations of Christianity, which is first century Judaism. I disagree with the religious right. And I wish the United States would get back to separation of church and state because this entire policing morality shit is really messing us up.
I question things. A lot. And I’m okay with not having a definitive answer. I am not okay with doing harm. I don’t consider myself messed up, backslidden, or apostate. I consider myself a person trying to do the best she can in this world.
What has this got to do with consent? In one of my daily excavations of the internet I link clicked myself to a blog post by a wonderful woman who for reasons of her own has deconverted. Her post centers around consent and the fact that Western Christianity has a consent problem.
This makes me sad. Not because this woman experienced a lack of consent through her fundamentalist upbringing. That makes me angry, actually. That faith was used to beat submission into her. That it’s used to tear away a person’s right to belong to themselves. That is abusive and wrong on oh so many levels. And I know it happens in almost every denomination from the fundamentalist conservative right to the liberal left.
While her experience make me furious, what made me sad was that she’s so very right. And this is part of what’s so very wrong within Western Christianity.
Think about it. Do Christians ask permission before they evangelize or proselytize? Do we teach our women to submit to their husbands because for some strange reason men just know better than us women? Or are less emotional? Do we teach that emotions aren’t to be trusted? That we belong to God and therefore aren’t entitled to live our own lives? That we should be holding each other accountable whether or not we have been invited into each other’s lives? That boundaries don’t belong in a community of believers because we are one big happy family? That saying no to a request from a sister or brother in Christ is just…wrong?
Do we expect everyone around us to live life according to our rules? To never question authority? That women don’t really have dominion over our own bodies? That men are to be held to a different set of standards because there are apparently different rules? That there is no room for other religions, philosophies, points of view because whichever brand of Christianity we belong to is obviously the right one? Is there room in heaven for those who do not comply with our particular brand of faith?
In general, no. And this makes me sad. For us. For everyone else. Because aren’t we supposed to be different? Safe? Non-judging? Inclusive? Compassionate? Loving? When people start telling us we aren’t, there’s a problem. A huge problem. And some of it comes down to what we teach , or don’t teach, about consent.
I can’t speak for all Christians. I can only speak for myself. Consent wasn’t in any of the lesson plans in the curriculum of my faith. I was presented with a lot of mixed messages about a lot of things, which lead me to believe that no one denomination has it right. That no person has all the answers. That maybe there are many ways to interpret the bible. And many ways to live life.
In every church I have attended consent has rarely been a topic of sermons or conversation. Respect, sure. Honoring the autonomy of others, sometimes. But consent? Never. Submission, oh yes. Submission to parents, to authority figures, to husbands, to God – this has been preached and taught in spades. But consent? Not so much. Without consent, well, I’m not really an individual, am I? Without consent one doesn’t have to worry about things like rights. Or questioning authority. Or questioning at all.
I want to be different. I want to be a Christian who cares about consent, respect, and honoring the autonomy of others. I want to help build a community that is all about love and inclusion. I want to honor the individual for all that is unique and wondrous about her. I want to be a safe person and live in an environment that is safe for every person, every gender, every race, every faith system. I want to enter into your hopes and joys and fears. But only if you give me the consent to do so. It’s not my right to tell anyone how to live, how to love, or how to believe. It is not my right to judge.
I want to apologize to every person who has been hurt because someone didn’t honor your right to be yourself. Because someone took away your consent. Or imposed their world view upon you. I’m so sorry. What can I do to be different? To be safer for you? I can’t change the rest of Western Christianity, but I can change myself.
Photograph by David Penny