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There’s been an alarming and disturbing conversation happening on social media lately about how women should choose death over being raped.

An abuse advocate was talking to me about it, and how scary this trend was. I then began to see it all over Twitter, and became quite alarmed myself.

Now, from the image and title alone it should be very clear, but I have a MAJOR trigger warning for this post. We’ll be talking about assault, but also about abusive responses pastors have to women’s assault.

To give you an example, Nathaniel Jolly, who is a fundamentalist pastor who was part of the SBC until quite recently when he resigned publicly because the SBC is “too liberal”, made waves in March by declaring that Bathsheba wasn’t raped, but it was merely an affair. (I’m going to share screenshots rather than the actual tweets because I don’t want to boost his engagement stats).

For more context, Jolly, though he pastors a small church in Alaska, is influential online, and is close with the Conservative Baptist Network and Tom Ascol, who ran for President of the SBC on a more fundamentalist platform. When he resigned from the SBC, he made headlines in many media outlets because of his online influence. Jolly is not the only one to be saying such things recently, but I’m going to use him as an example.

Nathaniel Jolly Bathsheba Guilty

Of course people were insisting that it was indeed rape, but he negated that, saying that if she hadn’t wanted it, she would have simply chosen to die instead.

And this was the standard that he took on social media–that you should choose death over sin, and so if you don’t kill yourself, you have participated in the sin.

Shadrach tweet
Wife Choose Death tweet

He culminated in this poll, where people agree you should choose death (or death) over being raped. He frames it as an affair, but he was using a circular argument–since you should kill yourself rather than have an affair, if you didn’t kill yourself, you consented, and therefore it wasn’t rape.

Poll Rape nathaniel Jolly

The definition of whether or not it was rape, then, is whether or not you allow yourself to be killed.

If you aren’t killed, it’s not rape. It’s sin, because you didn’t resist enough. That must mean you wanted it and you participated in it.

The only way to prove that it was assault, then, is to be killed. After all, if it was truly assault, as Jolly argues, then Bathsheba would have allowed herself to be killed. Since she didn’t end up dead, she must have wanted it.

I want to explore this today, because I think it’s vitally important, but warning: this is going to be really triggering!

And, yes, I still have COVID, but I want to get this post out, and this is likely all the work I’m going to do this week!

5 Facts that Are Indisputable about Rape

1. God designed women’s bodies to have a good chance of surviving sexual assault.

We see two ways that women’s bodies especially were designed to survive sexual assault. First, when facing trauma, the body goes into a “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” mode, depending on which one will protect you the most. Many women, when faced with assault, freeze up or start fawning over him, to avoid being more hurt.

Experts will tell you that you lessen your chances of being hurt during a sexual assault if you don’t fight back–UNLESS the person is trying to move you to a secondary location. In that case, it’s best to fight (I will always remember a show Oprah did on this!).

But second, women have much higher arousal non-concordance than men, meaning that our bodies can have physical signs of arousal when our minds are repulsed or devastated or terrified. In fact, some have posited that terror can actually increase some signs of physical arousal.

Why? Because when women get lubricated, it lowers the chance of tissue damage or internal organ damage. This does not mean that all women become lubricated when assaulted; it is just a recognized phenomenon that is fairly common.

God designed women’s bodies this way.

And He also designed our psyches to protect ourselves. Often during sexual assault victims experience “dissociation” where the mind seems to leave the body so you can ignore what is happening to you. This helps protect the mind from trauma, though it can be a difficult trauma response to disentangle later. 

2. Being raped is not a sin

I really don’t have much to say about this. It is self-evident. When someone does something to you against your will, it is not on you. It is on them. Period.

3. Being raped is not shameful

Though many sexual assault survivors feel shame, and that’s understandable, being raped is not shameful. That is on the perpetrator, not on the victim. The victim did nothing wrong, and so the shame is not theirs to bear. When someone rapes, they are at fault, and so all guilt and shame is on them.

4. Our choices are usually not be raped or be killed

Most rapists do not kill their victims. And if a victim fights back, it is very likely that the rapist will overpower them and assault them anyway (though self-defence classes can help!). It is not as if one can “choose death”, as it were.

5. There are non-physical ways to coerce sex

You can threaten the life or well-being of someone else. You can use psychological and spiritual coercion. I won’t belabor the point, but many are raped, even in marriage, and it looks nothing like holding a woman down while she’s kicking and screaming.

And that’s not even scratching the surface of the problems with his philosophy! What does this say to child victims to claim they should die rather than be assaulted? Especially if the perpetrator is a family member? What does this say to victims of power imbalances who are so confused and don’t understand what is happening to them?

A quick synopsis of how God sees rape:

It is not God’s will that women be killed from rape; it is not a sin to be raped; and women (or children or men, as the case may be) are the victims, not the ones in the wrong. These are indisputable.

If someone believes, then, that a woman should kill herself rather than allow herself to be raped, then what does that say about how they see women? That’s the more important question, and that’s what I’d like to look at:

 

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What are the implications of saying someone should kill themselves rather than be raped?

They believe that women live or die at the whim of men

Here we have a pastor declaring that a woman should choose death over the “sin” of having sex with another man, and if she doesn’t choose death, she’s in sin–meaning that she can’t really be raped.

Therefore, the pastor is deciding whether women should live or die.

But so is the rapist. If a man decides to rape a woman, even a stranger, then she now must kill herself. She must die.

So women only live at the whim of bad men. If bad men ever decide to attack a woman, then her life is over. She must end it. Men hold the keys to whether she deserves to live or not.

They believe that women’s lives are not inherently worthy, in and of themselves

Jolly was proudly stating that his wife would choose death over rape, and in the conversations that month declared that this would be the right thing to do.

So he would rather have a dead wife than a wife who had been raped. And he would rather his children be motherless.

This means that women’s lives are disposable. Women don’t deserve life, simply because they exist. They only deserve life if they prove themselves worthy.

They believe that women are merely objects

If women exist at the whim of men, and can have their right to life snuffed out by a man deciding to attack them, then women aren’t fully human. They are merely objects.

They are extensions of the men in their lives, they are not worth anything, in and of themselves.

They believe in honour killings–that being raped is the capital offence

To see all the “Christians” echoing Nathanel Jolly was chilling, because honour killings are a huge evil injustice throughout the world. Women are killed for being raped. Being raped is a capital offence in many countries.

And now they want to make it a capital offence in Christianity too, with one caveat. While in other countries they kill women after the fact, here they are demanding women kill themselves before the fact, to prove it was actually non-consensual. The end result is the same. Women deserve death for being raped.

They believe that men should be off the hook for sexual assault–though they may claim they aren’t saying this

Jolly kept claiming he wasn’t talking about rape–he was only talking about an affair. You should kill yourself rather than sin.

But here’s the thing–if you DON’T kill yourself, then you’re saying you consented. So the only proof that it was rape is your death. If you’re not dead, it isn’t really rape.

That was his whole point about Bathsheba–she couldn’t have been raped, because if it was really rape, she would have resisted unto death.

If the only proof that it was assault is that you are dead, then if you are alive you weren’t assaulted. And if you weren’t assaulted, then you aren’t a victim. And if you aren’t a victim, then there wasn’t a perpetrator.

See how convenient that is?

They believe in the Myth of the Magical Penis

Okay, here’s one that I’d like to explore for a moment, because while my other points have been talked about frequently, here’s something else under the surface that I think is going on.

I think some men believe the penis is far more powerful than it actually is. 

Why is it that some men become so insecure and incensed about a woman having had another man’s penis in her body? They think she deserves death rather than experience another man’s penis.

Why?

Okay, let’s leave this conversation for a minute and turn to something else.

What do men who think like this believe 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 means in regards to women? In those verses, Paul tells both men and women not to deprive each other. We talked at length in The Great Sex Rescue about how this does not mean “don’t deprive each other of one-sided sexual intercourse, where she feels no pleasure,” because that makes no sense. The only way she is being deprived is if sex is actually good for her–she feels pleasure; she feels intimate and close with him. If sex is merely one-sided intercourse, she is already being deprived!

 

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But we know that in marriages like these, heavily patriarchal marriages where the wife has no say in anything (seriously, just watch this video with Nathaniel Jolly and his wife and see how creepy it is with her submissive and in the background), it’s highly unlikely that she is enjoying sex. (I obviously don’t know anything about the Jollys personally, but we do know from our survey that it is very likely that in a marriage like this, where a wife is seen as subordinate, that she is not enjoying herself).

Yet men still feel that they are giving their wives a huge gift by having intercourse with them, because they are bestowing on these women the chance to experience his penis. 

Like, it’s not about whether or not she feels pleasure. It’s not about what she wants sexually. It’s merely about experiencing his penis, which is supposed to be this amazing thing.

It’s why some men send dick pics (well, aside from the shock value, and the sexual assault aspect, by exposing them to something without their consent). Some men honestly think women will enjoy this or be impressed, because they assume that women feel about their penis the same way that men do.

If this is true, then maybe the reason that rape doesn’t seem like rape to them is because it doesn’t look a whole lot different from the way sex happens in their marriage. 

They have no context for understanding a mutually intimate, pleasurable experience. They merely know what it’s like to “conquer” their wives, as Doug Wilson says, and so what’s really the difference between another man doing this to your wife?

That’s why rape is seen as an affair–because it looks pretty much the same as sex in their own marriage.

Final Thoughts on Men Who Say Women Should Die Rather Than Be Raped

All of this is happening when women are demanding justice for sexual assault

Just as the SBC is finally talking about making steps to address sexual abuse in their congregations (though I agree with Christa Brown that it is far too little, and they are not giving it the emphasis it deserves in terms of money and hiring professionals), some influential members in these circles are now putting up even more hoops for women to “prove” sexual assault took place.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Men who believe this aren’t Christians.

Some of you are going to take more offence to me saying that than you are to the fact that men are saying that women should be killed rather than raped.

But we need to start saying this. What these men are saying looks exactly like honour killings, and looks nothing like Jesus. Just because someone can recite the Apostle’s Creed does not mean that they have surrendered their life to Christ and are living by the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead, they can be using Scripture to have power and control over others, using it for their own personal gain.

That is not of Christ; that is anti-Christ.

And we do not call those who are anti-Christ Christians.

When Paul said to expel the wicked man from among us, this is exactly what he’s talking about. When people show you their true colours, believe them. Don’t say, “well, I owe him honor as a fellow brother in Christ.”

No, you owe his wife honour.

You owe the women in his congregation honour.

You owe Jesus honour.

And what the wicked man really needs to know is that he is in sin, and that will not happen if we continue to coddle men who hold these abhorrent views.

If you are married to a man like this, and you are reading this, please know there are safe places to go.

If you live in Homer, Alaska, and you know the Jollys, please make sure his wife and children are safe, because they do not look like it. If you live in Moscow, Idaho, where Doug Wilson preaches stuff just like this, please tell every woman you know that if she ever needs help, you are there for her. Let’s let those who are stuck in cults like this know that they can be free.

And if you are living with a man like this, and you need help, please call a domestic violence hotline (just google “domestic violence hotline” and enter your state or country).

If you recognize yourself in these stories, please contact a Domestic Violence Hotline

  • Canada: 800.799.SAFE (7233)
  • United States: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673).
  • United Kingdom: 08 08 16 89 111
  • Australia: 1800 015 188
  • New Zealand: 0800 456 450
  • Kenya: 0-800-720-072
  • Nigeria: 0800 033 3333
  • South Africa: 0800 428 428

There is evil in the evangelical church right now. 

It will continue to grow until we excise it. And so it’s incumbent on all of us: Will we support denominations with so many people who agree with this line of thinking? Will we follow pastors who agree, or who don’t call this out? Will we follow social media accounts who espouse this, because “some of what they say is really good”? Or will we say, “enough is enough”?

Pastor Nathaniel Jolly advocates for rape victims to die because if they choose to be raped instead of choosing death, they must have wanted it. It's horrifying. Here's our response.

What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find BIBLICAL, HEALTHY, EVIDENCE-BASED help for their marriage. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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