Sin in Steubenville

The story of the Steubenville rapes is by now well known. Laurie Penny gets it right when she says that … Continued

The story of the Steubenville rapes is by now well known. Laurie Penny gets it right when she says that “this is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment.” This is the moment when the oft-denied reality of America’s rape culture is suddenly revealed. The moment is shameful and it is contested, but the facts are undeniably real.

With the videos, tweets, and Instagram pictures of young men laughing as they pass around the unconscious woman they’ve just raped, the curtain of pretense has been pulled back. Rape culture is right there: visible, audible, blatant. “This is how you have a good time,” this culture tells our young men. “Girl’s bodies are the spoils for winning the game. And don’t worry about the consequences, the coach will cover for you.” Penny names this cultural story for what it is—evil.

Theologians have another name for evil: we call it sin. This is a religious term that denotes grave evil— human life gone awry. Rape culture is such a grave evil. Surely the offense of it is so weighty as to grieve the heart of God.

Reinhold Niebuhr, the great public theologian of the 20th century, said, “Evil is not to be traced back to the individual but to the collective behavior of humanity.” It is the collective behavior of which he wrote that worries me most here. In this case we see that the collective behavior of humanity has allowed the evil of rape to go on happening, as if it were somehow a normal part of our existence, regrettable but impossible to stop.

The collective behavior of humanity—the failure to see, judge, and act to stop rape culture—can also be observed in diverse countries. In India, we’ve learned of gang-rapes, tourist-rapes, and child-rapes. In the Republic of China, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Somalia, in Zimbabwe, in the U.S/ military, and on college campuses, we read stories of rapists acting with impunity, never expecting to be held accountable, and some, like the young men in Steubenville, seeming to not understand what they’ve done wrong.

Religious leaders have a particular duty to take a stand against this profound evil. If our faiths proclaim the glory of God and the dignity of human beings, we cannot sit idly by and let this continue. We need to challenge the narratives that support rape culture. We need to call out the falsehood that boys’ futures matter more than girls’ futures. We have to state unequivocally that girls are not “sluts,” that this term is not even acceptable any more. We have to teach people that our bodies are sacred, and that the crime of rape demeans the dignity of us all.

In terms of pastoral care, it is not enough to try to heal the wounds of rape survivors, important as that is. We need also to become public theologians again, speaking out of our faith, and calling upon all of the resources in our traditions to support the work of social, cultural, and political change.

We can address this is in congregations, in Sunday schools, and in youth groups. We need to tell parents to teach their children well. Teach them that all beings are precious and valuable in the sight of their creator, and that is our job to love and protect human life. And teach them explicitly that sexual coercion, force, and violence of any kind are always wrong.

Religious leaders can also rail against rape culture from the pulpit. Two of my students at Yale Divinity School even devised an Episcopalian liturgy on this subject. In the worship service, the critical gathering of a faith community, they name the evil of rape culture as sin—an offense against God and humanity—and call on participants to abolish it. The hymns, the responsive readings, and the message of the sermon help participants break through the collective sense of denial. “Set our hearts on fire for your justice,” the people proclaim.

We can also use the media, the arts, and our voices to challenge rape culture. We need to create a movement to change this cultural story, to foreclose on its future. We have to imagine a world where it is unthinkable to harm another human being in this way, and incomprehensible for anyone to laugh about it. And then we have to call on the deepest religious and spiritual resources we have to try to create that world.

If Steubenville is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment, then now is the time for people of all faiths and people of no faith to be pr-active and challenge this way of life gone awry. Call it evil or call it sin, but make sure to call it out every time you see it.

Mary Clark Moschella is Roger J. Squire Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Yale Divinity School. Clark Moschella is a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Sin is not just grievous evil. Theft is a sin and it does not matter if it is $1 or $1million. Coveting is a sin and that only happens in the heart and mind of the individual (harms no one else). It does not have to harm others to be considered a sin.

  • nkri401

    Not sure – I personally think there is difference between stealing a $2.00 bread to eat and swindling life savings of a SS recipient.

  • HELLO

    Why does RCC religious man made rules over the centuries if violated by the member is sin? For control for the member to seek forgiveness from their indoctrination guilt complex with those special words ” through the administration of the church”. Confesstion of sin today goes back to the late1300s but was started in Ireland monk to monk in the early 1300s but shut down by Rome until the late 1300s so that the priest was the one to hear the confesstion. You think by now that the RCC would have a very simple general confesstion service as part of the mass account people just do not go to the box except for the regular few who are mostly older. Todays TEN COMMANDMENTS you think went through congress with all the admentments ( man made rules ) to each commandment. Does anyone confess today to the 9th or 10th commandments?

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

concert
Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

shutterstock_37148347
What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.