In recent days, the subjects of chastity and virtue have risen again to the top of my thoughts as the allegations against Joseph L. Bishop became public. A quick Google search will bring you up to date on just what the allegations are, but to summarize, a 55 year old woman is finally being taken seriously about abuses that occurred in 1984. I believed it as soon as I heard it, and it was cemented more for me when I read the entire transcript. Others are of different opinions. I could go into a lot of detail about what red flags I saw all over the place in the transcript itself, in addition to Bishop’s own problematic admissions, and began an attempt to do so earlier today. I decided that my judgment of the situation is not what matters. I do hope that due diligence is given to resolving this matter legally, as well as administration of just consequences from the church. I wish I could reach out to the woman personally, particularly to the young woman who suffered so in 1984 – I would hug her and cry with her. To her I would say, “This abuse was not your fault. All is not lost. I believe you. There are still good men.”
Often, the main ideas floating in my brain become apparent in a convenient little package that lends itself well to creating a Facebook post. This was the case today as well, as I contemplated what it was I was wanting to write. If this post was to have a title, it would be “What I Wish the Saints Understood About Rape”. Let me quote that for you:
I would love to see a “Gospel Topics Essay” on lds.org reiterating the church’s current stance on sexual abuse. I think too many members are still operating with attitudes reflecting what was understood about the meaning of virtue in the 1970s.
Let’s be clear here.
1) A rapist does not have the privilege of taking your chastity and virtue from you. These are inherent spiritual traits, despite suffering and trauma in the physical body.
2) Rape is always a rapist’s fault. Nothing you say or do makes their crime justified.
3) A victim of sexual abuse is not guilty of any sin and has no need of repentance, though ecclesiastical leaders can be helpful in helping the victim to find peace and healing through referral to qualified professionals as well as offering comfort and blessings.
4) It is better to survive, no matter what that takes. You are not better off dead than living as a rape survivor. It is human to have many different reactions to physical threats, those who freeze are no more guilty than those who flee or fight. Freezing is not “allowing the rape to happen”.
5) While I personally choose to cover my body because of my love for God, women are not responsible for men’s thoughts. No matter how a woman dresses, she is not asking to be raped and should not be treated as if she provoked this terrible crime.
6) Repentance is possible, but only when the perpetrator is honest in completely confessing, forsaking, accepting the consequences of their actions in the church and outside of it, and seeking forgiveness from those they have harmed.
All of these ideas can be found in one form or another, in the teachings of current church leaders. They are not new. I’m going to focus this post on the nature of chastity and virtue. But I truly do find that many are sticking to counsel from “dead prophets” over living ones. It is 100% true that Spencer W. Kimball said the following in his celebrated book “The Miracle of Forgivenss”:
“Also far-reaching is the effect of the loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation where there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”
He also quoted David O. McKay, saying,
“Your virtue is worth more than your life . . . preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives.”
I do believe that these men were called of God to be latter-day prophets. I respect and love them. I do not know their mind at the time that these quotes were written or said, but I do know that they have caused endless heartache to victims of sexual abuse, whether or not that was the intention. I can only assume that there are multiple dimensions and definitions to chastity and virtue, as I honestly cannot imagine a prophet of God looking me in the eye and saying, “Did you fight hard enough?”, “What were you wearing?”
If we view chastity and virtue as being only the state of having been untouched or unpenetrated, than yes, a rapist takes your chastity away, and you’ll never get it back. But this idea is so very narrow. In my view, it limits the power of Christ to heal us from all that is unfair in life. (It also makes one unchaste on their wedding night, which we also know is incorrect.) This definition, however, seems to be the one on which the first quote by Kimball hinges. If that was all that chastity and virtue meant, then the future of a victim is truly bleak. But let’s look at the definition of chastity as it is taught today:
Chastity is sexual purity. Those who are chaste are morally clean in their thoughts, words, and actions. Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage.
This quote turns the focus from the physical state of virginity, to moral cleanliness in “thoughts, words, and actions”. There is nothing here that tells me that being raped would take my chastity away from me. It is only my thoughts, my words, and my actions that define my worthiness before God.
Now onto virtue. The definition of virtue in English is, “behavior showing high moral standards”. It has also been taken to be synonymous with “sexual purity” rather than “purity”. When Jesus felt the virtue to have gone out of him in Mark 5:30, we understand virtue to be more accurately defined as “power”. I would submit that perhaps it was in the English sense that David O. McKay meant his quote (he was after all, quite a scholar), as this would be something truly worth defending, and being willing to die for. It seems more in keeping with what the an adherent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ spends their lives doing. I would say Spencer W. Kimball’s misunderstandings may have stemmed simply from that difference of definitions.
In the early church we know that many women were raped as they were persecuted and mobbed by those who hated the Mormons. These were good, pure, virtuous women, who were certainly not “asking for it”. They were grateful to have survived and to have lived to see Zion. They blessed the lives of many through their testimonies and examples of faith and righteousness. For Pete’s sake, Eliza R. Snow was gang-raped in Missouri. I simply do not believe that the definition of virtue and chastity was ever meant to apply as something one could lose under these circumstances. Prophets from Joseph Smith on down for many years were acquainted with them personally. Would they look them in the eye and tell them that they should have died instead?
This was not a teaching that came from those who knew and loved those women. This was an idea and theory that could have only sprung from a complete misconception, and a bit of a disconnect to our own past as well. We, as a church, should be willing to acknowledge past wrongs, and lest we despair, recall that the Lord has never claimed that his servants were perfect. Despite past wrongs, we can change for the better now. I think President Kimball would be the first to correct himself had he known the far reach and extent of pain that came from his misunderstanding of what chastity and virtue mean.
These inherent traits can only be lost through deliberate and rebellious choice. And even though they can be lost, they can still be regained. Even the most vile of sinners, can be cleansed, purified, and healed through Jesus Christ. A truly repentant individual can live a chaste and virtuous life, completely clean and whole in the eyes of the Lord. More relevant to my theme, is that any of the “fallout” suffered by a victim of sexual abuse, is likewise able to be covered and healed by the power of Jesus Christ. It takes time, and it hurts, but God is bigger than anything that life can throw at us.