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Rev. Joanna Harader

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On Abortion, Rape and Speaking for God

Posted: 08/23/2012 11:21 am

Representative Todd Akin's comment suggesting that "legitimate rape" cannot lead to pregnancy has stirred up a storm of controversy over the past few days. Meanwhile, the Republicans, while roundly criticizing Akin for his political faux pas, have put forward a platform calling for a federal ban on abortion with no exceptions for victims of rape.

For the record, I am no fan of abortion. Still, it's offensive to me that so many rich white men are presuming to discuss and legislate the most intimate aspects of women's bodies. And it deeply disturbs me that our national discussion about rape revolves around taking more rights away from the victims rather than around how to fix a broken culture in which women are seen as -- and subsequently treated like -- sex objects.

And I am appalled that, in the midst of these discussions, those expressing the most disrespectful attitudes toward women tend to do so in the name of God. These politicians claim to be speaking on behalf of God, legislating the will of God. And they certainly hope that, with the support of God's men like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, they will get the "God vote" come November.

Well, I have some biblical news for the politicians out there: The people who get to speak for God are called prophets. Trust me, "prophet" is not a job anybody applies for; it's not a job anybody wants. Your approval ratings plummet, the pay is lousy, the wardrobe is uncomfortable and the meal plan is for the birds. As an added bonus, those in political power will probably try to have you killed. If you are rich and comfortable and alive, chances are you are not a prophet.

And I have some more Biblical news: Those of us who consider ourselves Christian are supposed to be following Christ a.k.a. Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, we do not have any stories in the Gospels of Jesus interacting with a rape victim. But we do know the story of a woman who has been violated and rejected. We meet her in Matthew, Mark and Luke -- the woman with the flow of blood. The woman who has been bleeding, hemorrhaging, for 12 years.

In a culture where a woman on her monthly period was considered unclean, can you imagine the shame of bleeding for 12 years? We don't know her back story, but she has likely been abandoned by her husband -- she's damaged property, not good for sex or making babies.

This woman has experienced shame and isolation for 12 years because of her uterus, her vagina, that awful, damning flow of blood.

And then the line that terrifies me and breaks my heart all at once: "She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse" (Mark 5:26, NIV).

What, I wonder, would a first century Palestinian doctor do to a woman who was hemorrhaging? I try not to think about this too much. But whatever they did, they caused her to suffer much -- and it didn't work. All of that pain and suffering and the blood kept flowing. Of course, the doctors took her money anyway.

When we meet this woman, she is violated, rejected and in despair because of the way society and individuals viewed and treated her female body. She is desperate for the healing that money cannot buy her.

So she joins the crowd around Jesus, pushes her way to the center of the action, undoubtedly touching and making unclean numerous men in the process. She comes up behind Jesus, reaches out her hand and brushes the hem of his cloak.

Immediately she feels the power within her body. The hemorrhaging has stopped. She is free from her illness. She is healed. Yes. Her body is healed.

Then comes, for me, the most amazing part of the story. Jesus turns around and asks who touched him. The secret touch of this unclean woman, this societal nobody, has not gone unnoticed by Jesus. He felt the power leave him -- he knows that she is there, somewhere, in the grasping crowd.

Jesus knows she is there, and he keeps looking for her until, finally, she comes forward in fear. This woman who has broken the purity laws. This woman who has barely been considered human for the past 12 years. This woman who had "suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors."

The woman who no longer has the flow of blood separates herself from the crowd and, "trembling with fear," she tells Jesus the "whole truth."

I've always thought that she just told him the story: I've been bleeding for a long time and then I touched your cloak and now I'm better. Thanks.

But maybe, maybe this woman actually told Jesus the whole truth. The violation, the shame, the pain she carried within her body for years. The despair and that final lunge of reckless hope.

I don't know exactly what she told him. But I believe the Scripture. Whatever she told him, it was the whole truth.

And Jesus didn't cringe. He didn't blame. He didn't scold. He didn't tell her to go purify herself. He didn't ask her to justify the choices she had made in the face of her tragedy.

No.

Jesus noticed her, looked for her, listened to her and then said, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering" (Mark 5:34).

This, my friends, is the Christian response to rape: notice, look, listen and heal.

These are the words -- the only words -- Christ longs to speak through us to those who have been sexually violated, rejected and shamed: "Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

If you aren't saying that, you aren't speaking for God.

 

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