Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Kimball.
Although nobody accuses me, every time the (now out-of-print) The Miracle of Forgiveness comes up, I cringe and feel guilty. It’s really not my work and I know that. But the author is my grandfather Spencer Kimball and somehow I feel responsible in a vague but troubling way.
Rape is a difficult and touchy subject, yet I want to contribute to the discussion. I offer this as my personal opinion (I certainly cannot and would never claim to channel Spencer Kimball.)
In a discussion about rape, the two lines most commonly cited from The Miracle of Forgiveness are on pages 63 and 196 (English edition). I can make sense of these, in the main.
On p. 63, Elder Kimball quotes President David O. McKay: “Your virtue is worth more than your life . . . preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives.” This appears, in the original and as used by SWK, to be addressed primarily to boys on college campuses, and in effect counsels: “don’t have sex, don’t initiate sex, don’t do it.” It is complicated by the fact that in common discourse of the time (1960s) men were seen as the actor and women the acted upon and “virtue” was for a woman to preserve. But in the words of two prophets, I read “virtue” as something the actor (the man in this traditional model) is supposed to preserve. In addressing a concern for the man preserving his virtue, it appears a somewhat radical statement for its time.
The problem is that for decades this counsel has been read by both men and women, by both actors and those acted upon. And the statement is not clear or unambiguous about turning the preservation of “virtue” from the woman’s responsibility to the man’s responsibility. As a result, a rape victim understandably hears that she (or he) would be better off dead than having lost her “virtue.” That is an intolerable, insensitive, wrong-minded, dangerous thought and statement.
On p. 196, in his own voice, Elder Kimball says this: “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.”
On a close contextual reading I find this to be a message to the rapist, or the person who initiated and is guilty of sexual sin. It’s all about how restitution is near impossible because the damage is so great. (For example, I think the “better to die” phrase is really saying that rape is akin to murder.) The next paragraph states, “while one may recover in large measure from sexual sins they are nevertheless heinous.” However, the problem with this quote is that in expounding on how great the damage is, the words lapse into victim-blaming. Perhaps it was common language or phrasing at the time (however wrong that might be even then), but in modern terms this language is unavoidably damaging to victims.
By reading in context and assigning Elder Kimball the best intentions, I can explain and rationalize and in so doing show that there is something good in these statements. However, the words are harsh, punishing, misleading, and dangerous. There is no amount of good intentions or rational interpretation that can solve that problem. These statements from The Miracle of Forgiveness simply must be disavowed.