Beliefs Culture Ethics Opinion

Bill Cosby, rape, and terminal niceness

bill cosbyBill Cosby has been accused of rape by no fewer than fifteen women.*

It’s not the kind of thing any of us want to believe, because we want to hold him forever in our minds as the sweater-clad, Jell-o eating American dad that he has been for so many years. Rape allegations against Cosby have long been part of his public narrative, but he’s played them off and we have ignored them. And the people who have done the worst job of ringing the alarm, of working to bring justice to an area that they should be most concerned about? Christians. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

In 2005, Andrea Constand brought a lawsuit against Cosby claiming he had drugged and assaulted her. Twelve other women made similar allegations, but Cosby and Constand settled out of court before any of them could testify. (Read Time‘s helpful timeline here.) Since then, several other women have come forward, including Tamara Green and Barbara Bowman, two of the earlier twelve, Joann Tarshis, and model Janice Dickinson.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his (wonderful, which should go without saying) article about Cosby:

A defense of Cosby requires that one believe that several women have decided to publicly accuse one of the most powerful men in recent Hollywood history of a crime they have no hope of seeing prosecuted, and for which they are seeking no damages. The alternative is to see one of the most celebrated public fathers of our time, and one of the great public scourges of black morality, revealed as a serial rapist.

There are articles in SlateGawkerEntertainment Weekly, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post, among many others, documenting these claims. There is the now-viral (and now-removed) footage of comedian Hannibal Buress doing a bit about Cosby’s rape allegations, most of which involved disturbingly similar details about women being drugged and coming to much later, or while Cosby was raping them.

Every major news outlet has written about this. Except the Christian ones. Other than Relevant Magazine, I cannot find one instance of a Christian news outlet that has covered this topic. (Please, correct me if I’m wrong. I hope I am.)

Christian environments have not proved to be safe places to talk about rape and sexual assault. Remember this article about sexual assault at Patrick Henry college? Or this one about sexual assault at Pensacola Christian College? Or seminary graduate Todd Akin talking about “legitimate rape?” The list could go on.

We want to believe people are good, and we want to be nice. We want this especially of a conservative black man, who is aligned politically with many other Christians and who seems, from his famous television double, to be a Nice Old Guy. But he’s not. Bill Cosby is not a Nice Old Guy; he’s probably a rapist. And we who are tasked with “acting justly” should be at the very front lines of talking about this, not burying our heads in the sand.

White Christianity has become, culturally, a religion of terminal niceness. We want to believe the best about everyone. Surely Darren Wilson wouldn’t have shot and killed an innocent teenager! He’s law enforcement, he’s just like us! (Which means he’s white.) So we aren’t on the front lines fighting for justice in Ferguson, because we see ourselves in Wilson rather than Michael Brown. (To be very clear, I am not talking about the black church, whose record fighting for social justice we would be lucky to emulate halfway. They are there. They have always been there.)

It’s easy to avoid talking about rape, a crime with so little physical evidence to prove it that 60% of rapes are never reported and 97% of rapists will never see the inside of a jail cell. (Stats via RAINN.) It’s easier to leave it to the rest of the world to cover. But that’s not what any good, self-aware, justice-oriented faith would do. It’s not enough.

*Post updated to reflect that Cosby has not been criminally convicted of rape.

About the author

Laura Turner

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic. She is interested in the intersection of church and culture.


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  • This a brave article, and one I’m so glad you’ve written. I wrote this a few weeks ago on (admittedly not a Christian magazine), but on the point that religious communities have been bad at talking about rape and sexual assault. Talking about it forces us to confront that it’s something that touches all of our lives, and this is a disturbing, frightening thing. I’m glad that you wrote this!

  • With you right up to the part about the Ferguson shooting. I don’t know everything that happened – perhaps you can fill us in. But I do not agree that Christians -or any other group -need to be marching in the streets there or anywhere else, until legal due diligence has been done and we hear from the grand jury. Just what is “justice” in Ferguson? Is there only “justice” if a police officer who truly was firing in his own defense is found negligent? Justice should no more be influenced by people protesting (Christian or otherwise) then by the ethnicity of officer or the young man. All this being said, your premise concerning Bill Cosby is thoughtful and should give pause to all who have admired him through the decades.

  • I think the fellow is worth millions. class action law suits some times bring out a lot more than 15 unscrupulous people wanting some of it ..

    I think we can find cases where men have been accused of rape by many women and it was not true just recently in fact..

    if only men broke the commandment that says do not bare false witness against they neighbor . God would have wrote the command to men only.
    I don’t know Bill Cosby or any of these women personally, I would not vouch for him or them ..


    unless I KNOW THE PERSON or at least know they Go regularly to a confessional Lutheran church..

  • crisis magazine had an article yesterday about this. One should not be writing about matters regarding Christianity and not be familiar with either Crisis or First Things founded by Fr. Neuhaus. this author should also not be leaving a link to her for email which she has deactivated.

  • Slate, Gawker, Huffington Post, and Entertainment Weekly?!?! Even NYT.

    None of these are legitimate avenues of unbiased reporting, especially when it comes to Leftist hobby issues. Maybe the issues with Cosby specifically will receive more attention if they raise to the level of actual national concern.

    This is little more than concern trolling.

  • [NOTE: for transparency, I’ll say that I personally was once the target of an unjust charge (of a non-abuse nature) for which I was acquitted after a two-year fight. My female accuser suffered no consequences at all. My experience was *far* from unique, sadly, but I would not blame the reader for inferring that the personal experiences of myself and many other men may color our perspective:]
    A few years back, another accomplished Black man, who also dared question the standard left-wing narrative regarding the plight of the African-American community, ran for President. At first, the PC opposition simply belittled him as “the pizza guy” (based on this running a chain of restaurants), and ignored his many other accomplishments, including serving on the board of a Federal Reserve Bank. When that didn’t work, a dozen or so women “came forward” and accused him of sexual misconduct. Citing the toll these unproved allegations had on his domestic life, he dropped out of the race — and, lo and behold, his accusers also dropped out of sight *never to be heard from again*. Some of us have seen this pattern too often — which dovetails all-too-neatly into the old racist stereotype of the voracious sexually abusive Black Male — whenever a Black man gets too “uppity” for politically-correct tastes. Wealthy targets of lawsuits, justified or not, frequently and pragmatically settle lawsuits out of court, rather than incurring the higher costs of fighting a lengthy battle on principle; in Cosby’s case, a common, and IMHO suspicious, thread is the has-been/never-was status of accusers who apparently sought career advancement which never came to fruition. Is Cosby guilty — of something other than being famous, wealthy, Black, and independently-minded that is? In our Free Country, No — *unless someone proves otherwise*. As Christians, how can we Judge (with a capital “J”) Bill Cosby *without facts*? We might also ask how he managed to maintain a healthy marriage of many decades to an intelligent, accomplished women in her own right, while keeping this Jekyll/Hyde existence a secret. If and when there’s *proof* I’ll be happy to reevaluate my position. Until then, I’ll maintain the Christian stance of “judge not…” “Probably guilty” (in the author’s words) isn’t enough.

  • I agree with you. I need to see compelling evidence to be convinced that Bill Cosby has perpetrated any of these crimes he has been accused of. I am not beyond the thought of a conspiracy (for whatever reason) to bring this guy down under false pretenses. All of a sudden, women are coming out of the wood-works to accuse Mr. Cosby of rape. Really? After all these years, now they come out? Hmmm! Rather suspicious. As you M. R., I stand by my convictions until I see proof beyond a shadow of a doubt. IF that should happen (and I mean IF), I too will not judge Bill Cosby.

  • What does Bill Cosby say about all this?
    How do we know he really did any of this?
    Maybe he’s being smeared because he is an iconic male, father, Christian figure that is well liked in a country that has taken the male father figures down to a level of ridicule and loss of dignity.

    Is he being discredited because he doesn’t fit the role model that Hollywood pushes for an American male?

  • As cringe worthy of a topic this is, brutal honesty is the only way to report on a story like this. Bill Cosby is an ideal father figure, especially in the black community. Could it be possible that in this time with a heightened awareness to sexual assault paired with this iconic conservative figure who is deemed as a saint that people would wait for some type of validation, facts, proof? No it’s not. We cannot go on a rampage marching and protesting without something confirmed one way or another. However this story brings out many over barring topics that we always seem to report but never gain anything tangible from reports. Race, Sexual Assault, and Religion. Interesting how the parallel was drawn in between Cosby and Mr.Wilson. Two men on vastly different sides of the spectrum have this parallel. Both attacking White Christianity. Although white Christians supported Mr.Wilson, I would argue that their lack of support of a aligned figure like Cosby has more of a significant meaning. The saying “actions speak louder than words” seem prevalent in this situation. With white Christians lack of ability to defend Cosby, is what should be the red flag. Innocent or Guilty Cosby has been tarnished, without any a real sense of support from others. Even if these Cosby allegations are proven to be false, it will be hard-pressed for Cosby to disassociate himself with the stigma.
    I’m not surprised on the constraint efforts of Christian media to not report on a story like this. Christian media is very careful of what they broadcast. In all the cases I’ve come across in a Christian media dealing with something negative there always seems to be a “light at the end of the tunnel” or a separation from the negative thing in question. Christian media never wants to be associated with a downfall. In the case of Mr.Cosby, with his story being so fresh I highly doubt there will be any circulation of stories that truly analyzes the horrible acts in question​ of Mr. Cosby. When either the story dies down or clarity is found within the story is when Christian Media will actually report on it. By then a clear side will be drawn where this Christian Media can take a side where they appear to be morally superior to Mr.Cosby’s acts or find a way to sympathize with him because of his character and position as a Christian Conservative.

  • Watching re-runs of the Cosby Show is something that I remember distinctly about growing up. I always wished that my family could be like the happy Huxtable’s with there teddy-bear dad and comical disfunctions. It was astonishing to me when I heard about the rape allegations of Bill Cosby in the news because, almost immediately, a small, happy memory of my childhood was shattered. Growing up in a Catholic home and attending Catholic schools, the word “rape” could only be uttered before it was shushed and swept under the metaphorical rug. You did not talk about rape, because if you did not talk about it then it did not happen. However, this is exactly why it happens. I feel like [Christian] people are so quick to dismiss the mere thought of rape because it brings a shutter down the spine, but it is real and it happens. Maybe all the issues the Catholic Church has been having with Bishops and child molestation charges (i.e. Bishop O’Malley, Boston) is why so many Christians have been hesitant to comment on Bill Cosby and his current issue..but I think this is wrong. By not saying something Christians are enabling it to happen again and again. Sometimes speaking up is the best option, even if it means speaking alone.

  • Christians need to make sure that they are talking about proven facts when deciding to go after someone for a crime. Otherwise we are guilty of helping to spread gossip not fighting for a just cause. Saying that we don’t discuss rumored allegations because we are hiding from the truth is a paradox. The truth is that we don’t know the truth in this case. To compare it to the social changes that the “Black Church” has made is a huge stretch. They fought for social change, not against individuals who are alleged with wrong doing. I think it goes without saying that Christians abhore rape or any sexual abuse…but I agree with the church staying out of this case…it is not proven to be true.

  • Aside from being an alleged serial rapist, Bill Cosby may be a sociopath. Sociopaths are notorious for wearing “masks of sanity”. People who are obnoxious, blunt, shocking, in your face, etc…are much LESS dangerous than people like BILL COSBY. This guy, with his cushions and collateral has managed to FOOL millions every year. Year after year, while he’s been allegedly DRUGGING and raping young women. How this man has lasted this long only testifies as to how evil he is. The more evil a person is, the more they will work to convince the public how good they are….