Wed | Jan 19, 2022

Carolyn Cooper | Adventist pastor promoting marital rape fired

Published:Sunday | November 28, 2021 | 12:11 AM

Dr Burnett Robinson, the former Senior Pastor of the Grand Concourse Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Bronx, New York, was fired last week after preaching an inflammatory sermon endorsing marital rape. His fall from grace was swift. On Monday, he was sent on administrative leave. On Tuesday, he resigned. By Wednesday, he was dismissed. In an email to me, Kevin Lampe, a spokesperson for the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, confirmed that, “Mr Robinson is no longer a pastor. He will not work for any Seventh-day Adventist entity.”

The passage of scripture on which Dr Robinson was expounding is Ephesians 5:22-24:

22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

This is how Dr Robinson interpreted the Biblical text: “And in this matter of submission, I want you to know upfront, ladies, that once you get married, you are no longer your own. You are your husband’s. [The congregation laughs]. Yu understand what I’m saying ...? And, I, I and I emphasise that because I saw in court the other day on TV where a lady sued her husband for rape. And I would say to you, gentlemen, the best person to rape is your wife. But then, now, it has become legalised. Rape. I don’t understand how you belong to somebody and they are, alright.” Dr Robinson gives up at ‘alright’. [The congregation laughs again].


How did Dr Robinson slide from female submission to marital rape? Quite easily! It’s a slippery slope. The former pastor’s promotion of marital rape is a logical extension of the assertion in Ephesians 5:24 that wives should submit to their husbands “in every thing”. For Dr Robinson, sexual intercourse is, obviously, one of those things to which a wife should be subjected. So, technically, a wife cannot be raped since it is her divinely ordained duty to submit to the demands of her husband.

Dr Robinson’s attempt to emphasise his point leads him to the scandalous conclusion that “the best person to rape is your wife”. This sounds like a classic example of hyperbole, that rhetorical device by which a speaker overstates the case for effect. Dr Robinson seems to have been foolishly attempting to make the argument that marital rape is a contradiction in terms. In his opinion, taking what is rightfully yours is not, in fact, rape. And the pastor’s authority is the Bible.

Immediately after making his incendiary statement, Dr Robinson appears to revise it: “But then, now, it has become legalised.” That “But” seems to be a concession that reverses Dr Robinson’s unqualified advocacy of taking “every thing” from one’s wife. And “it” presumably refers to the legal protections against marital rape. A contrast is set up between sacred biblical licence and secular legal restrictions. Of course, all of this is pure speculation on my part. I would have liked to discuss my interpretation of the pastor’s sermon with him. But when I called on Monday, I got voicemail.


Dr Robinson seems to have conveniently forgotten the following verses in the same chapter of Ephesians:

25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;...

28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

I doubt very much that Dr Robinson would want to be a victim of rape. Whether marital or not! Born and raised in Jamaica, the pastor would have learned to be very protective of his own flesh, particularly his private parts. Though he obviously cannot understand the principle of marital rape, Dr Robinson should be able to appreciate the philosophy of reciprocity that is central to this chapter of Ephesians. Men should also submit to their wives. That is what love requires.

Then, the repeated laughter of the congregation could, perhaps, have been a nervous reaction to Dr Burnett’s outrageous assertions. But, it could suggest endorsement. The official position of the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on Dr Robinson’s transgression does not appear to take into account how some rank and file members of the church feel about marital rape. A statement issued by the conference asserts, “The views he expressed are wrong and not accepted by our church.” But who, exactly, is “our church”?

Furthermore, the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, like that of many other Christian denominations, does not seem to recognise the fact that the Bible is a culture-specific text. It tells the story of humanity from the perspective of Judaism in the Old Testament; and Christianity in the New. Why should it be seen as universally applicable to all people for all time?

Pastors like Dr Robinson who are stuck in biblical times when women and slaves were forced to submit to their husbands and masters are victims of centuries of brainwashing that cannot be magically reversed. Liberation from mental slavery requires a radical revaluation of “truth”. It is so easy for the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists to fire Dr Robinson. What is far more urgent is confronting the sexism and racism that are institutionalised in the Bible and in the church.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a teacher of English language and literature and a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to and