We need to speak to these things with our youth, because culture communicates a lot of damaging messages about the worth and value of people. Like in the case of Brock Turner; a 20-year-old college student found guilty of sexual assault with intent to rape. Brock will spend only 3 months in jail for his crime, and I was reminded why we had to talk about this with our youth.
Because Dan Turner, Brock’s father, penned a letter begging the judge for leniency because Brock was “sorry”. Brock was a “shell” of a man, his father lamented. He went on lengthy descriptions of Brock’s academic and athletic achievements, and his smile. In light of this, his father argued, “prison is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
As if 20 minutes of action didn’t change the victim’s life forever, as if calling a violent sexual assault “20 minutes of action” wasn’t as clear a statement as any about Brock and his father’s perception about the worth of the victim. This should anger us because this dehumanization, wounds the heart of God. To believe that assault is just “20 minutes of action” is to strike at what God fiercely protects. And it reinforces the messages that Brock heard, messages that are not so uncommon. The reality is not all rapists come from super villain DNA, often they look like Brock Turner, built by seemingly innocent messages. They come from thoughts and behaviors like:
- passing off sexism and dehumanizing language as a harmless joke.
- not teaching proper boundaries, or the value of consent
- from describing a violent crime as an alcohol-induced “mistake”
- from staying silent on topics like assault and abuse because they are unpleasant.
- from casting perpetrators as victims, and silencing the victim with questions like, “what were you wearing”, “how much were you drinking”, “were you flirting”, or, perhaps most common in churches, “why can’t you forgive?”
- communicating that there are things you can say or do that somehow mean you are entitled to another person’s time, emotions or affection.
- from a belief that for a rape or assault to be legitimate, you have to be kidnapped in a dark parking lot by a stranger, and if there was flirting then it isn’t “really rape.”
- from a belief that rapists look a certain way, and they certainly don’t make good grades, or go to Ivy League schools.
So we took 20 minutes with our youth to talk about how we respect the image of God in others and how that specifically impacts the way we date and see each other. We took 20 minutes to read that beautiful verse that breathes dignity over men and women alike, and unveils the heart of a God who values us so deeply: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
These words mean that we should be at the forefront of this discussion. This means we do not stay silent, but are actively rooting out the seeds of injustice we see in our own Body. This means we do not stay “neutral” when anyone is the victim of oppression, violence or abuse. We call out it out. We correct. We humbly listen when someone tells us we hurt them.
We took 20 minutes to talk about this in developmentally appropriate ways because 20 minutes are powerful, despite what Dan Turner thinks. 20 minutes can have life-long consequences. When we give 20 minutes to talk about how the image of God specifically impacts how we see the men and women in our life, powerful things happen; it can be the difference in seeing the person who has had a lot to drink at the party as a vulnerable and easy target, or seeing them as the ones we keep an eye on, to make sure they get home safe.
If we take 20 minutes to say loudly and clearly that rape, assault and abuse are a violent, evil affront to the image of God that exists in people, it can change a victim’s life because they know that what has happened to them will be taken seriously in the walls of their church. Sometimes 20 minutes can make all the difference in the world, if we are speaking truth, life, freedom, and the grace of God’s Kingdom.
And we hope you will take 20 minutes to read the words of Brock Turner’s victim (Read the Letter Here), and, if you have kids who are mature enough, perhaps share her voice with them. Take 20 minutes to pray, to think, and to talk through her message. Because in the hands of God, 20 minutes can change everything.