The Stanford rape case and the deplorable sentence given to a rapist convicted of 3 felonies is front and center in our world right now. Given a six month sentence, this man will be out of jail in 3 months for good behavior. He will have to serve some community service. He is appealing the sentence.
And then there's the victim. Who has bravely stepped forward to tell her story. Who has endured a level of revictimization* that is hard to comprehend. Read her story! Ingest it. Get to know her. Hear her pain. Listen to the way that our legal system addresses her story. Hear how they worked so hard to shift the blame away from the guilty. Hear how they made her relive the experience over and over again.
In the church we rarely talk about things like rape. We look at sins like immodesty or drunkenness as the culprit and pretend that what happens is a result of sin. We imply, in our silence, that somehow a woman can deserve to be raped. But that is simply not true. Violating another human being is NEVER okay. Whether a sinful or holy person, it's NEVER okay.
When we refuse to acknowledge the evil in the world and refuse to be present for those that are hurting, we let evil reign. One in five women - ALL women - not secular women, or bad women, or loose women - but ALL women, are sexually assaulted or raped.
How many women sit in your church service? How many women sit in the office cubicles around you? How many young women attend your youth group? How many women are in the grocery store with you? How many college women attend your church? How many women are in your Sunday school class, prayer group, or small group? How many women are in your meet-up, your book group, or your running club? 1 in 5 have experienced life altering violation.
And they are sitting next to you.
Where in the church do we make safe spaces to talk about this? I know my tradition didn't. A message of "don't get raped" would have been on the short list.
- Make sure you don't show too much skin so men aren't tempted....no one is forcing a man to rape a woman without enough clothes on.
- Make sure you're never in a situation where you might be a target (overall good advice)...but no one is forcing a man to rape women who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Alcohol is evil. Don't drink....alcohol doesn't cause people to rape other people. Alcohol does lessen boundaries and opens the door to bad decision making when used in excess, but it still doesn't cause people to rape people.
- Feminism causes rape....how exactly does that work?! Feminism is the idea that men and women are equal. Nothing in there says it causes people to rape other people.
Women receive the message that things that happen to their bodies aren't important. That those things should be hidden and not addressed. The church reinforces this, the justice system reinforces this, and even one of our presidential candidates reinforces this. When these are the only voices that women hear it opens the door for abuse, pain, and ignorance.
Women are created in the image of God. Just like men. Women are 100% human. Women's experiences, bodies, joys, and pains are just as important as anyone else's. There should be no shame about being a woman in our churches. Even when we face things that we wish to forget. When the church refuses to make space for women in their communities to live fully, we dehumanize God's creation.
One of the things that makes this worse are voices that are allowed to continue to speak unedited in the Christian world. We have a huge problem when people that are considered good Christians say things like:
Rape is rape. People commit rape.
Saying that rape culture doesn't exist is just ignorance. It's burying our heads in the sand. It's saying that we don't need to address systemic problems in our world and on our campuses that are destroying lives everyday. Denying a problem doesn't fix it. And it abandons our brothers and sisters in Christ when we refuse to to stand up against systemic evil. Rape culture is an evil that exists on Christian campuses as well as any other campus.
And hook-up culture (which does not just mean sex) isn't something you can turn off with a switch. It's present in kids as young as 6th grade and continues into young adulthood. Interviews of kids and young adults that find themselves trapped in this way of relating to each other hate it, but feel that the social stigma and consequences of removing themselves completely are a death sentence socially. Stepping away from it opens the door to bullying and harassment (especially in Middle School and High School). Hook-up culture is awful! We need to find ways to talk about it, address it, and do relationships better. But a culture doesn't rape people. People do. Brock Turner did.
And the woman who so bravely shared her story is a survivor. She is a warrior for justice. She fights for women to be free from the injustice of rape and victimization. She fights for women to be heard and believed. She fights for women to seen as whole people.
And as a church, we should be doing that too. These conversations are hard and uncomfortable, but we must have them. We must have them with women and men. We must have them with teen boys and girls. We must have them with each other. Over coffee, over board games, and out fishing.
So let's talk about the hard stuff. Without getting flamboyant. Without making up wide ranging excuses. Let's deal with the reality that people are victimizing each other and if we want it to stop then we all have to be advocates for change.
We have to talk about the things going wrong. We have to talk about what healthy relationships look like. We have to call out that kid that works his or her way around the youth group. We have to learn how to listen and love when someone shares their pain. We have to come along side victims at the expense of abusers. We have to put a stop to sexist jokes and language. We have to admit that things are not the way we want them to be and that we are responsible for working to change our world.
Resurrection is about new life. New creation. New realities. We are all called to bring about new life into the world. And we are called to bring about life and re-creation to those that have been victimized. We are to bring Christ to them through love and kindness and care. Even when it's messy. Even when we have no words. Even when all we can do is sit with them. And then, we get up, and we work to change the way things are into the way things should be.
Where we are all able to live as children of God. Where we are all redeemed and free. Where the downtrodden are lifted up, where the abused are made whole, where the broken are healed. That is who we are called to be.
*Revictimization: Being victimized again, and in this context, being blamed for the crime that was perpetrated against the victim. Also, having to relive the events of the rape over and over in the context of the court trial.