Last Thursday, a former Stanford student was sentenced to six months in prison for sexual assault. A week later, the public is still outraged.
It's not just the facts of the case. (For more, see Nick Pitts's The Need for and Loss of Sacredness.) Brock Turner was found guilty on three felony counts, but this story is, tragically, not unique on America's campuses. Nearly 100 colleges and universities had at least ten reports of rape on their main campuses in 2014; at Stanford alone, there were twenty-six reports of rape that year.
The case is still generating headlines for a number of reasons.
In part, it's because the crime was so horrific, a fact made clear by the victim's extremely moving letter, which she read aloud to her attacker at his sentencing. Her letter describes what happened in graphic detail, giving voice to her horrible trauma and ongoing suffering.
In part, it's because the perpetrator was a member of the Stanford swimming team and has been viewed as a child of privilege. His father's claim that his son should not have to go to prison for "twenty minutes of action" was especially reprehensible to many.
But I think the continuing outrage over this crime has to do especially with the sentence imposed. Judge Aaron Persky of the Santa Clara County Superior Court sentenced Turner to six months in jail and three years probation. Turner should have received between eight and twenty years in prison for his crime, according to recommendations from the United States Sentencing Commission. The judge cited mitigating factors and determined that a longer jail sentence would not suit Turner's rehabilitation as a sex offender.
A flood of online criticism ensued. Lawmakers objected to the sentence. Student groups on the Stanford campus are protesting. An effort to remove the judge has more than 820,000 signatures.
If Turner had received a typical sentence, the story would be about the crime. Because he received a six-month sentence that could be reduced to three for good behavior, the story is now about the judge.
Therein lies my point today.
There is something in us that protests when justice is not served. The "affluenza teen" who got probation for a drunk-driving fatal accident sparked national outrage. Conversely, Americans were gratified by the death of Osama bin Laden. We have an innate need to see criminals captured and crime punished.
Could this longing for justice be a reflection of our Creator in his creation?
Our Maker is "holy, holy, holy" (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), a God who "judges the world with righteousness" (Psalm 9:8). In fact, "each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12).
In a postmodern culture that has jettisoned the concept of objective truth, we still want justice for victims and a just society for ourselves. As we should. You and I are not fully obedient to our Lord unless we seek righteousness as passionately as he does (1 John 3:7).
But here's the caveat: we must be what we wish others to become.
"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). Vance Havner laments that "men love everything but righteousness and fear everything but God." Let's prove him wrong today.
Publication date: June 9, 2016
For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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