A Case for Teaching Consent to our Children

1_in_6_women20122016Last week, a prominent pastor in my community admitted to a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old child, Jules, in his youth group 20 years ago while he served at a church in the Woodlands, Texas. The story is now in national and international news, and it has rattled our city.

This story has rattled me personally because I have known the pastor, Andy Savage, for nearly all my life. We grew up in the same church, and my father was his youth pastor in the early nineties.

Andy and I led worship together every Wednesday night mere months after this occurred because he was hired back at his home church, Germantown Baptist (GBC), to serve as an intern in my father’s youth group. This incident was not reported to authorities in Texas nor was it reported to GBC upon his return. He continued to progress in ministry at Germantown Baptist and eventually left to start Highpoint Church with Chris Conlee where he has been for over ten years.

The church’s handling of this crime both when it happened and today has sent a clear message to women everywhere that their voices do not matter, that they are not safe, and that abuse is something that church leaders will do whatever is necessary to cover up.

There are ins and outs to this story that I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say that the church’s handling of this incident both when it happened and today has sent a clear message to women everywhere that their voices do not matter, that they are not safe, and that abuse is something that church leaders will do whatever is necessary to cover up.

I have a lot of feelings about this terrible situation… righteous anger towards the churches in Texas and here in Memphis for failing Jules, frustration at the hundreds of people who gave Andy Savage a standing ovation on Sunday morning when he confessed to his congregation and asked for forgiveness, and sadness for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been abused and victimized by the church.

children-1217246_1280But more than all of that, as a mother, I am fearful for my boys. They are just ten and eleven years old, but their lives will be changing swiftly in the coming years. As I hear about Jules’s story and consider my own, I wonder if they are prepared to face difficult situations involving relationships and consent and sex.

I grew up in a church that taught that true love waits and that if one didn’t remain “pure” until marriage, no one would want them because they were “used goods.” I wasn’t taught what it meant to find my voice and use my words and navigate the feelings that come in late middle school and high school towards people I was attracted to. All I knew was to fear those feelings because they might lead to lust or sexual experiences or ruining a future with a decent husband because I might make a mistake.

I know that my parents and church leaders meant well, and I know that they did the best they could. But I also know that I was ill-equipped to handle some really important life experiences, and as a result I didn’t know how to speak up when people did terrible things to me as a woman in my late teens and early twenties.

As parents, we must be willing to take this task on. The health and wholeness of our children depends on it.

I want our children to be empowered to say yes and no and mean it. I want our children to be able to communicate with us when one of their boundaries has been crossed. I want us to feel comfortable talking about difficult topics with our children as they come up in life. Because they will.

And here’s the thing. If you don’t teach your child about this, who will?

Understanding consent and sexual relationships is not natural. That’s why most adults have at least one story of how they were either the victim or the perpetrator (or maybe both) at some point in their life thus far. If we rely on our children to do what comes naturally, they will more than likely become a statistic.

As parents, we must be willing to take this task on. The health and wholeness of our children depends on it.

Time is up for ignoring the fact that our children are going to have sex one day. Time is up for believing that “boys will be boys.” Time is up for crossing our fingers and hoping our kids make the right decisions in their relationships instead of walking through those relationships with them intentionally. Time is up for teaching behavior modification and ignoring the state of our children’s hearts.

Time is up for teaching behavior modification and ignoring the state of our children’s hearts.

Over the next few days, I would like for us to begin a conversation about how to raise our children to be people who understand consent, set healthy boundaries, and know how to respond when those boundaries are violated. Whether your child is twelve months old or 24 years old, this conversation is for you.

I hope you’ll join me. There’s lots for us to learn together.

ellie signature

{P.S. If you want to be notified when new posts are published, subscribe in the “want updates?” section of the sidebar to the right. For helpful tips and discussion questions for you and your children, join my Facebook community.}

Advertisements