A Call to Preach Peace for Women This Advent

Image of dove carrying heart, and the word PAZ, painted on a wall in Madrid

A Call for Peace

Those of us who have participated in the Christian liturgical year for while know that Advent is a time of preparation. During Advent, Christians prepare once again for the astonishing and life-bringing incarnation of the Christ, and renew their commitment to prepare for the still-anticipated, still-promising, fulfillment of the Reign of God. During Advent, Christians meditate on the hope that accompanies these preparations, the peace towards which they point and for which we long, the joy that already animates these hopeful preparations, and the love that they rehearse, which is called forth by the Love that is already good news for the world to meet that Love in action.

During Advent, we are already poised to proclaim the need to prepare the way of the Holy One in concrete ways, by repenting of our violent or thoughtless commissions, our hard-hearted or apathetic omissions, and by renewing our commitment to transformation in our own lives, our congregations, and our world.

This Advent, the Women’s Center at LPTS calls upon the preachers of our community to make December 4, the Second Sunday in Advent, a day to preach as “an activist and transformative response by the church to violence against women.”1

Specifically, we invite those who will preach on the Second Sunday of Advent to incorporate explicitly the three goals of preaching against sexual and domestic violence identified by John McClure in his essay on that topic:

  • to “speak a word of hospitality, resistance, and hope to victims and survivors;”
  • to “send a message that the church will cease to be a place of easy rationalization adn cheap grace for abusers;”
  • and to “invite the congregation as a whole to consider how it might become a ‘safe place’ and a force for compassion and resistance in relation to sexual and domestic violence.”2

We invite preachers to name violence against women as one of the wrongs we work to eliminate as we “prepare the way” for and live into the coming Reign of God; to call for repentance from our own acts of violence, and from the attitudes and practices that promote or facilitate them, like continued support for violence as a means of resolving conflict, or persistent acceptance of men’s legitimate control over women; and to identify the elimination of violence against women as a mark of the shalom towards which bend our efforts. We further invite preachers to make this Advent the beginning of a regular practice of preaching against violence against women.

Rationale
We issue this call because we recognize that preaching is a form of activism, and that it calls the people of God to further transformative action; because the ongoing reality of violence against women cries to heaven for the active justice- and peace-making of the church, and because the church is called to active engagement in the continuing effort to eliminate violence against women; and because preaching that names violence against women as a wrong is a way to stand in solidarity with women and men around the globe who will be participating in the international effort “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.” We believe that global effort will benefit from our solidarity, as will we. Finally, we believe that explicit preaching against sexual and domestic violence, and against the structures like militarism and patriarchy that perpetuate it, is itself a form of repentance that is appropriate to this new beginning of the liturgical year.

Repentance: Breaking Our Silence
All too often, the topic of violence against women and girls – whether it is domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual assault, or other forms of coercion and abuse of power and control directed at women – is absent from the pulpit. This silence creates the impression that the church either does not perceive the reality of violence against women and girls, or countenances it, or has no word to say in the face of it. Despite the PCUSA’s official stance of opposition to domestic violence in particular, despite the General Assembly’s 2000 resolution calling for comprehensive efforts at all levels of church life to confront domestic violence and to promote healing for persons affected by it, and despite the General Assembly Mission Council’s passionate theological statement against it, many congregants have never heard a word spoken against violence against women from the pulpit. When the church, through its preaching, remains silent, its members cannot see it standing in solidarity with survivors of violence, nor hear it calling perpetrators to account, nor feel it challenging bystanders to become more actively involved in building a non-violent world.

The Second Sunday in Advent, December 4, is an opportunity to commit to making a change, by joining with others preaching on the same theme at the same opportune time. It is an opportunity to embrace the larger goals of preaching about violence against women, and to commit to incorporating the challenge of facing and eliminating it into future preaching.

Relevance
Christians are sometimes tempted to deny the relevance of violence against women in the life of the church. Christianity, as we like to remind ourselves, is a religion of love and peace; most of us think of ourselves as peaceful people who, insofar as it is up to us, live at peace with all people, in accord with Romans 12:18. We imagine our congregations as violence-free zones.

In fact, however, the prevalence of violence against women means that experience with violence is predictably present in our congregations, albeit usually silenced. In the United States, National Institute of Justice statistics indicate that 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence during her lifetime. (The corresponding figure for men is 1 in 13.) 1 in 6 will be a victim of rape.

The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience such violence in her lifetime; in a warring world, that violence will often be an effect of armed conflict.

The Advent anticipation of peace speaks directly to this experience of violence, calling Christians to understand the demands of peacemaking as specifically including binding up the wounds of women who have experienced violence, and calling for justice in a world that positions women and girls as convenient and acceptable targets of violence.

Why December 4?
We are calling for a concerted preaching action on December 4, the Second Sunday in Advent, to coincide with the international effort 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. This effort to focus attention and action on the cause of eliminating violence against women and girls was inaugurated in 1991 by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. The 16 Days run between November 25 – International Day Against Violence Against Women – and December 10 – International Human Rights Day – and were chosen to emphasize the linkage between violence against women and human rights, to dramatize the understanding that violance against women is a violation of human rights, and to make possible an international effort to raise awareness and focus energy towards the elimination of violence against women. The Center for Women’s Global Leadership annually outlines themes that unite women working for an end to violence around the world; this year, the theme continues its focus on the linkages between militarism and violence, under the heading “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!” [Read the 2011 Theme Announcement here.] We are excited about the prospects of bringing the voice of the church, with its specific promise of hope and ultimate healing, to this worldwide effort.

Resources – Links

More statistical information on violence against women is available from:

Centers for Disease Control – Violence Prevention [CDC resources include a fact sheet for the United States and a comprehensive report on the Cost of Intimate Partner Violence]

Domestic Violence Resource Center

National Domestic Violence Hotline

National Institute of Justice

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

A valuable collection of resources addressing violence against women from a theological perspective is available through the FaithTrust Institute

For resources available from the PC(USA), visit

Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence Network (PADVN)

and consult Turning Mourning Into Dancing!, the 213th General Assembly’s Policy and Study Guide on Domestic Violence

References
1 Barbara Patterson, “Preaching as Nonviolent Resistance,” in John S. McClure and Nancy J. Ramsay, eds. Telling the Truth: Preaching About Sexual and Domestic Violence (Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1998) 99-119, 99.

2 John S. McClure, “Preaching about Sexual and Domestic Violence,” in John S. McClure and Nancy J. Ramsay, eds. Telling the Truth: Preaching About Sexual and Domestic Violence (Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1998) 110-119, 110.

Mending the World: Margaret Hopper Taylor Seminars Challenging Domestic Violence

Mending the World - Margaret Hopper Taylor Seminars Challenging Domestic Violence

The first of three seminars in the series “Mending the World: the Margaret Hopper Taylor Seminars Challenging Domestic Violence” takes place

in the Women’s Center Saturday,
February 19,
9-12 a.m.,
followed by lunch.

The first seminar, “It Happens in the Nicest Congregations: What Everyone Needs to Know about Domestic Violence,” will be led by JoAnn Rowan, a veteran of the Center for Women and Families and long-time expert on the intersection of domestic violence and faith communities. We look forward to JoAnn’s presentation, and encourage all interested members of the community to register online for this seminar at the Women’s Center’s online site.

Votes for Women (R for Violence)

image of National Women's Party picketers outside White House

Women insisting they are included in 'the people' who have the right peaceably to assemble

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. We are, however, allowed to be aware of other forms of violence against women during the month of October as well.

A particularly dramatic, historical example has been making the rounds by e-mail and showing up on blogs and campaign websites as we move into the last weeks before the mid-term election. [See, for instance, this recent post in AAUW Dialog, or this page for Henrietta Dwyer] It’s the story of the “Night of Terror” endured by 33 members of the National Women’s Party on Nov. 15, 1917.

The violence turned on Lucy Burns, Dora Lewis, Alice Cosu, et al. because of their refusal to back down from the demand for women’s suffrage, belied the anti-suffrage forces’ professed regard for women’s “ladylike” dignity, and the alleged desire to “protect” women from the coarse, rough “men’s world” of politics. The real issue, it seems, was that of control. When milder forms of social control failed, harsher forms were used. (Domestic violence, which is also about power and control, operates according to that same fundamental principle.)

The story of these women’s fight — literally — for the right to be considered adults and citizens of their own country is deeply moving. So moving, in fact, that local chapters of the League of Women Voters, the AAUW, labor unions, friends, relatives, colleagues and fellow citizens have felt impelled to pass along the powerful text and its linked images. It serves as a powerful reminder that a right which many contemporary women may treat, frankly, pretty casually was not won easily or cheaply.

In fact, the story provides a fascinating illustration of the metamorphosis of a textual tradition, and the ways that metamorphosis can damage as well as preserve the memory needed to preserve women’s history, along with its main content.

image of suffragist Inez Calderhead

Inez Calderhead

Connie Schultz’s column “And you think it’s a pain to vote” appeared February 19, 2004 in the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. (The text is reprinted by permission in her 2006 anthology Life Happens and other unavoidable truths, which can be previewed at Google books.)

In it she refers to the 2004 HBO film Iron-Jawed Angels, directed by Katjia von Garnier, which tells this long-ignored militant side of the struggle women waged for the vote in the United States. (The existence of this film continues to surprise readers of this viral text, and to excite interest.)

Somewhere along the line, someone added images to the text they passed on, evidently from the extensive collection of the records of the National Women’s Party held by the Library of Congress. The images of Inez Calderhead and Nell Mercer are not among those in general circulation, perhaps because these African-American members of the NWP are not mentioned in the text by name. They too, however, were among those jailed for the cause of suffrage.

image of suffragist Nell Mercer

Nell Mercer

Depending on the version with which one begins, it can take some time to retrieve Schultz’s name and her link to the text. Many transmitters assume the author is Anonymous. I’ve yet to find a credit for the illustrated version. References to the recency of the film, the author’s personal involvement with voter registration, and her account of meeting Geraldine Ferraro have fallen out of the tradition. Information about the release of the HBO film on DVD has crept in. Different redactions present the story as concerning “our mothers and grand-mothers” or “our grandmothers and great-grandmothers;” versions differ in their specific pleas for taking voting more seriously. Most urge readers to share the information. Some invite skeptics to check out the facts (at least two different online truth-or-fiction sites have dealt with the material: Truth or Fiction.com and Snopes)

All that in just 6 short years. (Just imagine what could happen to a story in 90 — or 900.)

Readers who are interested in learning more about Alice Paul, the NWP, and the later, militant phase of the suffrage movement in the US might want to check out:

The Women’s Center has tentatively scheduled a screening of Iron Jawed Angels for Friday, Oct. 29, 7:00 p.m., in the Women’s Center, pending acclamation of that date and time by the many students who have expressed interest in seeing the film.

Domestic Violence not a Domestic Problem

image of purple ribbon

The purple ribbon project advocates an end to interpersonal violence.

Love. Everyone — women, men, children — needs it. We don’t necessarily expect to experience it, in its various forms of acceptance and understanding, support and encouragement, affirmation and affection, “out there” “in the world” of school, work, or public life. In fact, we are often encouraged to think public life is supposed to be a realm of merciless competition, casual unconcern for the welfare of others, and predictable violence. We are encouraged to turn for love and care to “personal relationships” — where many of us experience its most devastating betrayals.

Domestic violence is one of those. The controlling and demanding masculinities we cultivate in our entertainments, reward in our board rooms and recruit for our work and war rooms don’t stay “out” all the time. When they go home, they bring a pattern of violent and coercive behavior with them, into 28% or more of intimate relationships.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. The Women’s Center has been receiving messages from colleagues involved in educating faith communities about the problems associated with domestic violence, and encouraging churches, synagogues and mosques to respond to it with the healing resources they uniquely possess.

The Faith Trust Institute has links to resources, including a bulletin insert that can help call congregational attention to the problem. Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence have a downloadable congregational packet that includes educational and worship resources that can help a congregation raise awareness and energy for mobilizing against the domestic violence.

Our friends at Menswork are observing the month by conducting a special free training on MW PGR Training FlyerPromoting Gender Respect, a program designed to engage men and boys in the prevention of bullying, sexual harrassment, sexual assault, and dating violence. The program recognizes the need to counteract those culturally prevalent messages that equate violence with “real” masculinity, and to energize a different, more positive script. The training takes place October 12, 9:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., at Family Scholar House, 403 Reg Smith Circle, Louisville.

All these resources acknowledge something we already know, or ought to: domestic violence is far from an isolated personal problem. It is a problem for and with communal life, which plays itself out in intimate contexts. Its solution calls for communal action.

Escorting at the EMW clinic

Parrish illustration of a tough princess on a quest

Princess Parizade Bringing Home the Singing Tree

Today at the EMW clinic we were there with eight escorts from the Women’s Center to join others who have been showing up since it all began. I am amazed every time that so many of us are willing to get out of bed around 6 a.m., when it is still dark, to go down there and withstand two hours of praying and yelling. And I wondered: when did this all begin? When was it first thought to be O.K. to accost women who go into a clinic for medical treatment?

Today, those of us from the Women’s Center at LPTS were shouted at by a very belligerent man, who said that we were “sick,” and not really women, for being there. Singing is the only thing that will drive a man like that away. So we sang We Shall Not Be Moved, and My Country ‘tis of Thee. I sang the Dutch Frog song and Idomein, adomein, and some other goodies from way back when. It is the only thing that makes it possible for me to be there. I am aware that this cannot be a short-term commitment and am bracing myself for at least a year’s worth of this work.

A part of me, the Dutch part of me, cannot really believe that this is happening, and I see the U.S. sinking into a bog of right-wing craziness. The so-called Health Care Reform Bill that may still pass will be a disaster, putting more and more money into the coffers of the insurance companies. The compromise made in the house on prohibiting federal funds for abortion was a sure sign of the power of the right wing in our government.

The Continuing Saga of Escorts

Jeanne d'Arc

Under siege

By Johanna Bos, Faculty Liaison

Once again, we stood at the curbside at 138 W. Market Street to help protect women entering the abortion clinic from harassment and verbal assault by protesters. This time there were ten of us who came as representatives of the Women’s Center at LPTS and we hope yet more will join us the following Saturday, when the support action will be followed by training for escorts at the Fourth Ave United Methodist Church on St. Catherine. This time the mood felt uglier and the tensions were higher than the previous Saturdays. There was a great deal of shouting and shoving. Police were evident in greater numbers. With our greater numbers from the Women’s Center and others, we could form a more solid hedge to let the women through. The leaders of the Escort effort called us “the Presbyterians,” and for once I could be proud of that name. It is surprisingly cold at the curbside; Market Street is close enough to the river to make it a few degrees colder than elsewhere in the city. This is going to be interesting once winter arrives. We will keep you posted as to our adventures.