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.

Who is the King of Glory?

House of Lords, 1808

House of Lords, 1808

Struggles over language in one context sensitize us to uses of language in other contexts.

So, I could not help noticing that the beautiful little girls who read from their new Bibles yesterday morning for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, up in front of the congregation in their neat outfits and smooth-brushed hair, their shy voices trying to form the big scriptural words, each read a verse that named God “Lord.” They all read together at the end: “Who is this glorious king? He is our LORD, the All-Powerful!” (Ps. 24:10, CEV)

Is this what our daughters need to learn about God?

Especially when the word that is being translated “Lord” in that most wonderful of psalms is not a word that means “lord” in the English language we use and understand. No, it is the tetragammaton, the holy, unpronounceable, ineffable Name, the incomprehensible concession to our need to designate the one for whom an image cannot be made.

Calling this All-Holy, constantly surprising, recurrently unexpected refuser of graven images Lord-Lord incessantly, as we do, has us dragging along the steamer-trunk crammed with everything “lord” has meant to us down through the ages, the baggage of noblemen and peers, the higher churchmen, the knights and their castles, the feudal landowners and their various rights, and all that, including (according to my dictionary) “Formerly, husband; now a humorous term,” as if association with all that riffraff did some honor to the Holy One.

Our practice is not far from graven image making. Because whether the image is out in front of us, like a statue, or is in our head, like a fixed idea, it is the gravenness — the depth, the ineffacibility, the unalterability, the permanence — of the image that makes it such a problem.

We get to thinking that we know God. We forget to keep alert for the ongoing revelation of God the inexhaustible mystery behind being itself . . .

[Ironically, perhaps, this was one of the points of the day’s sermon . . .]

The Bible is full of images for God. The “King of Glory” is one of the more breathtaking ones. (“Glorious king” maybe not so much.) The Bible is full of images for a reason: because not one of those images is adequate. The more we use one of those images to the exclusion of all the others, the less adequate and the more idolatrous that one becomes.

When will we see this, and begin teaching our daughters something besides Lord, Lord?

[Image source: website Parliament and the British Slave Trade, 1600-1807]

Preparation

<em>The Annunciation</em>, Henry Ossawa Tanner -- The Feast of the Annunciation is March 25

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner -- The Feast of the Annunciation is March 25

As the fall semester here at the Seminary is winding down, and the feel of semester break – impending Christmas holiday – well-deserved vacation is in the air, the underlying dynamic of preparation becomes particularly noticeable.

It’s hard to keep something like “Spring” in focus with something like Christmas right on the doorstep.

And yet, most things take time, advance planning, to come to fruition. Most of the work for the J-term Artist-in-Residence program, which begins just a few weeks from now, was done several months ago. Various preparatory activities are still underway for the V-Week events of February 10-14, and the Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture at the end of March. Not too long from now, we will begin thinking about what long-term projects to address during the summer “slow” period, and the cycle will resume for predictable activities that start up in September.

Thinking about preparation seems appropriate as we look towards the 3rd Sunday in Advent, which according to my memory of a sermon or two once upon a time, is traditionally known as “Mary’s Sunday.”

Preparation is of the essence of advent, and of Advent — a season when the church, in its liturgical cycle, tries to remember that there are events that require lots of advance work, work that goes on and for that matter is now going on almost unnoticed — except, presumably, by those doing it.

Like God.

And tries to hear, once more, its call to be part of that work.

[Here is a “Brief Bio of Henry Ossawa Tanner”, who painted The Annunciation, imaged above, 1898, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.]

How Are We Waiting?

Kneading the breadNow that the semester here at LPTS is over, many students have departed for various elsewheres for the holidays, others are busy preparing for special Christmas services in various congregational settings, faculty are grading papers and exams and busily moving into new offices in the newly and beautifully renovated Schlegel Hall, and the pace of the campus has slowed noticeably . . . it seems timely to consider the meaning of Advent from the particular perspective of the Women’s Center. 

One thought along these lines is, surely, that we hope we are not only waiting.  As we wait and anticipate an end to violence against women in all its forms (including coerced intimacy, exclusion from resources, war . . .), and an end to every kind of gender-based violence, and the full flowering of a created humanity that lives its embodiment in various forms of difference, including sexual difference, with justice — as we wait for all that, we hope we are waiting in the productive way people wait when they are getting ready for what they are waiting for to happen. 

But how is it that people wait in that way?  Most readers have probably already heard about getting ready for parties and setting up nurseries at least once this Advent.  Keeping in mind that how we talk and think about what we are doing affects what we are doing, we are also waiting for some new metaphors! 

Ideally, these would be metaphors that work to remind us that Advent is a time of preparation as well as waiting, and that the practices we undertake in preparation shape us into particular kinds of people and communities.  [This is what we have in mind when we at the Women’s Center talk about changing the paradigm of gender relations — that we want to be talking and thinking and acting in ways that shape us in the direction of justice when it comes to living as men and women, in all the ways we can do that.]

What about . . . 

Peeling and chopping vegetables to add to the soup pot when it boils;

Knitting the hats and scarves the children will need when the temperature drops;

Reading the synopsis of the plot of the opera before the time comes to attend the performance;

Stretching out before the aerobics class begins;

Studying the textbook and the notes for the test;

Practicing songs or a musical instrument for a recital;

Rehearsing the steps of the dance with the troupe before you go on;

. . .

How are you waiting?