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.

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.

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

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.


Disruptive Christian Ethical Newsreading

by Heather Thiessen

The Women’s Center subscribes to Inter Press Service’s “Gender Wire”, which reports on events around the world that affect women. This week, the news included the report that the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had ruled against the United States in a human rights case, the case of Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales). [full story here] Its ruling holds that a local police department’s failure to enforce a restraining order against an abusive ex-husband, and subsequent actions of US courts, constituted a violation of the plaintiff’s human rights. Domestic violence infringes a human right, and it is among “the duties of the State to respond to situations of domestic violence with diligent protection measures.” Ms. Gonzales and her children received no such protection.

The facts in the case are truly “horrible,” as acknowledged by Justice Scalia in the opinion of the US Supreme Court, which nevertheless denied Gonzales’ claim that her expectation of protection under her existing restraining order constituted an enforceable “property right.” They are outlined in the OAS report on the case’s merits, and can be summarized as follows: Jessica Gonzales, of Native American and Latina American descent, held a valid restraining order against her ex-husband, Simon Gonzales, due to his abuse of her and her daughters. She was unsuccessful in having Castle Rock Police Department officers enforce this order when she first learned that her daughters Leslie (7), Katheryn (8), and Rebecca (10) had disappeared, then learned that they were with their father at a Denver amusement park, and then again when they did not return home by bedtime. Simon Gonzales drove to the Castle Rock Police Department in the early hours of the next morning, opened fire on the building, and was shot dead by police. Officers discovered the dead bodies of the three girls in the back of Mr. Gonzales’ pick-up truck after the shoot-out. Mr. Gonzales had purchased a 9 mm. automatic weapon shortly before 8 p.m., after picking up the girls and before taking them to Denver, clearing an FBI background check. US Courts ruled that Jessica Gonzales’ restraining order did not require its enforcement by local law enforcement officers; this fact appears to have influenced the US Supreme Court’s decision to rule that, however tragic the outcome, the Castle Rock Police Department had not violated Ms. Gonzales’ civil rights by not doing more to intervene in the situation.

In its ruling on the merits of the case, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that

The restraining order was the only means available to Jessica Lenahan at the state level to protect herself and her children in a context of domestic violence, and the police did not effectively enforce it. The state apparatus was not duly organized, coordinated, and ready to protect these victims from domestic violence by adequately and effectively implementing the restraining order. These failures to protect constituted a form of discrimination in violation of the American Declaration, since they took place in a context where there has been a historical problem with the enforcement of protection orders; a problem that has disproportionately affected women since they constitute the majority of the restraining order holders.

All of this may seem like a summons to mutter “how awful,” and maybe to say a heartfelt prayer for the peace of women and girls everywhere. But while it would be wrong to discourage that prayer, and while we are no doubt right to recognize how awful the story is, the summons is really very different. It is, rather, a summons to recognize this story as a profoundly relevant source of moral knowledge and a call to ethical reflection; an appropriate response to such a summons is to notice the ways I, myself – or we, ourselves – are actually implicated in this episode of our public life, rather than to see it as something randomly and disconnectedly “out there.”

At least, I think that is what I have been learning from reading Rev. Dr. Traci C. West’s Disruptive Christian Ethics. One of Dr. West’s points is that most Christians need ways to develop understandings of our world that help us stop seeing manifestations of institutional callousness as having no connection with our own ethical lives, and to develop ways to stop tolerating institutionalized immorality that stems from tacit understandings that support the dismissal and oppression of the powerless. Her work focuses on the need to permit particular moral concerns – such as those encoded in the story of Jessica Gonzales/Lenahan’s ordeal – to inform and challenge the abstract, universal terms and categories we use in developing our ethical responses, and to cultivate an ability to see these particular moral concerns as connected both to our own “in general” ethical reasoning, and to our own particular practice of it.

A full and careful analysis of this case, in its embodied, raced, gendered, classed, institutionalized, nationalized and globalized complexity, is beyond the scope of this reflection. It seems clear that it cannot, or anyhow, should not, take the form of a consoling apportionment of blame to easy others — as if I were in a position to know how I, myself, could and would have done better a job for which I’ve never trained, under circumstances I have no appreciation for, and as if I’ve never experienced the stomach-churning realization that something I did an hour or a week ago more or less routinely, thinking I knew what I was doing, has suddenly revealed itself to be a human disaster that I would do anything to undo. But it does seem to call into question some of my assumptions about what ought to be or “realistically have to be” priorities in doing any kind of work. (How different would my own work look if care and justice were consistently my top professional concerns, instead of . . . well, instead of the other things that are sometimes, right then, more on my mind?) Just as it seems to call into question a collective willingness to let the knowledge that consistent commitment to care and justice is hard work function as a justification for official lapses, rather than as an impetus to change the conditions that make it so hard.

And then there is the heartbreaking detail that one of the Castle Rock Police Department officers, with whom the mother of three little girls spoke on their last night in life, said that he couldn’t do anything because the children were with their father. If the children had been with someone else, could someone have done something? Would it then have been more permissible to consider that they really might be in some kind of danger? How much does all that we Christians say to sentimentalize the relationship of parent to child, and to sanctify that relationship in our collective imagination, and to deify the relationship of father to child in our ritual symbolic life, even to the point sometimes of insisting that lethal violence can be a property of the most profound paternal love, contribute to how difficult it can be to perceive facts in evidence in a particular case (like the existence of a restraining order against an abusive husband/father) that do not fit the overriding picture in our cultural mind’s eye that assures us that, universally, “children who are with their fathers are OK”?

And then there is the fact that the anguish a reader feels in encountering the report of this case, and the knowledge that the reader’s anguish can only be a pale reflection of the anguish of the people most intimately involved in it, is a source of moral knowledge. We know, because of how we feel about this particular story, that “this is wrong” — and so are in a position to know that whatever made this story true is wrong. The challenge of moral knowledge like this is to hold fast to the uncomfortable threads by which we ourselves are tied to whatever that is, so as to be able to follow them to the place where they knot together – around something that we together could yet loosen, and thereby change. At least, I think that is part of the lesson, difficult but promising, of Disruptive Christian Ethics.

Rev. Dr. Traci C. West will deliver the 2011 Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture Sunday, September 18, 7:30 p.m., Gardencourt. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.

Water – a Women’s Issue

Many women around the world spend hours each day getting water

“Human issues are women’s issues, and women’s issues are human issues.” In the mail today came another reminder of the truth of this motto: “Women, Water and Violence,” the fourth week of the Ecumenical Water Network’s series of information, resources and meditations for Lent focusing on the connections between water, conflict, and peace with justice around the globe.

“Women, Water and Violence” reminds us that fetching water is women’s, and girls’, work.

It’s a lot of work. (The Water Page estimates an average S. African household needs two trips of water at 2 km/trip for a total of 4 km/walk and 2 hours of total time daily.) Girls fortunate enough to go to school have to fit their studies in after their water-fetching chores are done.

Moreover, violence sometimes goes with the territory. Women and girls fetching water are targets for sexual harassment or rape. Water can also become a prop in situations of domestic violence, as a pretext or a mechanism for exerting power and control.

Water – a basic human need – and a women’s issue.

“Human issues are women’s issues, and women’s issues are human issues.”

The “Women, Water and Violence” site includes a video, informational resources, a meditation on the connection of these water issues to scripture, and suggestions for action.

The Death of the Classical World

Hypatia as rendered by Renaissance artist Raphael in The School of Athens

When we think of women in the history of the church, we typically think of Christian women. But the church and its history incorporate and impact women of other faiths, as the story of the Egyptian Neoplatonist philosopher and mathematician Hypatia demonstrates.

Hypatia (355-415) was a respected Egyptian mathematician and philosopher, who was born and lived in Alexandria. Hypatia was the daughter of the respected mathematician and philosopher, Theon, who instructed her in mathematics and later insisted that she had surpassed her teacher. She is widely revered as the first notable woman in mathematics, the author of commentaries (now lost) on the Arithmetica of Diophantus of Alexandria and the Conics of Apollonius of Perga, as well as a lecturer in Neoplatonist philosophy. Along with her learning, she had a reputation for eloquence, modesty, and extraordinary beauty, all of which made her a popular teacher.

It was this reputation for influence, however, in conjunction with her adherence to pagan religious philosophy, that incited the murderous mob that took her life in 415. Alexandria had been plagued by repeated episodes of inter-communal violence since 391, when Emperor Theodosius I had sanctioned the destruction of Egyptian religious institutions. Hypatia was purported to exercise influence with Orestes, the Roman Christian prefect of Alexandria, who was at the time locked in an ongoing conflict with church leader Cyril of Alexandria. Rumor had it that she was preventing Orestes’ agreement with Cyril. Incensed by this story, a mob of 500 or so of Cyril’s supporters attacked Hypatia in the streets, dragged her to a nearby church, and killed her. The event, later to be described as the death of the classical world, was recognized as a critical moment by the Alexandrians themselves, although the primary sources for Hypatia’s life differ in their support or condemnation of Cyril and the actions of Hypatia’s murderers.

From the standpoint of our review of women’s history, Hypatia’s story reminds us that the history of the church’s struggle for religious dominance had casualties, some of them women. It also dramatizes a hostility towards a woman’s learning and power that were not, in the view of the [male] church leadership, appropriately disciplined by piety and deference to that leadership’s authority – and which could, for that reason, challenge that leadership and its agenda – which has periodically erupted in the history of the Christian community.

Hypatia’s story has led artists, with their own agendas, to include her in major works, despite lacking an authenticated image of the philosopher and mathematician:

How Hypatia comes to be part of Raphael’s School of Athens

Hypatia at Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party

Read more . . .

A biography of Hypatia from U of Chicago

a discussion of some of the sources for Hypatia’s life

links to primary sources in translation

Seminars Challenge Domestic Violence

Mending the World - Margaret Hopper Taylor Seminars Challenging Domestic Violence

The first in a series of seminars challenging domestic violence, “Gender Respect: New Directions in Preventing Domestic Violence”, led by Rus Funk takes place

Saturday, March 12
9 – 12
in the Women’s Center
lunch follows the seminar



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.