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:
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
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.