Gender-based violence: An Advent Challenge
Today is the 1st December, the first window in our advent calendars. Advent is the great penitentiary period of waiting for the coming of Christ, taking its name from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming or arrival. As we wait earnestly for Christ’s coming and the celebration of his arrival to follow ask yourself - how long must women wait to feel safe at home, or out walking to work, and what can we do, together, to make that day arrive sooner?
By Chris Auckland, Senior Outreach Officer
Two women are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales every week. That’s a sobering figure. One woman every 4 days. And of all the women killed by men, 62% were killed by a current or former partner.
For a long time, faith has been used by men to justify domestic violence, or at least to ease the conscience. Women are commanded to submit to their husbands, and over time we’ve entered a place where gender-based violence has become something perpetrated by men but for which we absolve ourselves of any responsibility.
I want to challenge men to take an active role in combating gender-based violence, to show we have a theological imperative to do so, and to encourage clergy, a third of which are men, to take an active stance against gender-based violence.
The equality of human relationships is established at the very beginning of creation itself - “so God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27 – NRSV).
This is then reinforced by Paul in his letter to the Christian community in Galatia - “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28, NRSV)
Here, bookending the Bible at it’s beginning and it’s end, is a firm commitment to gender equality – all genders and none equal in the sight of God, equal in their creation, and equal in their need for love and mutual respect.
As exile takes it’s toll through The Old Testament religious authorities begin to enact laws around purity that have a negative impact on women, but everything changes at Jesus’ arrival. He interacts with women, includes them in his group of supporters, and stands up for them against the prevailing cultural and societal norms. When Jesus is approached by a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years, someone society at the time would have rejected as an unclean outcast, he doesn’t criticize her but embraces her as a daughter (Luke 8.43-48). For the woman caught in adultery, a situation where violence was allowed against women under Jewish law, Jesus showed compassion and challenged the men condemning her to be better (John 8.3-11).
And lets not forget, the women in Jesus’ life were the last to leave the cross and the first at his tomb. They were the first to see his resurrection, the first to experience what was to come.
Even Paul’s letters, which have been used to justify the submission of wives to their husbands, challenge this conception. In Paul’s letter to the Christians of Ephesus he challenges us to be imitators of God through our love for each other (Ephesians 5.1). He calls on husbands and wives to be “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” and for husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5.25-26).
Challenging violence against women
The weight of Jesus’ challenge of love, the central role they played in his ministry, and the innate gender equality of creation thus challenges us to do as Jesus did. To stand up to cultural norms and challenge toxic masculinity in our friendship groups, as Jesus challenged those condemning the woman caught in adultery. To stand with and support those women who society casts out, just as Jesus embraced and healed the woman in Luke 8.
Be the light in the world that Christ calls us to be.
What can you do?
- We’re in the midst of the Global 16 Days - 16 days of action and activism to combat gender-based violence. I’d encourage you to join me and millions across the world in praying with Mother’s Union during these 16 days. You can find the prayers here: www.mothersunion.org/projects/16-days-activism-against-gender-based-violence.
- Men can make the White Ribbon promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. You can do that here: www.whiteribbon.org.uk/promise
What can your church do?
- Restored Beacons are a network of churches around the country, standing together against gender-based violence and domestic abuse, shining a light in the darkness, and providing a place of safety for survivors. They seek to create safer churches for those subjected to abuse and challenge these cultural and societal norms that justify or ignore violence against women.
- It is our ambition to have at least one church in each Ministry Area registered as a Restored Beacon, offering safety to anyone experiencing domestic abuse. Restored Beacons - Restored (restored-uk.org)
- If you’re interested in your church or ministry area getting involved as a Restored Beacon, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- I strongly recommend the book The Bible Doesn't Tell Me So from the CSBV’s Director Revd Dr Helen Paynter, which seeks to debunk the Biblical myths around domestic abuse and coercive control. www.csbvbristol.org.uk/
There is so much more to be said, so much more to wrestle with, so many more voices to be heard.
Would your perspective of gender-base violence be changed if you heard the experiences of those you sit next to in church, those who arrange the flowers or made the coffee? Those who preach in our pulpits or sing in our choirs? 1 in 3 women aged 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime – that’s a lifetime of stories in your church alone.
But we can’t keep waiting.