In 2015, the ELCA Church Council adopted its longest Social Message, longer than many of the initial Social Statements. It is actually in 2 parts—the message itself, which is 20 pages long, and an accompanying supplemental resource, that digs even deeper into the social theory behind the message.
Using the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13) as a dramatic introduction, the message identifies survivors, perpetrators and bystanders or gender based violence as significant to the story, and suggests what the church might say pastorally to each.
The statement moves to a definition of gender- based violence:
“Gender-based violence is physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or other personal harm inflicted on someone for gender-based reasons. It is important to remember that gender-based violence is not only domestic violence or violence among family members.”
It also reminds us that although the majority of victims are women and girls, men and boys can also be victims. This violence is also a spiritual assault.
The message ponders why people inflict gender-based violence, and suggests a number of factors, including personal factors, issues of control, social systems, patriarchy, systemic racism and sexism. But at the root is sin. “Acts of gender-based violence always involve sinful individual choices to exercise power and control. The choice to inflict violence is a personal responsibility.”
The message next asks how Christianity sometimes contributes to the problems. It identifies misuse of Scripture, blaming the victims, misuse of forgiveness, lack of awareness and preparation as major factors. Human sinfulness underlies it all. As Lutherans we know that we are simultaneously saints and sinners.
Where is God? “Every survivor is loved and cared for by God. God does not intend for people to be hurt. God is with every victim. Scripture speaks of this, from God’s sorrow over Israel’s suffering, to Jesus’ pain on the cross.”
What should we do? As a church, we can:
+Recognize, name and root out the violence and its sources wherever it is happening.
+Ensure care and create safe communities that foster healing.
In terms of advocacy in the public sector, we can:
+Become allies with others.
+Seek improved laws and social patterns.
+Challenge organizations and agencies to adopt and use policies and practices that prevent and reduce gender-based violence.
“All people need to work together to create change. As a community of faith, we cannot leave all the work to survivors. Men and boys are crucial leaders in this work.”
The Social Message on Gender-Based Violence was initiated out of the task force working on a Social Statement on Women and Justice in the ELCA. A study document on the Task Force’s work is available is available at www.elca.org/women and justice. Comments are welcome through August 31, in preparation for the next draft.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
In 2001, the ELCA Church Council adopted a Social Message on Commercial Sexual Exploitation. Spurred on by the Women of the ELCA, who had been raising awareness about commercial sexual exploitation for years, the ELCA Church Council took on the issue.
“With this message, the Church Council of the ELCA hopes to raise awareness of the industry that sexually exploits vulnerable persons, principally women and girls, but also men and boys. It calls upon members to examine how this industry might affect their lives. The council urges members, congregations, synods, churchwide units, and affiliated agencies and institutions to renew their care and concern for children and youth, recognizing that there are those who prey upon young persons in their dependency and vulnerability.”
The message describes what it calls “the sex system,” more commonly known as “the sex industry.” There are many components, insidious and interconnected. Components of this tangled web include:
+Persons become objects to be used for the benefit of others.
+Sex turns into a commodity.
+Lust plays its role.
+Persons dominate women and youth.
+Evil masquerades as good.
+Young persons and children cry out.
Despite what people say, prostitution and pornography are not victimless crimes. The message suggests some arenas for action:
+Equip the Saints.
+Find out what is happening in your community. Sex trafficking is prevalent, even in rural areas. +Prevent youth from being captives of the sex system.
+Address the demand for what the sex industry offers.
+Explore the law’s role.
+Examine your spending and investments.
+Support social agencies that work with youth and adults who are in prostitution.
+Curb sex trafficking.
Since the message was adopted in 2001, sex trafficking, especially of children, has skyrocketed globally, and even in our synod. Traffickers target reservations, and small town youth. Anyone who travels across Montana and stops in public rest stops sees posters asking “Do you feel like a slave?” These are one effort to identify trafficked persons while they are in transit. Hotels and airlines are also partners in helping to stop trafficking.
There are several resources associated with the ELCA that address trafficking, especially of children. Cherish All Children sends out weekly devotions, and has chapters and affiliates in various communities dedicated to saving children from exploitation. Adults Saving Kids is a ministry initiated by a pastor whose daughter got caught up in the sex trade. Women of the ELCA are to be commended for their ongoing work and advocacy.
Journalists Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn wrote a ground-breaking book in 2009, with a global perspective: Half the Sky—Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women. The Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches address global human trafficking, especially in the context of large sporting events, such as the World Cup, where opportunities for exploitation are plentiful.
“Let us not blink at, gloss over, trivialize, or accommodate ourselves to the sinful evil of the sex system. It is a social sin, a structure of evil that shapes and snares persons, and to which personal attitudes, decisions, and acts contribute. In its tangled web, we see the dynamics of sin at work.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
“They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 65:25)
Violence has been part of the human experience since the very beginning. And it is part of our human experience today. In 1994, the ELCA Church Council adopted a Social Message on Community Violence.
The message acknowledges both the timelessness of violence, and some disturbing modern manifestations of violence. Keep in mind that “modern” means 1994. Some things have changed a great deal since 1994—terrorist attacks and threats; school shootings; police shootings; racially motivated incidents; rise in hate crimes. In 1994, we were exposed to violence not just in our own communities but across the globe by television news. In 2017, we have access to global violence 24/7 through social media. So the perception of increased violence is understandable.
Violence has also become somewhat of a political football in recent years. The reality is that violent crime has decreased dramatically in the last decades in the United States. Round the clock news cycles that compete for ratings thrive on sensationalizing crime.
The message asks: “In the face of this, what are we as a church called to be and do? What resources of our faith can we bring to bear on this apparently intractable predicament? How shall we respond to both victims and perpetrators of violence? What shall we do in cooperation with others as together we seek to counter violence in our communities?”
The first response is theological. We believe that we are all captive to sin and need God’s mercy. We believe that the Holy Spirit works among us to challenge us, heal us, empower us to prevent violence. We also believe that society is to be ruled by the civil use of the Law, and that we have a responsibility to hold government accountable.
The message goes on to make suggestions under 4 categories:
As a Community of Worship:
Through prayer and absolution we remember victims and perpetrators, and also those who protect and defend.
As a Community of Education and Service:
Providing safe places; mediating, educating children and adults on non-violence; building relationships of trust ;supporting efforts to empower communities to change.
As a Community of Advocacy:
Countering the culture of violence in society and media; stem the proliferation of guns; build anti-violence coalitions; protect youth.
As a Community of On-going Deliberation:
Explore how violence has shaped our history; reject racism and fear of violence as a manipulative tool; look at foreign policy options.
The ELCA has produced numerous other resources on violence including Social Statements on The Death Penalty; on Peace, and on Race, and on Criminal Justice, and a Social Messages on Terrorism. In addition, the Bishops issued a pastoral letter in response to the school shooting at Sandy Hook.
This is one of a series of reflections on the Social Messages of the ELCA. The messages are available at www.elca.org/socialmessages . Reflections on other messages and Social Statements are archived at www.montanasynod.org.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
It was Pentecost this past weekend, and we were all gathered together in one place (at least most of us!) This was the 30th annual Synod Assembly, and we celebrated. Our theme was "Promote Unity," one of our Synod's five benchmarks. We heard from a number of ministries in our Synod and ministries our Synod supports.
Dr. Michael Trice of Seattle University was our keynote speaker and got us to think about unity in new ways. Mr. Bill Horne, Vice President of the ELCA, brought the Churchwide report, and Mr. John Lohrmann brought greetings on behalf of the ELCA Church Council. Ms. Paulina Dasse also greeted the Assembly on behalf of Global Mission. Bishop Michael Warfel of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings brought greetings to the Assembly, and noted the many ways that Lutherans and Catholics are cooperating in this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.
Workshops are always a popular part of an assembly. Our workshops this year included: Small Congregations, Disaster Preparedness; Human Sexuality; Islam; Children and Mental Health; Refugees; Accompaniment; the Future of the ELA; Generosity; Women and Justice.
Worship in such a large group is always a high point of an Assembly. On Thursday's opening worship Dr. Kathryn Schifferdecker preached and Pete's Little Big Band played dixieland jazz music as congregations processed with their statements of intent. Sunday's Pentecost worship was enhanced by the reading of the Pentecost story in Spanish, Arabic and Hmong. Our Assembly offering went to Intermountain.
A highlight of the Assembly was on Saturday when everybody moved to the site of our new building, ate barbecue, and got a look at the progress and met the Mission Builders. It was a wonderful way to make the project more real, as Assembly-goers had a chance to write their names and Bible verses on some of the lumber used in the building.
Thanks to all the volunteers, the staff and the participants in the 2017 Montana Synod Assembly!
Personal note: my daughter is getting married this weekend.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA