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
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA