By Sheila Freed
At the end of September, the country was absorbed in a real-life soap opera, broadcast live from a hearing room in the U.S. Senate. The Brett Kavanaugh hearing was just the latest event in a year’s worth of controversy over sexual assault and harassment. The Me Too movement seemingly just happened last year. One might be surprised to know that the ELCA identified and addressed gender-based violence in 2015.
ELCA Social Messages are second in rank below the Social Statements, and are typically used when the church wants to speak out on an issue that needs immediate attention. Social Messages are adopted by the Church Council, and do not require the lengthy deliberation of a Social Statement. So the [churchwide] Church Council adopted a message on gender-based violence in late 2015.
The introductory paragraph says, “Gender-based violence is an ancient sin that for thousands of years has harmed countless women, children, and men. It is a sin that Christians need to recognize, understand, and confront, for our religious history also bears its stain.” The message then recounts a shocking story from Second Samuel, in which Amnon, King David’s firstborn son, rapes his half-sister Tamar. King David learns of it, but does nothing to punish Amnon, whom David loved and intended to succeed him as king. How many versions of this story have we all heard?
The message goes on to explore the ways we are all involved in gender based violence, which is defined as “physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, or other personal harm inflicted on someone for gender-based reasons.” Included are hurts some don’t think of as gender based violence, such as harassment, coercion, elder and child abuse, and pornography. The message notes that the factors contributing to gender based violence are deeply woven into society and our individual lives. It says we all share in the brokenness and judgment brought on by this sin. It points out that we are all survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders.
The message bluntly states, [Gender-based violence] “occurs in the church, in workplaces, the educational system, city streets, war, the military, and the health care system. It occurs, for example, by acquaintances, friends, strangers, caregivers, teachers, clergy, coaches, and work supervisors. Through this violence, someone creates or maintains power and control over someone else. God calls us to love. Gender-based violence is not love.”
The message goes on, “Acts of gender-based violence always involve sinful individual choices to exercise power and control. The choice to inflict violence is a personal responsibility.” . . . . “While individuals are culpable, social systems influence individuals’ actions. This church has proclaimed that God’s grace calls us not only to confront individual sin, but also to confront sin in social systems.” The message talks about how patriarchy and racism in our society and the church contribute to gender-based violence.
Advocacy is our response to God’s call to confront the sins in our social system. LEAN is already working to learn about the bills that will come up in the 2019 Nevada Legislative Session. We know of at least one Bill Draft Request (14-87) by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, about protecting rights of sexual assault victims. We will be watching this and other bills as more is known. However the Social Message makes clear that gender-based violence is more that criminal acts. The power relationships we all engage in and tacitly allow are sin, and we need God’s forgiveness and love to deal with it. It is Us Too.
The Sierra Pacific Synod, of which Northern Nevada’s ELCA congregations are a part, recently published a link in its newsletter to a call to action regarding the August 2019 nationwide Churchwide Assembly and the opportunities to add much-needed language to the church’s Social Statements. You can read it here, and please take a moment to watch this eye-opening video regarding the persistent obstacles and offensive language current and potential female ELCA pastors encounter in some congregations.