This year the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women falls on Sunday 25th November. I encourage LCA congregations and members to recognise this day as a contribution to reducing the incidence of violence in all its forms.
Acts of violence are widespread across society and they take many forms. It affects both women and men, and statistics show that women are four times more likely than men to be hospitalised as a result of intimate partner violence. In Australia, on average one woman is murdered each week by a present or former partner. In October this year, nine women were murdered, seven by intimate partners and the other two by men unknown to them. Such shocking statistics come despite years of awareness campaigns to expose domestic violence for the evil that it is. The incidence of domestic violence in New Zealand appears to be similar to that in Australia, possibly even higher.[i] It’s clear that the ‘old Adam’[ii] is still powerful, preventing such messages from having their desired effect.[iii]
Sadly, despite our faith in Christ, Christians are not exempt from domestic and family violence or abusive behaviour between couples. Worse, when victims of violence do find the courage to reveal their suffering, their cries can be ignored. Well-meaning counsellors can sometimes tell people to ‘put up’ with it and stay in an abusive relationship, even telling them that it is somehow their fault. Pray God we should know better than to do that.
Domestic violence is not just a curse for those within such relationships and families. It affects us all, right across our church and wider society. It doesn’t fall into neat categories. Firstly, domestic violence isn’t limited to people of a certain age, ethnicity, economic status or social class. Secondly, the whole of society pays the cost, for example by increased demand on emergency health services, the need for women’s shelters, police call outs, court services and so on. Thirdly, each of us, by our personal behaviour, has the opportunity to play a part in stemming such violence and its false justifications by how we speak and relate to one another.
The Bible contains many passages to help us understand what that means for daily life. The letter of James, for example reminds us of the power of words. ‘A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.’ (James 3:3-6 The Message)
Our speech can heal or harm, raise people up or condemn them. The words we choose are our contributions to harmony and health or chaos and evil. These days our speech also includes our written (or typed) communication – what we say in text messages, social media posts, emails and blogs. Derogatory or violent talk among mates and work colleagues, or blogs and chatrooms, encourages people to excuse or tolerate violent talk. Such talk contributes directly to the spiral of violence, often perpetrated in private where people think no one will ever know.
On the other hand, James continues, ‘Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.’ (James 3:17-18 The Message)
If, as Christians, we are serious about eliminating all forms of violence against women and men, we can, very simply, start with the way we talk to one another and about each other. Speech that comes from the love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, will build up our intimate relationships, our families, our congregations, our church and our community.
God of love, compassion and healing, on this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women we offer the following prayers:
- for women and girls who have experienced violent relationships, that they can find safety and healing from their trauma, and rebuild their lives;
- for the healing of children who have witnessed violence in their homes against their mothers and sisters and other family members;
- for individuals and organisations working to prevent violence against women and girls and which help survivors of violence, including the LCA’s Hidden Hurts, Healing Hearts Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Campaign;
- for courage for men in particular to speak out against forms of expression that demean women or condone violence against them;
- that men and boys who have behaved violently towards women and girls will confess their sins, repent in meaningful ways, and seek whatever help they need to lead changed lives.
Pastor John Henderson,
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
Adelaide, 20th November 2018
I express my thanks for large parts of this message to Ian Rentsch, Coordinator of the LCA’s Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Campaign.
[ii] See Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism 4. The Large Catechism and the Smalcald Articles contain more references to the ‘old Adam’.
[iii] Meyer, Silke, 2018. ‘After a deadly month for domestic violence, the message doesn’t appear to be getting through’, https://theconversation.com/after’deadly-month-for-domestic-violence-the-message-doesnt-appear-to-be-getting-through-105568 Accessed 12/11/2018