Written by Emily Mullins
On Sunday, Nov. 24, members of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Salem, Ore., will together recite a pledge promising to speak out against sexual violence, stand in solidarity with those most vulnerable, and support laws that promote justice and enable healthy relationships. They will then have the opportunity to sign the pledge and turn it into the offering plate as a public witness of their promise. Their actions are in recognition of Speak Out Sunday, the faith community's way of lifting up the global efforts to recognize and prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that begin on Nov. 25.
"We are a Just Peace and an Open and Affirming church," said the Rev. Janet Parker, senior pastor of First Congregational UCC. "And this is the kind of thing we need to be doing as part of our identity and mission."
Speak Out Sunday is an initiative of WeWillSpeakOut.US, a movement of diverse faith groups from throughout the United States joining together in action and advocacy to end the silence around SGBV. Recognized this year on Nov. 24, congregations are called to engage in dialogue, teaching, prayer and action about SGBV and its prevention. Speak Out Sunday will kick off the Center for Women's Global Leadership's 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, which begins with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.
"The church is a place of love, acceptance, healing and forgiveness," the Speak Out Sunday website reads. "Speak Out Sunday is the perfect opportunity to empower your congregation to take action to prevent and address SGBV. Though the topic may be sensitive, people of faith must use [their] voices against rape, sexual violence, abuse, oppression, trafficking and other forms of SGBV."
Speak Out Sunday is the culmination of three weeks of Adult Christian Education activities at First Congregational UCC focused on SGBV. On Nov. 10, a representative from Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service spoke to the group about his experience as a survivor of sexual abuse, the growing movement to end the sexual abuse of children, and how members of the congregation can help. On Nov. 17, an advocate from the Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service discussed the topic of ending domestic violence, and provided a detailed list of services available to those suffering from domestic violence in the Salem community.
Also on Nov. 24, Paula Lucas, author of the memoir Harvesting Stones and founder of the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center, will share her experience fleeing from the United Arab Emirates with her three young sons to escape an abusive marriage, and discuss the failure of the U.S. legal system to protect the children of women who leave abusive relationships.
"People in our congregation are aware of these issues and supportive of making financial and other kinds of contributions to address them," said Parker of SGBV and her congregation's participation in Speak Out Sunday.
WeWillSpeakOut.US offers a number of resources and ideas for congregations that want to participate in Speak Out Sunday. Visit the organization's website for more information.
Speak Out Sunday Pledge:
We will speak out. We will be silent no more.
We stand together in solidarity with the most vulnerable.
We dedicate ourselves to finding lasting solutions.
We will promote laws that model, protect and promote justice, enable healthy relationships… and challenge those that don't.
We will work to ensure that these laws are enforced.
We commit to take action together to see all girls, women, boys and men freed from the threat and impact of sexual violence across the world.