Breaking the Silence
“The church has an important role to play in seeking a just world for all, one in which all have the opportunity to live with freedom, dignity and respect.”Karen Georgia Thompson
As a child growing up, we had a neighbor who was abused by her partner. The restful stillness of the evening was pierced by her cries and words of abuse hurled at her as he struck her. As quickly as these moments escalated, they would dissipate. Her cries would hush, the quiet would return to the community and I would find myself wondering how everyone went to sleep after all that had transpired.
The silence was deafening in the aftermath of this violence. There was the silence of the community of neighbors who did not intervene or talk about what happened. There was the silence of the woman who survived these experiences and emerged each morning with no words to speak or acknowledge the events of the night before. And, there was the silence of the perpetrator who was never held accountable for the abuse he leveled in their home.
These individuals are part of our communities and congregations. Too often the silence of the community extends to church. The church has an important role to play in seeking a just world for all, one in which all have the opportunity to live with freedom, dignity, and respect. Too often the church is found wanting in the discourse on how to prevent and end gender-based violence. The church must find opportunities to be an advocate for change.
According to the World Health Organization “1 in 3 women, around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.” My former neighbor was not alone then, nor would she be now, as the number of women affected continues to grow globally. Each day, there are millions of women who suffer abuse in their homes. These are women who go to church and are in need of safety and spiritual care. So are the other victims who are rendered invisible in the discourse.
The United Church of Christ is a part of the Thursdays in Black campaign, a global initiative focused on ending gender-based violence. The campaign includes ecumenical and community organizations working to provide support for individuals who have experienced gender-based violence. This is an advocacy, awareness, and educational campaign which invites participation and a variety of resources to bring about change in our communities.
We are beginning a new blog entitled Encounters at the Well. The title comes from the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4. The woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well was life-changing and life-giving. In this narrative, Jesus transcended the cultural boundaries of his day by speaking to the woman at the well. In their conversation, she gained her voice and went away feeling a part of the community in ways she had not previously experienced.
This new resource is designed to provide the space for voices and perspectives in our community to tell the stories that will bring about change in our world and break the cycles and silence of gender-based violence which transcends gender binary constructs. These encounters will be inclusive in framing the challenges plaguing communities where heteronormativity is a barrier to reporting.
Silence is not an option. To change the world, our voices must be present in meaningful ways and we must be equipped to speak up and speak out ensuring no one suffers while silence prevails in our communities. Following her encounter with Jesus, this woman was empowered to go and tell her story, no longer ashamed. May our Encounters at the Well empower us to be a voice and source of change in the world.
The Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia A. Thompson Associate General Minister for Wider Church Ministries and Operations. Co-Executive for Global Ministries.