Every Thursday at noon, members of the wider United Church of Christ have long been encouraged to join other people of faith in a moment of prayer to remember those who have been victims of sexual or gender-based violence. Wearing black, they make their witness visible, by posting pictures on social media to #ThursdaysinBlack.
"The weekly witness is a reminder that the challenges of gender violence and violence in general are a global problem," said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC associate general minister, Wider Church Ministries. "Being able to stand in solidarity with the many men and women around the world who continue to be victimized by rape and violence is important. So is the opportunity to raise awareness by sharing what we are doing."
Thursdays in Black is an international campaign of advocacy and solidarity against all forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Every Thursday for the past three years, UCC participants have joined people around the world wearing black as a symbol of strength and courage, expressing support for victims and survivors of violence, and calling for a world without rape and violence.
Thursdays in Black has been around for decades, first publicized by the World Council of Churches in the 1980s as a form of peaceful protest against rape and violence that seems to increase during wars and conflicts. The UCC is now intentionally re-launching the campaign across the wider church for several reasons.
“As we move through this time of pandemic and sheltering in place, people are spending more time together in a stressful situation. This has alerted advocacy groups to the need to increase awareness and be prepared for possible increases in incidents of sexual and gender based violence,” Thompson said. “We are also aware that there has been increased violence against indigenous women and transgendered persons.”
After shelter-in-place orders because of COVID-19, reports of violence against women grew.
According to The Economist, domestic violence has increased during coronavirus lockdowns. In American cities, reports during shutdowns increased while other crimes fell. In April, the United Nations called for “urgent action” to combat the worldwide surge.
“These partners allow us to amplify our voices in a way that educates about the global problems that are being exacerbated by the pandemic,” she said. “Our collective witness – voices connecting around the world – means that we can strive toward a just world for all.”
Part of that collective witness will take place during General Synod 33 in July. Because of the pandemic, the UCC Board voted to make the 2021 gathering virtual, with a Sunday to Sunday schedule, July 11-18, so the governing body will be in session on Thursday for the first time in many years.
“While we know that the campaign will continue well beyond General Synod, this upcoming General Synod provides unique opportunity in the UCC,” Thompson said. “We raised awareness about Thursdays in Black and the related issues of sexual and gender-based violence at prior General Synods and National Youth Event, yet we have not had the opportunity to do so on a Thursday in context of General Synod. General Synod 2021 will be an invitation for the church to participate together in wearing black. We will have an array of offerings for the church to take on this issue together with the world.”
A Thursdays in Black webpage and a new video from Ecumenical Women at the United Nations invite participation in the campaign.
“Ecumenical Women at the U.N. led the charge to push the Thursdays in Black campaign and focus on the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on sexual and gender-based violence,” said Rebekah Choate, UCC associate for global advocacy and education and the denomination’s representative to the U.N. . “We’ve been supporting Thursdays in Black for many years and we hope more people will get involved and work to end rape and violence.”
It’s easy to get involved in #ThursdaysinBlack – just Pause, Pray, Post, Pledge.
- Pause for a moment on Thursdays at noon to remember those who have died from sexual or gender-based violence.
- Pray to stand with them. “We see you. You are not forgotten.”
- Post prayers and photos on social media using the hashtag #ThursdaysinBlack.
- Pledge to support the global movement to end the violence, with resistance, accompaniment and solidarity.
As Thompson said, “We all have a responsibility to speak out against violence, to ensure that everyone is safe from rape and violence in homes, schools, work, streets – in all places in our societies.”