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An Unnoticed Thread

Dec 30, 2014 — Categories: ,

Each day seems to bring another report of tragic gun violence. The latest three incidents: Sydney, Australia: Man Haron Monis held hostages in a Sydney café for 16 hours until police stormed the café leaving Monis and two hostages dead. Monis had been charged earlier with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and also with sexual assault of a woman. Eagleville, Pennsylvania: Bradley Stone shot and killed his former wife and five of her relatives before killing himself with a knife. New York City: Ismaaiyl Brinsley ambushed, shot and killed two police officers sitting in their patrol car. Mr. Brinsley, 28, then fled down the street and onto the platform of a nearby subway station, where he shot and killed himself. He had come to New York from Baltimore where he had shot his former girlfriend. Fortunately, she survived. Actually these seemingly disparate events had a lot in common, namely, gender based violence.

Each day seems to bring another report of tragic gun violence. The latest three incidents:

Sydney, Australia: Man Haron Monis held hostages in a Sydney café for 16 hours until police stormed the café leaving Monis and two hostages dead. Monis had been charged earlier with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and also with sexual assault of a woman.

Eagleville, Pennsylvania: Bradley Stone shot and killed his former wife and five of her relatives before killing himself with a knife.

New York City: Ismaaiyl Brinsley ambushed, shot and killed two police officers sitting in their patrol car. Mr. Brinsley, 28, then fled down the street and onto the platform of a nearby subway station, where he shot and killed himself. He had come to New York from Baltimore where he had shot his former girlfriend. Fortunately, she survived.

Actually these seemingly disparate events had a lot in common, namely, gender based violence.

My interest here is not to reduce these tragedies to a single issue but rather to point out that there is a common thread that is often overlooked. Violence against women is all too often an element in these acts of public violence. Perhaps if we were to address the violence against women more directly and seriously, we might head off some of these other incidents that spill over into families and communities.

Violence against women is virtually universal across cultures and religious and ethnic groups. It is the common denominator of women’s lives to live with either the fear or the memory of personal violence. Violence against women is the subtext of much of the public violence in our communities. Until we confront and change the cultural and religious norms that accept and condone violence against women, we will make little progress stopping these lone acts of terrorism committed by seemingly “unstable” individual men.

There's another thread that goes unnoticed, which is the heart of my work over the past 40 years. It is the role that our faith traditions and cultures have played in creating and supporting gender based violence.

For those of us who are people of faith, we have to admit that the very texts that provide solace and inspiration are sometimes also the foundation for ideas, actions and attitudes that include gender based violence. As inheritors of these traditions, it's our job to change them. No one else will be invested in this hard work. It's those of us who care about these traditions who bear the torch going forward.

So how do we do this? Slowly. As someone who has been involved in this struggle for decades, it sometimes feels like eons. But one of the benefits of being a "seasoned" fighter is the ability to see real progress. In 1974 when I began to find my way into this ministry, we didn't talk about rape within marriage, because it wasn't a concept that most people could or would comprehend. Women served their husbands, sexually and otherwise. We didn't talk about rape or sexual assault or child abuse because the acts were shameful to the victims, and they were "private". There weren’t domestic violence shelters or rape crisis centers or the thousands of advocates who dedicate their lives to helping survivors through abuse and trauma and healing.

My point isn't that these issues (or attitudes) have gone away. But culturally, 2014 is far from where we were in 1974. How did we get here?

We talked to each other, we raised our voices, we took to the streets, we engaged in critical thought. We questioned that what we were taught was true, we opened our sacred texts and read them for the message and meaning. We demanded more and better from our clergy, our elected officials, our teachers and mentors.

This is the work of creating change. It's messy and controversial and difficult. But fundamental to making social change is having a clear analysis and being willing to connect the dots in the subtexts so that our action is well informed and potentially effective.

So I share these three recent, very public acts of violence, not to overwhelm or simply catalogue the awful state of our affairs at the end of the year, but to get us to look beneath the surface and grab hold of an understanding which empowers our responses. The next time you challenge your faith leader’s interpretation of sacred text to subtly (or not so subtly) justify gender based violence, the next time the Violence Against Women Act comes up for a vote in the US Congress (or when the International Violence Against Women Act comes up this year) and you write in support to your congressperson, the next time you challenge a bully or a sexist joke, the next time you stop and think before you speak because you remember that children are listening, the next time you stand with a colleague who is experiencing sexual harassment, you may be doing your part to prevent the next public tragedy of violence that we won’t read about in the newspaper.

Well done. Keep it up. Because the way things are isn’t the way they have to be.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.FaithTrustInstitute.org
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An Unnoticed thread

Posted by Toby Myers at Dec 31, 2014 02:31 PM
Said as only one who understands and has given much thought to the issue. Yasher koach!

Thank you

Posted by Cecile Adams at Dec 31, 2014 02:31 PM
Marie, thank you for leading the way all these years, for speaking up and speaking out, for developing resources and writing books, and for engaging others in a variety of ways to create a visible movement. Without your presence and actions, awareness would be diminished and the faith community would still be wandering very much in the dark. Blessings as you continue your unique and much-needed ministry in the years ahead.

Peace and Joy,
Cecile

I can't thank you enough

Posted by Anna Belle Leiserson at Jan 04, 2015 12:46 AM
Dear Marie,

On July 1 of this year I plan to call it quits helping UU's turn their ship into safer waters. I am worn out -- and know that in the end, since I am not a religious professional, this is not my responsibility. I've been at it since 1993 -- and every step of the way you have helped with your insights and encouragement. Once again, reading your latest post, I am amazed.... You have given words to the vague thoughts I have reading these headlines -- and put a bit of much-needed wind into my sails. Indeed, the way things are is not the way they have to be -- and you have made a profound difference in my life.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart,
Anna Belle

Faith and Gender Violence

Posted by Sara Bergstresser at Jan 04, 2015 12:46 AM
Thank you, Marie, for this perspective. As someone who worked for over 20 years in the anti rape movement (in Philadelphia), I often feel very discouraged by today's headlines as a sign that NOTHING has changed! As you point out, that is not really accurate.

Although I don't expect you to remember, I met you twice (late 70s retreat and much later over lunch with Joan Martin). I admire your steadfast work and vital work.

thank you

Posted by Judith Braun at Jan 05, 2015 02:16 PM
Thank you Marie. I am sure you were at the heart of teaching my seminary professors so that I might be enlightened. It took a seminary education to understand the abuse in my life for what it was!