By Emily Esworthy, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
I have been working with the WeWillSpeakOut.US coalition for over two years, and our underlying mission is to empower churches and other faith communities to “speak out” against sexual and domestic violence and amplify the voices that are already out there.
The Problem of Silence
Anecdotally, we know the Church in general has not been the most inspiring when it comes to the prevention of and response to sexual and domestic violence. (How many messages have you heard about it in church?) Hoping for concrete data, this June we partnered with Sojourners to commission a LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 US Protestant pastors to gauge their experiences and responses to sexual and domestic violence. The result was a report titled, “Broken Silence: A Call for Churches to Speak Out.”
One of the key findings was that almost two-thirds of pastors (65%) speak once a year or less about this issue, with 10% never addressing it at all. This silence is troublesome and shows that most of our churches really are turning a blind eye to a painful problem that as many as one in three women (and many men) will experience.
Enter Speak Out Sunday
To encourage pastors and other faith leaders to speak out, WeWillSpeakOut.US created our annual “Speak Out Sunday,” which falls on Sunday, November 23, 2014 this year. (For those who don’t worship on Sundays, we encourage you to host a Speak Out Sabbath or Service on a nearby date that suits you.)
Why this date? The United Nations has designated November 25 as the “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.” This day kicks off the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, observed from November 25 through December 10. Each year we choose the Sunday that fits best within that time-frame to serve as the faith community’s platform for uniting with these global efforts.
But here’s the rub: some pastors aren’t ready to speak out.
I have talked with many, many survivors who have told me their pastor recommended they pray harder or submit more readily to their abusive spouse. Others have said their pastor accused them of desiring their rape or dressing in such a way as to “ask for it.”
Furthermore, the Broken Silence report showed that 62% of pastors provided couples or marriage counseling in response to domestic and/or sexual violence. This is a potentially very harmful response, because it puts the victim in further danger.
There is much to be done to adequately prepare pastors to address sexual and domestic violence. Through WeWillSpeakOut.US we are working to connect these pastors to the theological and practical resources that can be of help to them, and our vision is that churches participating in Speak Out Sunday will do so with ample prayer and preparation behind it so as not to risk revictimizing someone.
Supporting your Speak Out Sunday
Are you ready to speak out? Great! We’re here to help. Our suit of free tools and resources for pastors to use when gearing up for Speak Out Sunday is growing all the time. We have a sermon guide, a recorded webinar, a flyer of hotline numbers to post in your bathrooms, and more. For the full list, click here.
As you map our your Speak Out Sunday, here are some critical things to keep in mind:
· If you speak out, be prepared to have to take action. Statistically, there are people in your pews who have been victims and/or perpetrators of violence, and your sermon is likely elicit a response. We strongly recommend having a licensed counselor present at your service and a private room where they can talk quietly with anyone who may need support.
· Have a referral process in place. If someone discloses to you that they have been abused, you’ll want to have the local crisis centers on speed dial. Find your local centers and shelters here or by using a simple Google search, and then contact them to introduce yourself. They may even be able to provide a counselor to attend your Speak Out Sunday service.
We hope you’ll prayerfully consider hosting your own Speak Out Sunday this year, or at least taking the next steps to prepare yourself and your church to prevent and respond to violence.
Your first next step is signing our Pledge Against Violence, which will put you on our email list and remind you of your commitment to speak out!
Emily Esworthy is a Marketing and Communications Officer for IMA World Health and the Secretariat for WeWillSpeakOut U.S. – a faith-based coalition and movement of diverse faith groups from across the US that joins together with other leaders, organizations and congregations in action and advocacy to end the silence around sexual and gender based violence.