Northeastern Seminary Blog

Help us, Lord

Posted on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 @ 06:27 PM

originally posted June 19, 2015

I am heartbroken.

This week tragedy happened again. Lives were taken, hatred won, and we were left to make sense of another example of the racial tear in the fabric of our community. As I read through the stories of each of the nine victims of the AME shooting, my heart broke. These were our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, colleagues, neighbors, pastors and fellow believers. They were members of our community.

Earlier this week I attended a one-day seminar sponsored by Northeastern Seminary entitled Power, Inequity and Reconciliation in the Church, led by Dr. Christena Cleveland, who challenged us to listen… to listen to what is being said by ALL our brothers and sisters. As I have prayed and mourned the recent acts I have also been attempting to listen. At the risk of not articulating perfectly, I ask you to hear my heart as I try to make sense of what I am hearing in this challenging time.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Martin Luther King Jr.

We live in a fallen world, a world where hate and racism exist. The recent act in Charleston, South Carolina reminds us once again of our painful history as a divided nation. It is true that many around us love as Christ called us to love and are examples of living in community. But there remains a deep weed in the garden of our lives, an ugly weed that appears far too often. It divides our country around surface topics of personal defense and justification, and we slide into the posture of defending our position instead of listening to each other. I am guilty of this pattern even while trying to make sense of the senseless. Log into any social media today and you will hear debates brewing around our interpretation of what just happened in Charleston.

Injustice happened. Lives were taken. A community was impacted. A church was targeted. A people of a specific race were attacked. Wrong happened and we are left reminded we have not yet learned to live out our calling of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Dr. Cleveland also pointed us to Philippians 2 as a model for how we are encouraged to live within community.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:1-5, NRSV).

Read full article at President Porterfield's blog site

Dr. Deana Porterfield is president of Northeastern Seminary and Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester. NY.

Tags: listening, community, church's response to violence, compassion

The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls

Posted on Wed, Jun 04, 2014 @ 09:13 AM

describe the image The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global   Violence Against Women and Girls

Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt’s new book addresses the historical, cultural, religious, and political context of global violence against women. Through the lens of theology she proposes how the Church can work together in raising awareness and aid in ending crimes  towards women and girls. This passage from her book was taken from Chapter 1, “A Point of Departure: The Cross and Global Violence Against Women and Girls.”

Linda walked tentatively into my small basement office. She was a young woman with short cropped hair and a fresh, newly stitched wound that stretched from her temple, ran across her cheek and ended at her chin. Linda related her terrifying story with little    affect and trembling hand gestures. “My husband chased me   around the house with a butcher knife and caught up to me, slashing me in my arm and face.” She rolled up her sleeve to show me more stitches. “I ran out of the house screaming, and my neighbor called the police.” Linda’s face finally began to mirror the pain in her voice, and she began to sob. “The policeman walked across the lawn, looked down on me and asked me what I had done to deserve my husband’s abuse.” She pointed to her cheek, “I feel like I’ve been victimized twice, first by my husband and second by the police!” Linda was my first client and my first introduction to the shadow world of violence against women and girls. Over the years I heard hundreds of stories from battered women and girls. Through each story I learned more of the cultural, religious, historical and political supports for violence and the global scope of these heinous crimes.

Violence against women and girls is a human rights problem that impacts the lives of millions of families and communities. In the United States one out of every four women has experienced domestic violence and one out of six has experienced attempted or completed rape. Almost one and a half million women have been abused during the past year, and the health costs are an astounding 5.8 billion dollars. Violence against women has been identified as the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine and is one of the country’s most expensive health problems. Globally, it is a significant and complex human rights problem that exacerbates the problems of poverty, child abandonment, communicable diseases and homelessness. The perception of violence as a private, family problem has obscured efforts to increase the visibility of this dilemma as a public human rights issue that affects all members of society. Violence against women and girls crosses all borders, cultures and classes.

Statistics that provide a snapshot of the extent of this global problem are overwhelming. Although prohibited in most countries, violence continues and is permitted by political, social, and religious institutions and systems and remains the major cause of the most violent attacks on women and girls. Global violence against women and girls takes on many forms: widespread rape as a tool of war, gender-selective abortions, female genital mutilation, sexual trafficking, disfigurement and economic exploitation of women, among other horrific violent crimes. Maymuna, a fifteen-year-old Nigerian girl, was forced into marrying a sixty-five-year-old local man. She conceived three months later. Her labor lasted for days before she was taken to a hospital that was three hours away. By the time she arrived, her uterus had ruptured, and she struggled to survive. As a result of hemorrhaging, both she and her baby died. Maymuna’s tragic story is one among tens of thousands illustrating this one type of violence               and exploitation.

In recent years nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), governmental bodies and other agencies have been effective in bringing attention to this critical problem. Christian churches also contribute in several ways to the prevention and elimination of “gendercide.” Efforts include identifying and describing the problem, working to educate Christians as to the extent of the problem, encouraging support to victims, and philanthropic efforts to aid women and girls in need. And yet, there is often a halting acknowledgment by churches to identify violence against women and girls as a theological and confessional issue that requires a unified, holistic church response. The underlying causes of global violence against women and girls are rooted deep in our cultures, and the scandal of this violence is symptomatic of a pervasive and deep misogyny. Millions of girls have undergone the brutal practice of female genital mutilation. Millions of women been forced to undergo sex-selective abortions. Millions more have experienced the horror of sex trafficking and have been imprisoned as slaves with no hope of escape. The list of reprehensible acts is long, and the targets are primarily girls and women. The stubborn pervasiveness of this violence and its deep rootedness in misogyny is best defined as a theological issue, rather than merely an ethical or moral issue. Christian confession concerns an orientation that begins with our understanding of the being of God and, subsequently, God’s mission in the world. By using this theological approach, the church can offer a broad, imaginative and effective response.

Learn more about The Cross and Gendercide at InterVarsity Press.

Elizabeth Gerhardt (Th.D., Boston University) is professor of theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary, Rochester, New York, and adjunct professor in the department of religion and humanities at Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester.

Tags: community, Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, church's response to violence, The Cross andd Gendercide

The Role of the Church When Faced With Victims of Violence?

Posted on Mon, Nov 05, 2012 @ 09:18 AM

A guest post by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, professor of theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary


shattering photoThe statistics are overwhelming.  One in four girls is sexually abused before they reach adulthood. One of four women has been abused by a partner. In the United States domestic violence accounts for more injuries than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.  The stories behind the statistics are even more disturbing. Women’s testimonies of being choked, thrown down staircases, punched, stalked, raped, and verbally and psychologically abused are common.  Girls who are sexually abused are abused by someone familiar to them, usually a family member, ninety percent of the time. This betrayal of trust is more egregious when these incidents of abuse go unreported by other adults, including pastoral leaders.

We live in a culture of violence that objectifies women and girls. The pornography industry is a multi-billion dollar business in our country. Advertisements, popular magazines, videos, and music often reduce girls’ value to shallow descriptions of what is defined as “beautiful.”  Women continue to make less than eighty cents to every dollar men earn. Women are underrepresented in government, high positions in corporate America, and in leadership roles in our churches. This culture of violence supports the ongoing misuse of power in all areas of American life including in the educational, recreational, athletic, and religious arenas. Penn State, the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic priest scandals all bring up images of victims of violence, and the silence and collusion that “covered up” the abuse of so many innocent children.

The church also participates in this culture of violence when we fail to speak out against all forms of domestic violence. We, the church, participate when we emphasize abstinence to our teen groups, and yet never address the fact that twenty-five percent of the girls listening have been sexually abused. We offer no information and support and they often report feeling alone and isolated. We, the church, participate when we do not hold perpetrators accountable. Some pastors fail to report child abuse because they are fearful it will “break apart” the family. This loyalty to the family is a false loyalty, and becomes an idol when we put children at risk for more harm. Pastors support a culture of violence when they minimize or blame the victim for the abuse she is suffering from her husband or boyfriend. I heard a pastor once tell his congregation that if there is abuse in the home then they should come to him and not call the police. “We keep these things in our house,” he declared.  Other pastors may not be so bold as to articulate this “church rule” but indeed, by their failure to report child abuse and sexual abuse, they reduce the criminal behavior to a “family problem” and participate in the culture of violence. 

What is the role of the church when living within a culture of violence that objectifies women and girls? What is the role of the church when faced with victims of violence within their own congregations? First, it is important to break the silence surrounding violence. We need to “bring to light” that which lives and survives in darkness and secrecy. There are opportunities in teen and adult education groups to talk about different types of violence and let everyone know that victims will always be supported. Education is essential to breaking through the myths and supports of violence. When pastoral leaders hear about child abuse they should not hesitate to call the authorities who are the local experts and by doing so they hold the perpetrators accountable. We need to create a culture of love and acceptance in our churches that promotes the strength and resilience of our girls and empowers them to grow and use all of their gifts that God has granted. Our churches need to be “safe sacred spaces” where children grow up seeing both men and women in leadership and they experience a no tolerance for any types of abuse or denigration. Cultures of non-violence, education on these issues of violence, support and referrals for victims, criminal accountability and referrals for perpetrators can create a place where violence is not tolerated, and peace and safety is promoted both in our homes and churches. We are all equal in Christ, and the church is called to live out that reality within our communities. Church leaders have a particular responsibility to protect and ensure that violence is never tolerated and that healthy, love filled relationships are always promoted.


Conf on Min web banner 912Learn more about the church's response to child sexual abuse and domestic violence within the faith community—what it is and what it could be—on November 13 at "Shattering the Silence," part of the Conference on Ministry Series at Northeastern Seminary. Details and registration information can be found here.

Tags: church, domestic violence, church's response to violence