Violence Against Women: Theological Reflection and Response

Gerhardt-bookcoverDr. Elizabeth Gerhardt addresses the historical, cultural, religious, and political context of global violence against women in her recently published book “The Cross and Gendercide.” 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 was taken from Chapter 6, “Creative Theological Reflection and Activism.”

Following a discussion or lecture on theological foundations for addressing violence against women and girls, I am frequently asked the following: “What do we do now? What are some activities and programs our church can implement to end the violence?” I am tempted to list “things to do.” And in fact, there are many actions that aid in reducing local and global violence against women. In this chapter I describe a few of these actions that make a difference in the lives of women and girls. However, the objective of this book is to encourage the church to engage in broad theological reflection and to do the difficult work of examining Bonhoeffer’s two questions to the church: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What is the role of the church in the world today? Every generation needs to wrestle with these questions and, while rooted in the confession of faith, be shaped by the living Christ at work in the world. In terms of the work of ending violence against women and girls these questions will lead to other questions, some of which were posed in chapter one: What are the nature and roots of the violence? How is the violence that these women and girls experienced a symptom of larger cultural, spiritual and economic conditions in our churches and society? How do we respond as a whole church community? What do Scripture and our confession of faith teach us regarding an approach toward violence and peacemaking? What concepts, language and orientation does our theology offer to help us shape a cohesive, powerful response to violence? How is violence in our local community related to the violence against women and girls experienced globally? Should we define this as a confessional, broad issue needing a multifaceted approach rather than defining this merely as a moral issue that is worthy only of being relegated to a small group of interested community members? How does our confession of faith lead us to be actively involved in resisting institutional violence and promote social policies?

Theologians of the cross will respond to the evil of gendercide by naming it as a sin and renouncing all forms of violence against women and girls as opposed to the Christian confession of faith and Scripture. Discipleship means following Christ not programs. From this perspective, the whole of the church needs to engage in living out hope-filled lives in service to our neighbors. Therefore, the following discussion on church and individual activities that help reduce violence against women and girls offers only partial remedies and should not be viewed as the church’s starting point. The beginning of the work to end the violence, oppression and marginalization of women and girls is for the church to be the church! Confess Christ and follow Christ into the world. Resistance to religious, political and social policies that obstruct the gospel and lives of millions of women and girls begins in prayer, and in humility. There is a steep cost to being church. The true church renounces the illusion of power, identification with political ideologies, prideful self-righteous claims on church strategies for instituting a Christian society, efforts on raising church attendance and being culturally relevant, substituting ethics for doctrine and the confession of faith, and being a comfortable self-serving institution. Our confession of faith reminds us who God is and challenges us to move beyond confession to activism.

From a perspective of the cross, the whole of the church can engage in a myriad of efforts to counter gendercide, some of which include consciousness raising; a prophetic call to end violence; support of political, social and religious efforts to end violence against women and girls; aid to victims; and political resistance to systematic institutional supports of ongoing violence. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s three approaches of the church to the state (as descried in the previous chapter) offer a helpful framework for considering the response of the church today in relation to gendercide. The following are some possible ways of engaging in the work to end violence. However, through theological reflection and prayer, individual church communities, denominations and churches working on an interdenominational level can decide creatively on a multifaceted approach for a whole church response. The incarnational response allows for churches to frame their response creatively in partnership with non-Christian religious organizations, secular organizations and individual experts in the field of violence against women.

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

This entry is the final post in a blog series that focus on experiences, understanding, and responses to violence against women, as part of an online course offered by Northeastern Seminary beginning in the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, this course addresses the problem of violence against women from a Christian theological perspective. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here

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