As Christians, we are blessed with such rich scriptures. One such scripture we reflect on often within the ministry of Disability Concerns is from Paul’s letter from the church in Corinth. He reminds them that they all make up the same Body of Christ, united across distance and time, as we seek to value each person and their gifts offered to community. The entire passage also applies to our ministry in Safe Church as we seek to ensure all who make up the Body are cared for! Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). When abuse occurs, it is a community issue.
In a Ted Talk by Jackson Katz he urges for a paradigm shift to name men’s responsibility in ending violence against women, rather than continuing to consider it “a women’s issue.” It is a story, struggle, and call for the whole Body.
When the #MeToo movement started to take over Twitter, with millions of stories of abuse being shared, Katz demonstrated the shift needed in his tweet asking how many men raped women (instead of asking how many women were raped). He commented,
“In this sense using active language is itself a political act. It puts the onus of responsibility on those who engage in abusive behaviors. Asking the question: ‘How many men raped women?’ rather than ‘How many women were raped?’ is much more likely to lead to actions that prevent rape, because it shines the spotlight in the direction of the source of the problem.”
By shifting the language we use, attitudes will also shift. We understand this as people of faith: how we speak about God’s love impacts our actions, how we live out God’s love in the world. Katz explains, “Calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem.” When we do so, our words excuse men from paying attention. We use the social construct of gender as if it only applies to women. And he adds, “Men have been erased from a subject that is primarily about men in power.” To demonstrate this problem, Katz uses a shifting single sentence to examine whose story we tell and how we tell it shapes where we place power:
- John beat Mary -- John is the subject.
- Mary was beaten by John -- Mary becomes the subject.
- Mary was beaten -- John is withdrawn.
- Mary is a battered woman -- the violence against her becomes her identity, though defined by John he is removed from sight.
In our scriptures, James reflects on how we use words. He says of the tongue: “With it we bless the Lord and Father and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God” (3:9). Our words can bless our neighbours, those in the Body together. Or, by removing “John” and men from conversations about violence against women, the whole Body suffers together. We need to remember both Mary and John are made in God’s image, both need healing, and our society must speak out to end this violence. Katz agrees that John needs to reform his behaviour – and society needs to transform alongside him with our words and our actions.
We must be asking different questions about this violence, Katz says. The world often places the blame on women by asking questions like:
- Why do these women go out with these men?
- Why does she keep going back?
- What was she wearing?
Katz comments, “Asking questions about Mary is not going to get us anywhere in terms of preventing violence.” He calls on society to ask these questions instead, questions focused on those perpetuating abuse:
- Why does John beat Mary?
- Why is there so much gender-based violence in North America and all over the world?
- Why do so many men abuse physically, emotionally, sexually the people they claim to love?
These questions need to be asked by men as well as women. Unfortunately, Katz says, “Men can be heard saying some things that women often can’t be heard saying.” For example, men can challenge other men when hearing sexist remarks without being called names like man-hater. When we interrupt sexism, we act out of love for God and neighbour. He names this a “By-stander approach to gender-violence prevention”, calling all of us who are not the perpetrator or survivor of abuse as by-standers. He calls on leadership of organizations/churches/schools to not remain silent in the face of abuse. Katz says, “So many men care deeply about this but caring deeply is not enough – break our complicit silence and challenge each other.” As one example, he calls for mandated sexual violence prevention training and for those who abuse power to be held accountable for their words, actions, and silence.
Katz concludes, “I hope that, going forward, men and women, working together, can begin the change and the transformation that will happen so that future generations won't have the level of tragedy that we deal with on a daily basis.” The CRCNA has named abuse as sinful behaviour that harms the community: “The failure of men and women and of adults and children to relate to each other in a biblically healthy, affirming manner is the root cause of abuse.” At Safe Church we call on all people to speak, through words and actions, to end gender-based violence. One body, suffering together, rejoicing together.