Love in Action on Valentine's Day

TAMAR’S LIFE COULD have been different. A princess of David’s kingdom, she would have married into a wealthy family. But that all changed with the only recorded event of her life, described in 2 Samuel 13: A family member forced himself on her, then turned her out of his room. She cried aloud for all to hear, but the one person who did hear, her brother Absalom, counseled her to not take what happened “to heart.”

Rarely preached from the pulpit, this is a story that needs to be heard, because what happened to Tamar happens to one in three women and girls today. They are our mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, selves—women and girls harmed by violence and silence. Worldwide, violence against women and girls takes many forms: sexual violence, sexual harassment, trafficking, “honor killings,” and other forms of murder. Such violence distorts the image of God that is in all of humanity. Victimization is never God’s will—fullness of life is. The church needs to help create intentional safe spaces so that healing can begin.

On Feb. 14, 2013, a movement of grassroots, national, and international organizations in more than 170 countries will take part in One Billion Rising, a day of action to reveal the collective strength and solidarity of those who demand an end to violence against women. Initiated by V-Day, the advocacy group founded by Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler, this event invites the world to rise up to stop violence toward women and girls.

The One Billion Rising day of action is an opportunity for the church and faith communities to begin or continue the healing process. And, along with groups and leaders from diverse faith traditions, some Christian groups from around the world have answered the call. For example, in the Philippines, about 50 bishops from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente have pledged to support and join the day of action, a spokesperson for One Billion Rising told Sojourners.

In the U.S., church participation runs the theological gamut, from the Salvation Army (whose human trafficking division has signed up, along with five local church-affiliated ministries) to the Episcopal cathedral in New York City, St. John the Divine, which will host a multifaith ceremony on the day of action, and the Catholic Blessed Sacrament Parish community in Hollywood, Calif., which plans a liturgical dance celebration.

One Billion Rising’s day of action is open-ended, providing room for the church and the faith community to be creative. It can be a day to start a conversation about violence against women. It can be a day to reread scripture and to rediscover the voices of women. It can be a day to ask our clergy and lay leaders to preach from the pulpit against violence toward women.

The day also provides an opportunity for the church to reassess its own history, teaching, and stance on violence against women and girls. Though significant strides toward gender equality have been made, patriarchal interpretations of scripture explicitly condoning violence against women—for example, women in abusive marriages being counseled to “submit”—too often persist.

As much as she was silenced in her own story, Tamar beckons us all today to seek justice for and with those who suffer violence. Her witness calls the church worldwide to hear the Tamars of today and to stand in solidarity with them by demanding an end to violence against women and girls.

Aimee Kang, before becoming office manager at Sojourners, served as a youth pastor in Atlanta. She has master’s degrees in divinity and theology from Emory University, and is being ordained as a United Methodist deacon.

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