Violence

To Protect and To Heal

OVER DINNER my friends and I reflected recently on the headlines that surprised us last year. A few were especially painful: former Rep. Todd Akin's comment that "legitimate" rapes do not lead to pregnancies; failed Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's comment that a pregnancy from rape is "something that God intended to happen"; and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), in effect since 1994, ending as the 112th Congress closed without reauthorizing it. All reminded me why the second edition of The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church's Response, by Pamela Cooper-White, is still needed almost 20 years since its first edition.

The Cry of Tamar reads as a graduate textbook on providing pastoral support for the victims of violence against women. It weaves pastoral counseling methods and social and psychological theories in dialogue with biblical exegesis and constructive theology to give clergy, pastoral caregivers, and religious leaders tools to help victims of violence and the larger Christ-community.

The story of Tamar, a girl raped 3,000 years ago in Jerusalem, frames and guides the book's goal of providing healing to the girls and women who are victims of violence today.

Advocacy, prevention, and intervention to stop violence against women have advanced since the 1995 first edition. Religious communities and congregations have become more informed about how to care and respond to both victims and perpetrators. But the need for increased awareness and education is ongoing. This second edition is an effort to update the conversation and keep it on the table.

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Oscars and the Big Picture

WE SHOULDN'T really expect the Oscars to grasp the point of history, though this year the films nominated for Best Picture are a fascinating snapshot of what ails—and could heal—us.

Zero Dark Thirty takes a clinical view of the search for Bin Laden and has been criticized for its portrayal of torture as effective. To my mind this debate may miss the wider question: Torture is bad enough, but a central assumption about the efficacy and validity of killing for peace—that shooting an old man in his bedroom would solve anything—is worthy of enhanced interrogation.

The point is missed also in the brouhaha about Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's thrilling satirical Western. People are up in arms about the comic book violence and use of the N-word—but this is perhaps the most powerful, even indelible, portrayal of the violence of slavery ever made for a mainstream audience. Two wrongs don't make a right, and the revenge arc in this film should be questioned, but Tarantino has done a moral service in not sanitizing his fictionalization of historical memory. Lincoln is the perfect companion piece—I highly recommend you see both. Django Unchained uses B-movie tropes to vastly entertain while confronting the real horrors Abraham Lincoln was fighting to end. Lincoln is a theatrical history lesson that delicately handles the moral authority competitions, language games, and political complexity behind the 13th Amendment.

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Help End the NRA’s Dangerous Idolatry of Guns

“Idolatry of guns.” What does that mean, exactly?

It might be hard to admit, but if you think about it, you can see that many groups in the United States see guns as sacred. Guns are not only the solution to our problems, they will save us from evil. Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, stated this himself: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Do we really believe this? If we stop and think about it, we don’t. Our protection does not come from guns, and we do not live in a binary society of good and evil, where the right to hold dangerous weapons can be allocated to people who are entirely virtuous.

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.

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What Comes After the Grief?

WILL THE MASSACRE at Sandy Hook Elementary School touch the nation’s soul or just make headlines for a short time? I think that will be up to us who are parents—to respond as parents.

The brutal shooting of 20 6- and 7-year-old schoolchildren in their own classrooms touches all of us, and as the father of two young boys I’m especially struck by the way it touches parents: from the heartbreak of the parents in Newtown to the tears in the eyes of Barack Obama as he responded—not just as the president but also as the father of two daughters—to the faces of the first responders and reporters who are parents. I have felt the pain and seen the look on the face of every parent I have talked with since this horrendous event occurred. Virtually every mother and father in America has turned their grieving gaze on their own children, realizing how easily this could have happened to them.

The day after the Connecticut massacre, my wife, Joy, and I went to our son Jack’s basketball game. The kids on the court were the same ages as the children who were killed. I kept looking at them one by one, feeling how fragile their lives are.

Our first response to what happened in Newtown must be toward our own children: To be so thankful for the gift and grace they are to us. To be ever more conscious of them and what they need from us. To honor the grief of those mothers and fathers in Connecticut who have so painfully lost their children, we must love and attend to ours in an even deeper way.

But we really can’t honestly just tell our children that they are safe. This year, children have been randomly shot in their schools, in movie theaters, at malls, and on street corners across the nation—places that any of our kids could be at any time. Our children are not safe.

This crisis will not be solved until we begin a national conversation about what will keep our children safe in this country, at least more safe than they are today.

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Seek the Peace of the City: If Not Now, When?

Urban Reporter Shutterstock.com

What would Jesus do with guns?

Would he own guns? Sell guns? Perform miracles and multiply guns for 5,000 people? Would he use guns? Would he ask his followers and disciples to own guns? I’m no expert on the topic of Jesus and guns but I do know Jesus and for this Jesus who encouraged people to “turn the other cheek” and gave encouragement to be “peacemakers,"  my guess is that he wouldn’t be a member of NRA.

Violence : It Isn't Just About the Guns

Photo: Violence image, © Kasza / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Violence image, © Kasza / Shutterstock.com

This is not a blog post about gun control. Everything that can possibly be said about that subject, pro or con, has already been said millions of times since Friday. We are talking too much, too soon. In the words of my rabbi, “Judaism teaches that when there is nothing to say we should say nothing….Sometimes only silence gives voice to what has happened."

We Americans should all be sitting shiva.

But when, next week, we rise from our knees and begin working – together, I hope – to reduce the terrible problem of violence in our country, we must realize that our disorder goes much deeper than simply owning too many guns, and that any effective solution will have to go much deeper too.

When they are distressed, some people clean house or do push-ups  I collect data. All week I have been amassing numbers and arranging them in rows and columns, trying to shed light on the question: Why are some nations violent while others are not?

Is It Too Late For Us?

John Moore/Getty Image
Rachel Berger (L), and Greta Waag embrace while visiting a makeshift memorial in Newtown. John Moore/Getty Images

O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

In 2012 more than one hundred young people were killed by gun violence in Chicago. More than a hundred. If you start adding up the numbers, there was a time there in the summer where Chicago was more dangerous than Afghanistan. Well, parts of it were. It's a big place, you know.

As tragic as the shooting was in Connecticut —and I am truly not interested in minimizing the grief or outrage — we have to wake up and realize that more children are killed every year in the U.S. and we seldom cry in outrage. Not as a nation. There were marches in protest by Chicago churches

The news media covered the march but not the murders. 

A Call to Arms

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
People pay their respects at a makeshift shrine to Sandy Hook victims. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

In the wake of the recent school shooting tragedy in Connecticut, we will undoubtedly hear the lament, 'America is at the crossroads', as we struggle to contain an increasingly violent society. Sadly, this country left the crossroads some time ago. We have passed the tipping point, and are rapidly descending into the abyss of chaos when it comes to respect for human life. 

Well-meaning voices are sounding the alarm that things are different now — innocent children have died in great numbers in Connecticut. This is true, but people are dying every day in towns and cities throughout our nation due to acts of senseless violence. The deaths in Connecticut represent an unspeakable new low, but we have been steadily arriving here for decades.

We will rightly pray for and comfort the families and communities of the victims. We should do no less. There will also be calls for greater gun control. However, we can count on this: we cannot count on our governments to get this epidemic of violence under control. Nor can we retreat to the false comfort of innocuous statements such as, 'Guns don't kill people. People kill people.'  

In Newtown Churches, Many Questions — and Tears — But Few Answers

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
People attend a prayer service to reflect on the violence at the Sandy Hook School. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Dealing with the pain of the school shooting that claimed 28 lives will take faith, support, and joyous Christmas celebrations, church leaders said at the first Sunday services held since the tragedy.

At houses of worship around town, people gathered in pews, crying, kneeling, and hugging each other through services that focused on remembering the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, uniting the community, celebrating the meaning of Christmas and preventing similar disasters.

Yet even this beleaguered town's day of worship provided a moment of fear when congregants at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church fled the building, saying they were told there was a bomb threat. Police with guns drawn surrounded the church. No injuries were reported, but the church canceled all events for the day.

Earlier in the day, services at St. Rose, much like other places of worship in the area, were focused on the tragedy.

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