It's Not Violence, Is it?
Our guest blogger today is the Rev. Laurie Brock. Laurie is the Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Lexington, Kentucky. With Mary Koppel, Laurie is also the co-author of Where God Hides Holiness: Thoughts on Grief, Joy, and the Search for Fabulous Heels and the popular blog, Dirty Sexy Ministry.
Gender violence begins in small ways. While physical abuse of women and physical sexual assault against women horrify us (as they should) when reported, we often forget that these are sadly only one aspect of gender-based violence. The endemic violence that most if not all women will encounter in their lives is the violence of words and attitudes that tell women we are less than men, that our thoughts and opinions aren’t as important as those of men, that our physical selves are fodder to be reduced to comments about nice legs and nice breasts and a pretty face that violate our dignity. This violence is all too often excused as boys being boys, men making jokes, and women being over-sensitive. This gender-based violence pervades our churches, schools, and workplaces each day. This violence cuts our souls so that our spirit and lifeblood ooze from us, day after day, year after year.
After writing of my experience with this type of violence in Where God Hides Holiness, I received emails, letters, and had tearful conversations with women whose hearts, too, had been broken by the violence of having their dignity abused and assaulted by the church. Some resonated with my experience of being told I had a nice rack in a clergy shirt by a senior priest or hearing other demeaning comments made by clergy and laity about women and the pain of having those comments laughed off as jokes when we spoke of the discomfort we experienced when hearing those words. Others shared far more tragic accounts of psychological and spiritual assaults.
Let’s be clear about violence – it does not just occur when there is physical damage. Studies of the human brain show that when we experience a physical wound or an emotional wound, our brain registers it the same way. In our faith, we are charged with binding and healing the physical wounds. But the emotional ones, the ones where our very spirits and souls have been systemically degraded and demeaned by the actions or inactions others? We rarely do anything to provide healing, and even less to prevent those forms of violence.
Responding to violence against women as if it only occurs when fist meets jaw only addresses part of the issue. How do we respond when we witness a woman being demeaned by a superior? How do we address people who marginalize women by the words they say? When we hear someone equate being physically weaker than most ment or having an emotional response as “acting like a girl,” do we hear that as a form of gender violence? And do we recognize that all spiritual and psychological violence against women is also a violent act against Christ?
My experience and the experience of far too many in the church is that gender-based emotional and spiritual violence is excused, ignored, and, in some circles, invited and encouraged. When groups of those in authority gather to discuss this type of assault and harassment (on the rare occasion they do), these groups are, by and large, led and populated in the majority by men. Of course, men are injured when violence is done to any member of the body of Christ, but what would these gatherings look like and how much better might they respond if women gathered to share their stories, if men and women in authority heard these experiences as violence that must be addressed in our churches and in our culture, and if our churches saw safety of the soul as important as physical safety? What if we recognized that emotional and spiritual violence is as damaging as physical gender-based violence? What if we saw those who inflicted the violence as perpetrators and focused our healing attention on them instead of deriding the victims of this type of violence?
What if we as a Church, as a community of faith, committed to respecting the dignity of every human being and seeking and serving Christ in all people, began truly to respect the dignity of women and honoring the truths and experiences by recognizing that behaviours, attitudes, and words of the past that inflicted violence have no place in the body of Christ?
And said, with one resounding voice, “This ends now.”
Many thanks Laurie for your thoughtful and thought-provoking post!