Moderator Rev Sharon Hollis delivered the following sermon at Sophia’s Spring Uniting Church on Sunday 26 November to mark the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
Ms Hollis has also offered a series of daily prayers on Twitter for the 16 Days of the campaign, which begins on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November) and ends on Human Rights Day (10 December).
Reading: Matthew 25:31-46
When I realised what the gospel reading set for this Sunday was I wasn’t sure about it. Those of us in the liberal tradition of biblical interpretation and theological thinking are very nervous about passages that imply eternal judgement and damnation – with good reason.
However, I think on the Sunday in which we gather to pray and hope and work for the elimination of violence against women I think there is something in this passage from Matthew.
This passage is a narrative about behaviour – what sort of behaviour is expected of the community of Jesus and individuals in that community. It suggests that the way of Jesus requires something of us. To care for the least and lost, the broken and wounded, to feed them, to bind them up, to offer solace and care.
If this is the behaviour that is expected the passage also suggests that we can know what it looks like if we are not living as Jesus people. This passage narrated boundaries for us that give us a picture of what individuals, communities and society look like in relation to its care for others and what we look like when we no longer care for the least.
This notion of boundaries and being clear about them seems to me to be important on a day when we are remembering victims and survivors of gender-based violence and seek a world where we have eliminated violence against women. If we don’t have boundaries we don’t know or have ways to name and challenge unacceptable behaviour.
The Royal Commission into domestic violence made it clear that the key cause of violence is a lack of equality for women and a culture that accepts as part of its very fabric language, practices and behaviours that treat women as less than men. This is why boundaries matter. They help build a society of equality that will help prevent gender-based violence.
There are boundaries, there is behaviour we want to say is unacceptable if we are to value women and see a move towards an end of violence directed at women.
So what might we narrate in the context of eliminating gender-based violence?
We will say no to systems that deem women lesser, that don’t promote equality for women and girls.
We will say no to words and jokes that put down women.
We will say no to viewing women as sexualised; at the same time we will honour women as sensual beings with needs and desires.
We will say no to rules that say women are the problem when it is men who need to take responsibility for their behaviour.
We will say no to rape as a weapon in war.
We will say no to violent words and actions, to emotional or financial manipulation.
This includes the church. We will not tolerate abuse of power, we will raise up women, we will honour the other.
And we will say ‘yes’ to all who challenge behaviour that marginalises and objectifies women
We will welcome theology that challenges patriarchy in God and church.
We will stand with those who support survivors of gender-based violence.
We will work for peaceful conflict resolution.
We will work to create communities of equality.
In this way we shine a light of inclusion and justice. We build communities and society that shine a light both on ways of being together that promote equality and build preventative structures that make violence towards women and children unacceptable.
Being clear about the type of community and society we want to be creates a light that means that those who are victims of gender-based violence can speak of their violence and seek help. Violence will no longer be hidden but will come into the light that makes recovery possible.