Tag Archives: Pacifism

Naming Sexual Violence

This week, on The Femonite blog, we are going to be focusing on themes of sexual violence. I hope you will join us for the ongoing conversation, and add your own questions, stories, and insights.

  • Every 2 minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted
  • Throughout their lifetimes, 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual violence or assault
  • 44% of sexual violence victims are under the age of 18

These stats are horrific. I’m sure none of us read through these statistics and feel untouched or unaffected. In fact, what these statistics are saying is that 20% of all women are affected by sexual violence, which means that, even if you are like me and you are lucky enough to have not experienced this form of violence directly, you have friends, family members and acquaintances who have, whether you know it or not.

During my recent stint as a juror, I was interviewed for service on a case that dealt with four cases of sexual assault, rape and battery with a deadly weapon. The jury selection process took two full days, because the judge and lawyers were hoping to find “impartial jurors,” which they defined as people who had not been affected by sexual violence themselves, or close to anyone who had been. They interviewed 106 jurors before they were able to find 12 who met that criteria.

But perhaps the most startling statistics of all are not about the acts themselves, but the silence that shrouds and protects them.

  • 54% of all sexual assaults are not reported to the police
  • 97% of rapists are not sentenced to any jail time

And perhaps nowhere is this silence more deafening than within church walls. In the past year, my denomination, Mennonite Church USA, has been rocked by not one, but two allegations of sexual abuse at our secondary education institutions in Pennsylvania and  Oregon. Over the course of the past few years, there have been accounts of pastors perpetrating sexual abuse and members of MCUSA have bravely come forward to share their own stories and accounts of sexual violence. And in an ironic twist, one of the most iconic Mennonite writers and peace ethicists, John Howard Yoder, was embroiled in a scandal regarding sexual harassment of many women during his tenure at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, a legacy that sometimes gets swept under the rug, but can still leave some women, myself included, feeling squeamish about using his work.

And yet, Mennonite Church USA as a whole, along with many other Christian denominations, has not made many strong statements naming sexual violence as a reality within our congregations, and condemning it. The church does provide resources for helping a church to deal with sexual misconduct when it arises, but these documents are tucked away in the “polity” section of the MCUSA website.

As a historic peace church, MCUSA spends a lot of time talking about justice issues and condemning violence on many fronts: we’ve made statements about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we host large scale relief sales to support development work in countries that have been ravaged by war, we advocate against unjust immigration policies and condemn violence in many other forms. For this pacifist stance to maintain its integrity, it must advocate against injustice in all forms, including sexual violence.

And even if the church that you attend does not have a strict pacifist stance, I cannot think of a single Christian congregation that would not emphasize the importance of love. It is the key component in Jesus’ two largest commandments, after all. But as Margaret Farley notes, not all loves are “good.” In order for a love to be good, it must also be just. As Farley notes, if sexuality is to be “creative and not destructive,” we must always be asking whether our expressions of love are also just.

Too often, we may feel like we are protecting or even loving ourselves or others by remaining quiet. But silence can often be conflated with complicity. It is time to make space for victims of sexual violence to speak and to share their stories, if they wish, but also to begin having more public conversations about what it takes to create communities where women, children and all people can feel safe and secure.

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Making Sense of Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, we honor those who have borne conflict’s greatest cost, mourn where the wounds of war are fresh, and pray for a just, lasting peace. The American fabric is stitched with the stories of sons and daughters who gave their lives in service to the country they loved.” Barack Obama

Two days ago, Barack Obama spoke these words in a public prayer for peace, offered as part of the Memorial Day weekend events. Around this time of year, as someone who has grown up a pacifist and lived into these beliefs on behalf of nonviolence more and more each year, I begin to feel uncomfortable. Summer is a time for patriotic holidays. It begins with Memorial Day, travels on to the 4th of July, and ends with Veteran’s Day in the fall. And, like most employees in the United States, I receive a vacation day in honor of Memorial Day and the 4th of July, even though I work for a church organization.

It’s tempting sometimes to simply ignore the broader significance of these days and to treat it as a fun vacation time, or pleasant days to get together with friends and family to barbecue. But the older I’ve gotten, the harder it is to ignore all of the rhetoric that swirls around these days. Memorial Day especially is a day to commemorate all that has been lost in war and combat.

I have no desire to belittle the sacrifices that individuals have made or to cheapen people’s deaths. I know that, just as I faithfully choose to follow the path of nonviolence, many others have made an equally faithful decision to participate in war. But I do wish that this was a choice that people did not have to make.

On the same day that President Obama offered this prayer for peace, the news that I was listening to also featured discussions on continued civilian and peacekeeper troop deaths in Afghanistan; on the new threats that Iran may be posing and possible military actions that the U.S is considering; and reports from Syria, where protestors on behalf of democracy have been met with violent crackdowns again and again.

Prayers for peace are great. But prayers for peace must be coupled with action on behalf of change in order to be meaningful. Prayers for peace ring hollow without changes in our foreign policy that humanize and respect the personhood of people all across the world: in Iraq, Iran, Syria and beyond. Frankly, prayers for peace even ring hollow without changes in our own domestic policies that allow people to earn living wages, and to have access to education, healthcare and good social services. These broken systems, coupled with a nation’s strong sense of honor, make military service one of the most viable, and potentially costly, paths to success for a certain sector of people.

In his book, War is a Force that Gives us Meaning, Chris Hedges writes, “Every society, ethnic group or religion nurtures certain myths, often centered around the creation of the nation or the movement itself. These myths lie unseen beneath the surface, waiting for the moment to rise ascendent, to define and glorify followers or members in times of crisis. National myths…are stoked by the entertainment industry, in school lessons, stories, and quasi-historical ballads, preached in mosques [and churches], or championed in absurd historical dramas that are always wildly popular during war…National myths ignite a collective amnesia in war. They give past generations a nobility and greatness they never possessed.”

So today, on Memorial Day, I don’t want to simply forget. We should remember and mourn. We should mourn the lives that have been lost of all sides of conflict: in this year and in past years. We should remember and name the pain and grief that always accompanies war. We should not forget that even so-called clear cut conflicts like World War II, often pointed to as the ultimate litmus test for pacifism (“Well, what you would have done about Hitler?”), were not pleasant. Although I’m sure many celebrated when Hitler was killed, just as many celebrated last year when Osama bin Laden was assassinated, World War II was a time of devastating loss. And this terrible conflict was in fact fueled by previous conflicts and punishments meted out against Germany at the end of World War I. Violence begets more violence.

And we should indeed pray for peace today. But we should also be ready to act, and to build our own national narratives that tell a new story. Today I will also re-commit myself to remembering loss and to acting on behalf of peace: by advocating for foreign policy that I support, by examining the ways my own habits of consumption and consumerism are complicit with corrupt systems, by looking at the ways I use and share resources, and by building healthy inter-personal relationships that are not conflict-free, but that foster open and honest communication. Just as pacifism should not be about judgment, it also should not be about passivity.

Wage Peace

The Journey, by Carina McPherson

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Make soup.
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

-Judyth Hill

How are you marking this Memorial Day?

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Top Ten Methods of Evading Jury Duty (Some Theological, Some Otherwise)

Yesterday I spent one looong day serving “jury duty.” My husband would tell you I’m a whiner for complaining about this. This is the first time in my 9-year “voting career” that I have been summoned for jury duty, compared to the four or so invitations that Justin has received.

I have to confess that, although I should have perhaps entered into this experience a little more excited about performing my civic duty (as the people in the jury service orientation video reminded me, “Jury Service is one of the greatest signs of our nation’s privileged status…,” and I’m often surprisingly receptive to Kant’s ideas of “duty ethics”), I couldn’t muster much excitement.

So, instead, I spent my time in the waiting room brainstorming all the possible ways that I could ensure a dismissal from service were I to make it all the way to the “interview phase” of jury service.

I now offer you, in no particular order, my top ten methods for avoiding full-fledged juror service (Note: They are heavy on the satire). May they serve you better than they have served me:

10. I’m a staunch adherent to Two-Kingdom Theology, as were many of my Mennonite forebears. So, while I very much respect and support the court’s God-ordained right to make decisions regarding criminal justice, my allegiances and loyalties lie with God’s kingdom, and I don’t want to mix the two.”

Of course, at this point, the judge/attorneys could point out that I am, in fact, serving jury duty because I’m a registered voter and the gig would be up…

9. My sensibilities are too post-modern/post-structural for this court. My tendency, were I selected, would be to deconstruct everyone’s argument, to look for both/and solutions, and the best that I could promise to offer at the end of a trial would be a solid ‘perhaps.’ Besides, I’m a little offended by this dualistic ‘guilty vs. not guilty’ paradigm you are using.”

8. I’m a strict complementarian. As such, I don’t believe that women should be engaging in rational thought and discourse in the public sphere. Wouldn’t my skills be better served providing childcare for jurors and/or baking tasty treats to share at a court recess?”

OK, you’re right: can’t go that far.

7. Even though several weeks ago I spent an entire blog post trying to dispel some of the confusion between the Mennonites and the Amish, I could play with the confusion created by our shared heritage in order to befuddle the courts. I could suggest that I need extra mileage reimbursement because of the daily wear and tear on my horse and/or request that my $15/day stipend be paid exclusively in hay.

6. “I’m a pacifist.”

This is true, and somehow, and unfortunately, surprisingly effective at making attorneys and judges squirm.

5.  “I’m a feminist. As such, I hate all men, and would have to rule against the plaintiff, defendant, judge, or all of the above, just depending on gender.”

Again, probably not a stereotype I would actually want to promote.

4. “I have pregnancy brain. It’s ‘scientifically proven’ that at least 75% of my brain energy goes to my uterus at this point in time.”

3. I’m a 6.5 generation German immigrant. Are you sure you feel comfortable with a foreigner on your jury? Sometimes cultural nuances can be tricky.”

2. I just finished a Master’s degree at a highly liberal educational institution. You could pretty much just call me a communist. I even like Cuba.”

1. Or, I could just suck it up, stop playing into stereotypes, answer questions honestly and serve whatever jury “sentence” comes my way….not as exciting, though.

Any other suggestions?

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