Pastor Tom O’Brien: It’s no secret that today’s scripture is one of my favorites. It’s probably obvious if you’ve ever received an email from me or, you know, learned my son’s name. I love that it so easily sums up what prophets have been trying to say for thousands of years. It’s simple, poetic, and direct – do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
Sandra Summers, Student Intern: I agree, this verse sounds really great, but what does it actually mean? It’s helpful to have a phrase that summarize our beliefs. What’s hard, is trying to figure out HOW this poetic line, plays out in our lives. We are just like the Israelites Micah is addressing. The Israelites list all the ways they THOUGHT they were serving God, through burnt offerings and animal sacrifices. But through Micah, God tells them they are headed in the wrong direction. Somewhere between heartbroken and angry, God pleads for the Hebrew people to Do Justice. Love Kindness. and Walk Humbly with God. This is no small order. In fact, this is extremely difficult.
Tom: You’re right, it may be poetic, simple and direct but it does have some pretty big holes when it comes to concrete action or specific blueprints. But we can use it as a guide to try and understand what we’re called to do. So what does the Lord require of us when it comes to domestic violence?
Sandra: We’re required to acknowledge the truth. One in four women and one in sixteen men is the survivor of Domestic Violence. 30% of all women who have ever lived with a man, are also survivors of relationship violence.
Tom: Compared to other crimes, domestic violence is unique in that it affects every community. It doesn’t matter if someone is white or black, young or old, rich or poor, Christian or Hindu – intimate partner violence is an issue that permeates our society. Domestic violence is a prime example of how we are not meeting God’s requirements.
Sandra: Domestic Violence is more than what we see in news. The images portrayed most often are of physical acts of violence. However, it’s much more than this. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault & battery, sexual assault and/or other behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. Domestic violence is about power and control. Batterers use coercion and threats, intimidation and blaming. Perpetrators will control money and even children. Even if a child is never physically harmed, they carry life long wounds. Witnessing domestic violence is the single best predictor of juvenile delinquency and adult criminal behavior. These children do not know what it means to feel safe in a partnership and often repeat the patterns they were taught. These children grow up not knowing love without violence.
Tom: Many of us find ourselves asking the question, “Why would anyone stay in an abusive relationship? After NFL Player Ray Rice’s wife publicly said she was staying in the marriage, people asked the same question. Why would she stay in an abusive relationship? In response, a Twitter hashtag emerged called #whyIstayed. With this # survivors were able to share their poignant truths in less than 140 characters.
- #whyIstayed: Divorce is “shameful”
- #whyIstayed: Because he isolated me from friends and family and I had no one to turn to when the abuse started.
- #whyIstayed: It’s not one day he hits you, it’s everyday he works hard to make you smaller
- #whyIstayed: Because I no longer knew who I was.
We ask “why would anyone stay in such a relationship. Only a survivor is the best person to assess her own safety, not me or anyone else. Although I may not understand, I can listen and love.
Sandra: When we look at how the wider church has listened and loved survivors, we find stories where, just like the Hebrew people, we didn’t get it right. A woman shared her story in a class I was in. With immense courage, she shared her story and the scars that still remain. After the abuse in her marriage escalated, to physical violence she sought the counsel of her priest. The priest told her that she must be doing something wrong to not please and honor her husband, and that she needed to change what she was doing wrong because divorce was breaking covenant with God. After this one conversation, she felt silenced and never told anyone else about the realities of her home life. It was not until years later, in conversation with a new priest, that anything changed. This priest told her, “The first time your husband thought of controlling you, he broke the covenant of marriage. By hitting you, your husband broke his vows by breaking your spirit. What do you want to do now to feel safe?” Not every story ends happily, but we as the church can offer a safe environment to those in abusive relationships . We need to be shouting from the mountain tops that true love is unconditional – not controlled by power.
Tom: So what are we called to do? How can we use Micah’s simple, poetic words to guide us? The first section of the scripture reading this morning is often used in Advent Narratives. For us Christians that reading resonates with the one we know as Jesus. We still have this longing, this desire for a Messiah to come and save us and to make everything better. But the truth is: We each have an important part to play in changing the world. And the church has an unique ability and distinct charge to act.
We must first acknowledge that we are required to talk about domestic violence. The Hebrew word we translate as require doesn’t referring to a task that we’ve been assigned. Rather it acknowledges a deeper need, like a child requires his or her mother for life. We are deeply required and called by God to end domestic violence.
So we must Do Justice. Doing Justice means we talk about domestic violence in church, even though it makes us uncomfortable.
Sandra: Next, we must love kindness. We must open up our Bibles, as well as our eyes, hearts and minds, to Jesus’ message and remind ourselves that the one we follow is rooted in love. The Hebrew word for love here is chesed. This is a love that is unbreakable and unconditional, like the love God has for us. To love kindness means we in the church must listen to and believe survivors who share their story. Survivors come from environments where they were made to feel powerless. Love kindness means focusing on empowering survivors to make their own choices.
Tom: And we must walk Humbly. Walking humbly means we must acknowledge our own blind spots.
When I was in college one of my favorite bands was a Canadian group called Moxy Früvous. I went to school in Buffalo so we were basically in Canada’s backyard and I got to see the band many times.
In 1998 the band helped me propose to my wife. I arranged for their help through many email conversations with the band’s drummer and lead singer, Jian Ghomeshi.
In the years since, the band has broken up but Jian became a popular media personality in Canada, hosting a CBC interview program called Q. Over the past year or so, many NPR stations in the US began carrying the show and it continued to rise in popularity.
A couple of weeks ago, Jian was fired by the CBC. Before the news broke, he posted to Facebook, trying to get ahead of the story, saying that a “jilted ex-girlfriend” was spreading rumors that he was an abuser. He said that he had some “unusual” practices in the bedroom involving bondage and S&M but that everything that had occurred with his partners was consensual. I believed him. I wanted to believe him.
Since then nine women have come forward with stories of violence and sexual abuse. There are other stories that people have whispered about what “everyone knew” about Jian’s behavior for years.
I wanted to believe him. I had no idea. I thought “he’s not that type of person.” I was wrong.
Walking humbly means we must acknowledge our own blind spots. We have to recognize that abusers don’t all look the same and act the same. They may be people we know and think we can trust.
To walk humbly means we acknowledge there’s more to learn about domestic violence through research, trainings, and continued conversation. To walk humbly means we know there is a road ahead with no short cut.
Sandra: Today, we say “enough.” This church is a place of healing free from violence. If anyone you know feels they may be in an abusive relationship, seek support. We are here to listen,
Tom: Not to work miracles. We are here to help people discover what they are feeling,
Sandra: Not to make the feelings go away. We are here to help people identify their options,
Tom: Not to decide for them what they should do. We are here to discuss steps with people,
Sandra: Not to take the steps for them. We are here to help people discover they can help themselves,
Tom: Not to take responsibility for them. We are here to help people learn to choose,
Sandra: Not to keep them from making difficult choices.
Tom: We are here to provide support for change.
Sandra: We are here to provide support for change.
Tom: One source of healing we have in our lives as faithful people is prayer. Psalm 55 may be an especially apt prayer for women who are dealing with abusive situations. With all of you now we lift up these verses:
Sandra: Listen, God, to my prayer;
do not hide from my pleading;
hear me and give answer.
Tom: If an enemy had reviled me,
that I could bear;
If my foe had viewed me with contempt,
from that I could hide.
But it was you, my other self,
my comrade and friend,
You, whose company I enjoyed,
at whose side I walked
in procession in the house of God.
Sandra: But I will call upon God,
and the Lord will save me.
At dusk, dawn, and noon
I will grieve and complain,
and my prayer will be heard.
(Ps 55:2-3, 13-15, 17-18)
Tom: What does the Lord require of us?
Sandra: Do Justice,
Tom: Love Kindness,
Sandra: And Walk Humbly with God.