This text comes from reflections from the Ombudsman on ‘Breaking the Silence’ in a sermon given at the All Saints Anglican Church, Leifi’ifi, on Sunday 24th November 2013.
We’ve been hearing a lot about Human Rights in recent days. Tomorrow will begin “16 days of activism to end Gender-based Violence” with a big march in town.
Also, some of you may have seen programmes my Office has been producing on Television about human Rights.
I talk in those programmes about human rights in the conventional legal terms because that’s how I do my job.
That is how things are done in the “sophisticated” secular world of today- but let me tell you the real story about human rights.
Human Rights exist because the dignity of man is something very real.
In our Christian faith it is real because of this: man is made in the image of GOD and is therefore sacred. That is where the dignity comes from. God made us in his image and in his infinite wisdom he made us absolutely free.
We may not realise it but man’s freedom is phenomenal.
His freedom of choice is simply unbelievable. Think for one minute- the Creator of the universe made us for Himself; our destiny is to rest in God. But, he didn’t make us as he made the homing pigeon which has to/ and must go home. We, have the freedom to say no - to God and to our very essence and purpose for existing.
How can you be freer than that? It is impossible to be more free. We are so free that we have had to be saved from the disaster of us exercising our freedom. God so loved the world that He had to institute a Plan B in creation; what we might very well call the ‘Lamb of God’ Salvage or Redemption Plan.
But to come back to HR- ever since the atrocities of World War II, human rights have been high on humanity’s agenda.
The United Nations is forever discussing human rights. Human Rights is a very big thing in the world today. There are special Human Rights Courts and Human Rights Laws are very complicated.
But really - this phenomenon “Human Rights” - what is it all about?
Simply, it is living and celebrating our God given freedoms: freedom to live in peace; freedom to think/ and to learn; freedom to make others happy; freedom from violence in our lives. Those are only some of our freedoms and rights as human beings.
In this country we have tended to take human rights for granted placing reliance on two things—our Christianity and our fa’a Samoa. The fact of the matter however is, we need to take a close look at ourselves and what we are now doing to one another. I don’t need to elaborate on what is happening today and the things we are reading about in the newspapers.
Today is ‘Breaking the Silence’ Sunday and my comments/ draw very heavily, with permission, from a sermon entitled “Time to cross back to the other side” by Revd. Ann Drummond of the Volunteer House of Sarah.
The reading we have just heard from Luke’s gospel tells us the very familiar story of the ‘good Samaritan’. Today, on what the Diocese of Polynesia has nominated “Breaking the Silence” Sunday in the ‘Zero Tolerance against Violence’ campaign, we challenge the actions of the priest and the Levite/ who chose to cross the road and walk on by the victim of violence on the other side.
We won’t try to understand why they chose to walk on the other side.
They had their reasons for staying on that side of the road, but today it is time to challenge them both to rethink their decision and to cross back and to aid the victim of violence.
The priest and the Levite represented the religious establishment at the time of Jesus and the Samaritan the outsider because the Samaritans did not follow all Jewish religious practices.
So Jesus was highlighting the hypocrisy of the religious community who looked down with disdain on outsiders like the Samaritan.
Throughout history, faith communities have tended to think that they, or we in our case, are better than those outsiders who do not believe as we do. We focus on petty issues, which for whatever reasons, give us some kind of satisfaction but like the priest and the Levite, when it comes to assisting victims of violence, we have often passed by on the other side.
We hear of work in nearby countries by faith communities like the Salvation Army and the House of Sarah but here in Samoa and elsewhere churches generally have been hesitant about becoming involved when it comes to assisting the victims of domestic violence within our families, our churches and our communities.
They have also remained silent about the injustice that is being perpetrated.
We have tended to see it as not our problem.
We have left it to the ‘good Samaritans outside the Church such as the ‘Samoa Victims Support Group’, the hospitals and medical profession, the police and the State to stop the violence, and to minister to the victims of domestic violence, to tend to their wounds, to find a safe place for them to stay and to pay the cost in both time, effort and money.
But surely the time has come for local congregations and for national churches to cross the road and to give of their time and resources to aid victims of violence within our churches and local community.
In this connection we can rightly be proud of the involvement of our “All Saints Youth” in the work and programmes of the Samoa Victims Support Group.
We may not have accurate statistics but I don’t think Samoa will be very different from other Pacific countries nearby where well over 60% of women experience physical and or sexual violence in their lives.
That means that there are women sitting in the pews of all churches that have or are experiencing violence in their lives.
Those who believe that good Christian men do not hit their wives and partners have their heads in the sand, because the fact is that they do.
Some will say- oh well- women also hit men and yes they do but statistics everywhere indicate that the percentage of violence within families is in the very high 90s, perpetrated by men against women and children. That is why men are generally referred to as the perpetrators of violence and the women and children as victims/survivors.
There may not be too many of us sitting here this morning who would not know either a victim and or a perpetrator of family violence, but too often we are embarrassed or unwilling to speak about the subject.
We tell ourselves that we don’t want to take sides in a family conflict.
But Galatians this morning tells us that we should not just stand by when we know wrong doing is happening.
There are no two ways about it- the duty of Christians is clear. We must speak out, but in a gentle way. So what would it mean for us to cross the road to assist the victim of violence?
Several things: Firstly, we would need to assist the victim directly; the Good Samaritan bound up the wounds, poured oil and wine on them and put the victim on his donkey.
For today’s victim of domestic violence we might need to assist them get to the hospital,(if you don’t have a donkey, your pick-up or even a taxi will do just fine); we might need to help look after the children, find safe alternative accommodation, give them a little financial help, refer them to the police or to counselling.
You may need to go with them to attend court. Practical supportive assistance is what is initially needed. Church communities ought to be good at this sort of thing and your support can mean a great deal to women who are hurt, demoralized and fearful.
It also means that the church should be a safe place for women to come and tell their story and to seek comfort. They should not be told to go home to pray more, to submit more and to turn the other cheek.
The church should support them in the sure knowledge that it is not God’s will that they and their children should live with constant violence and intimidation in their lives.
The church should not be judgmental of their choices nor condemn them should they decide to separate or legally divorce.
The church should not punish them for having the courage to claim Jesus’ promise of life and life in abundance.
Our attitudes and actions need to change to help victimised women on their journeys to wholeness.
There are great lessons for us in the Good Samaritan story.
But in our story, we must go one step further than the Good Samaritan of Luke’s gospel. We must do something to prevent the next person who takes the road from Jerusalem to Jericho from becoming a victim of violence. We need to do something about the perpetrators of violence.
Observation and experience reveal that men hit and continue to hit their partners for a number of reasons but two reasons stand out. The first is that it works and secondly that they get away with it.
The Church and the community have a responsibility to ensure that men hitting women no longer works, and that those who do it no longer get away with it.
We must call these men to account; the Church must say loud and clear that violence is not acceptable behaviour. That it is a sin for a man to beat his wife or partner. We must have the courage to call a perpetrator of domestic violence to repentance and the love to walk with him on his journey to wholeness.
This is easier said than done I know, because with perpetrators they say there is no such thing as instant change; that repentance requires not only a one off decision but an on-going journey towards a changed attitude and behaviour.
There is much in social services that the secular authorities may need to do to help perpetrators change and to alleviate this complex problem in the long term.
As Christians we church people must stand ready to also get involved in practical ways that may be devised. But the most important task unique to the church is to not allow the Bible to be used to support the inequality of women.
The Church must preach that we are all - both male and female - created in the image of God; that both Adam and Eve sinned in the Genesis story but that Jesus died for the liberation of both women and men; that marriage is an equal partnership between a man and a woman; that Jesus did not condemn a woman to live in a violent marriage; and that the one who raises the fist is the one who brakes the marriage vow.
As Christians our model is Jesus, and the words and spirit of Paul in Galatians that “there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women for we are all one in union with Christ Jesus” reflects the truth of our equality in discipleship and in our community life.
That is the gift that the Christian community has to give to a world in inequality and violence; and if we are faithful to our task we will move towards the vision of Isaiah, where the lion will lie down with the lamb, where men will not use violence against women and children; and nations will not use violence against their people or each other; and on this sacred planet there will be nothing harmful or evil, and no longer a need for a ‘Break the Silence’ Sunday.
Scripture Readings: Luke 10: 29-37; Galatians 6: 1-10 and Isaiah 65: 17 - 25.
Please note this was also published in the Samoa Observer on 12 December 2013.
- 13 December 2013 Samoa's National Human Rights Institution Officially Launched
- 12 December 2013 Churches need to bear witness to domestic violence
- 5 December 2013 National Human Rights Institution of Samoa to be Launched on International Human Rights Day 10 December
- 5 December 2013 Samoa Celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities
- 6 August 2013 Ombudsman Office at Red Cross Handbook Launch
12 December 2013 Churches need to bear witness to domestic violence