Messages of Hope

Break the Silence Sunday

Published / by Sandy

Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia, was the guest preacher at the Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS) at Pilgrim Uniting Church, 26th April 2020. This is her sermon.

As I reflected on the message to share with you on this “Break the Silence” Sunday, at the forefront of my mind and heart are those women and children who are not safe in their own homes, or in their communities. Many of them are our neighbours, a friend, a classmate, a work colleague, a member of our church, or a member of our extended family.

People in our communities, who are living with fear, uncertainty and walking on egg shells, with a controlling and violent partner, or an abusive parent.

In this time of responding to the global pandemic COVID 19, “Stay at Home” is a message that is important for us to hear. Limiting our physical social contacts is a major way that we can contribute to controlling the coronavirus impact and protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities.

When physical distancing restrictions were first put in place, I thought of the women and children for whom home is not a safe place. We have been hearing reports of an increase in calls to Domestic and Family Violence helplines across the globe from women who are more isolated than ever, and whose social supports and safety plans are in jeopardy.

The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres has “..urged all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.”

In more recent days, as the isolation continues, we are hearing reports, that some domestic violence support services, are not receiving as many calls. The disturbing concerns around this development is that women and children are now isolated at home with their violent abusers, and are not able to phone or contact support people, because of the control the perpetrator has over what they are doing.

This is a time of uncertainty, confusion and fear for many of us.

An important message that we are hearing from our political, health and faith leaders, is that in response to the COVID19 pandemic, we need to work at supporting each other. We may be physically distanced, but we are in this together, interconnected in ways that we may not have imagined 10 or 20 years ago. Being part of community, being connected is important for our flourishing as human beings.

Last week in Adelaide, a 35-year-old woman was murdered. The police have arrested and charged her ex-partner. Sadly, some of the witnesses interviewed by police, had heard a disturbance on the night before, and a woman crying for help, but the police were not contacted. The police officer, who reported to the media and public noted: It is a sad reflection on society, that people would hear a cry for help and not call police. “I am at a complete loss as to why somebody would not go to the aid of a woman crying for help.”

Today we are observing “Break the Silence” Sunday. It is a global movement that calls for us to speak up about rape, and domestic and family violence.
As we face this global pandemic crisis together, we are called to speak up about those who are victims and survivors of domestic violence. We are called to open our ears and hearts, when women and children speak up. We are called to listen and to hear them.

Our Gospel reading today is from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 24, verses 13-35. In this story of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, two disciples are walking on the road to the village of Emmaus. It is on the evening of the day when Jesus had risen. These disciples are afraid and confused. They are talking intently. Jesus walks alongside them and asks them a simple question: What are you discussing with each other as you walk along? He listens to their story. It is a story of hope: “Jesus of Nazareth, was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people”. It is a story of violence and distress: “our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him”. It is a story of sadness and disappointed hope: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”. It is a story of astonishment and what seemed an impossible hope: “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive”.

Jesus comes alongside the disciples in their fear and confusion and brings a message that indicates: perhaps this impossible hope, is not so impossible after all!

In our sadness and confusion, in our distress and isolation, the risen Christ comes alongside and reminds us of who and whose we are.

We are beloved children of God – created in God’s image, of infinite value.

Jesus comes alongside us and listens to our grief, our hopes and dreams, and reminds us of God’s transforming love and liberation.

There are many ways in which the Spirit of Christ continues to journey with us, opening our eyes and hearts and transforming our lives and the lives of the people around us.

As we follow in the way of Christ, as Jesus journeys with us, we are called to walk alongside others, offering hope and compassion. Compassion is “to notice the suffering of another and to take action to alleviate that suffering.”

We are invited to join others across the world, in Australia and in our neighbourhoods, and notice the suffering of those who are experiencing domestic and family violence. We are called to see others through the lens of God’s love and liberation, and be agents of that love and liberation ourselves.

Samantha Power, worked for President Barack Obama advising on human rights policy and served as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. In her Pulitzer Prize winning book: “ A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” Power reflects on the situations of genocide around the world, including Armenia, Sarajevo, and Rwanda. In this study of genocide, she coined the word “Upstander”

She describes those who try to prevent genocide or stand up against the ‘genocide’ as “upstanders” – contrasting them with bystanders.”

While she notes that many of us will not be victims or perpetrators of genocide. There are small ways in which we can choose to be “Upstanders”, rather than “bystanders”

“But every day, almost all of us find ourselves weighing whether we can or should do something to help others. We decide, on issues large and small,
whether we will be bystanders or upstanders.” (Samantha Power, The Education of an Idealist, William Collins publishers, 2019, p.132)

Now, more than ever, is an important time for us to be “upstanders” actively engaged in supporting the most vulnerable in our communities.
Now, more than ever, we are called to attend to our neighbours, friends, and family members.

I encourage you as members of the Uniting Church, in this difficult time, to stay connected with your neighbours, your friends, family and people in your communities.

Please continue to reach out and support people who are at risk during this time of physical and social isolation.

In breaking the silence, we are called to listen, to hear, and believe the cries of those who are in situations of domestic violence.

As the people of God, embodying God’s compassion and liberation, we are called to shape environments, personal relationships and communities that are safe havens, where there is mutual respect, care and nonviolence. Environments where people are able to flourish.

As Christians, we have a narrative of hope to which we witness, of a God who loves us infinitely and desires us to be in loving, life-giving relationships with others. We have a responsibility, as followers of Jesus, to be bearers of this hope. Our teaching and preaching, the ideas we uphold about God, relationships and ourselves, can contribute to our understanding of equality and partnership between women and men, and to a healthy sense of mutual, respectful relationships.

During my life time, I have had the privilege to hear women’s narratives from around the world. They are often narratives of hope, of women exercising their gifts, of being invited into their fullest humanity, contributing to the wellbeing of church and wider communities. I have also heard narratives of harm, from women whose sense of identity and giftedness have been undermined by those who have sought to diminish the voices of women and girls, and limited their opportunities. I am deeply saddened, when the diminishing of these women’s voices, has been through an interpretation of Scripture that has sought to justify this as God’s intention for them.

When we promote or support Biblical interpretations and theological understandings that contribute to the inequality of women, to their submission, their subservience, it leaves the door open for the abuse of women and children.

The Uniting Church is among a significant number of Christian communities and churches, whose theology and Biblical understanding affirms that all people are created in the image of God, all are called to express their gifts and are invited into human relationships that are equal, mutual, respectful life-giving partnerships. We are part of global and local movements promoting the equality of all people.

On this Break the Silence Sunday, I urge you to listen to the cries of those who are in situations of domestic violence, and I urge you to break the silence with narratives of hope, of the inclusive, liberating love of Christ.