(PNS) — “October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018), said as she greeted worshipers during Wednesday’s online chapel service. “We understand that gender-based violence, femicide (the killings of women or girls because they are female) and domestic violence are topics and experiences of great pain, and that these resonate with some of us very closely. Parts of today’s liturgy and worship service might be triggering, evoking strong feelings or memories.”
The service, conducted completely in Spanish, was designed to raise the awareness of the pain and despair suffered by those impacted by domestic violence daily.
In the opening prayer, the Rev. Iris Dalila Santoni said, “We invoke your healing and uplifting grace, and may it be reaching those women, children and all those who suffer from violence; that they can fight, overcome fear and gain wisdom to seek solutions.”
And in a powerful moment during the Prayer of Confession, the Rev. Madeline Álvarez stated, “God of love and justice … we confess our complicity as a church. We have turned our eyes to the other side, ignoring and not effectively attending to the sin of violence in all its manifestations.
“We confess our complicity in promoting erroneous theological values and visions that translate into violence against women. We recognize that gender-based violence is a sin, and we repent for promulgating sexist gender understandings, for perpetuating patterns, cultural and religious teachings that proclaim that men are superior to women. We confess our sin.”
The preacher for the service was the Rev. Danilie C. Hilerio Villanueva, moderator of the Sínodo Presbiteriano Boriquén en Puerto Rico. Using Luke 22:47–53 as a scriptural basis of preaching, Villanueva titled her message “No more of this!”
Villanueva noted in 1993 the United Nations General Assembly issued the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, providing a framework for action on the global crisis of gender-based violence.
She says the framework underlined gender-based violence on individual, communal and social interactions and identified risk factors and determinants for victimization and perpetuation. Sexual violence against men was not recognized by the United Nations until 2013.
“Still today, nearly one in three women experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner,” she said.
Villanueva then noted the five faces of oppression and their subsequent mental health expression as described by professor Iris Young: exploitation/employment, marginalization/housing and carceral system, powerlessness/education and income inequality, cultural domination/discrimination and violence/exposure to violence.
“Violence is a form of oppression and oppression is a form of injustice … interpersonal, institutional, internalized,” Villanueva said. “People who are oppressed are at risk of experiencing domestic and interpersonal violence, as well as increased risk of being victims of hate crimes.
“Violence is more than a cycle perpetuated in physical, emotional, sexual and other expressions. Violence is the interpersonal high point in a chain of oppression. It is the language of oppression and becomes a framework through which victims and perpetrators interpret relationships.
“Jesus taught us better. Jesus lived through exploitation, as he turned over the tables in the temple; marginalization, as he was born in a manger; powerlessness, as his authority was undermined by the state and the church; cultural domination, as the Jews were under Roman domination; and violence, as he approached the Syrophoenician woman.”
Villanueva acknowledged that partner violence occurs within a close circle. She says it is around those who love, like Judas loved Jesus, and around those who share deep tokens of affection, those who know and relate.
“Emphatically, those who know the pitcher can hit the ball out of the park,” said Villanueva. “Those who know well, wound deep. Jesus was around family when given into arrest, as he states in the Synoptics: ‘Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me.’”
She says the token of affection, the kiss, was a metaphor for treason in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
“The sword prevailed in all four recounts, but only Luke accounts for Jesus’ response to violence, ‘No more of this!’” she said. “And he touched the man’s ear and healed him (Luke 22:51). Jesus definitely taught us better; in the midst of violence Jesus healed and provided a framework for those he had taught for so many years and still believe in the unmerciful laying of hands.”
“To end violence against women, we need to tackle oppression to all men, women, BIPOC/LGBTQIA+,” said Villanueva. “We need to provide an inclusive educational framework to interpret our relationships through the healing hands of God. It’s not an easy quest; it’s an invitation to reread our collective histories, personal narratives and ancestral traumas. We need wholeheartedly to reframe our perspective on how we portray victims and perpetrators. We definitely must respond: ‘No more of this!’ and allow our hands to perceive the hurting of these individuals and walk with them from oppression into the Kin-dom of God.
“To end violence within the family is an act of love and justice that the church has been called to do. It is in the sacred space of the family where we talk about our faith and teach our values, it is in the sacred space of our faith communities that we learn to live in love, seeing God’s image in the other.”
Last week, the Presbytery of Noroeste in Puerto Rico and the office of Hispanic Latina Intercultural Congregational Support sponsored an educational event to raise awareness and provide resources to leaders. You can find the resources here.
In collaboration with Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, two episodes of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” have been produced to speak out against gender-based violence. Episode 33 features special guest co-host Cintrón-Olivieri and special guests Álvarez and Courtney Hoekstra, Associate for Advocacy Committee Support in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
by Gail Strange, Presbyterian News Service