“En el dia o la noche, desnudo o vestida, en la calle o la cama, respeta nuestra vida!”/ “Ni una mujer, ni un hombre, ni un peso para la guerra!”
( Day or night, naked or dressed, in the street or in the bed, respect our lives!) / (Not one woman, nor one man, nor one peso for war!)
Among other such slogans, this is what Alexandra and I joined a crowd of women chanting as we walked down a street in Comuna 3, “El Jardin”, on Friday, the International day of Nonviolence Against Women. The event was a series of mini-marches/protests denouncing all forms of violence against women in a caravan of 5 buses, organized by La Ruta Pacifica in some of the most violent neighborhoods of Medellin. Alexandra and I went to the opening of the event, the first of the series, and then rejoined with the group for the closing event at the administrative headquarters of the city along with three other ladies and the pastor from our church.
I haven’t made violence against women an area I work on a lot, for various reasons. And yet whenever I am trusted with someone’s story of abuse, whenever I am confronted with statistics like 1/4 women in the US is at some point sexually abused or that every 6 minutes on average a woman in Colombia is abused I’m reminded of just how prevalent and pathological gender-related violence is. Much like the military-industrial complex, or the principles of neoliberal capitalism, overt sexism and hidden abuse are so much the ocean we swim in it fails to surprise us anymore. I don’t bother being offended when being ogled, lest I spend my life angry. To a certain degree I think this is healthy, the ability to look away and move on, but I wonder how related our tolerance to objectification “light” and the feeling of culpability and shame when objectification takes its ultimate step in rape or domestic abuse.
The church, sadly, has often been a place of re-enforcing rather than denying prevalent prejudices on gender and justice. Therefore, and because our presence at the march was part of our attempt as a member of the ISP (Sanctuary Peace Churches) to raise awareness and participation within our congregation on social issues, Alexandra and I led Sunday school two days later on this topic. Faustino, our pastor, has been leading a series of sunday school classes on characteristics of Anabaptist, the 3rd part of which, focused on “reconciliation as the work of the church” I am now leading. Hence the topic of nonviolence towards women was subsumed within the broader category of reconciliation, in this case specifically in couples, families, and between genders.
I opened, as I will the next two weeks, with 2 Corinthian 5:17-18: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”
There is a new creation. (Theological emphatical credit to Peter Dula) This is the mystery that keeps me going, it is the reason we can speak of the need for reconciliation between individuals, groups, power structures, nature itself and God all in the same breath– because we are living in a new creation, one that groans under patterns of oppression and hate because they rub against the natural grain of the universe. So we squint, use books like bifocals, people like eyedrops to better see this truth which seems and nearly is incredible in its most literal sense.
But we are slow to see, and quick to switch from mourning to blame-shifting. Alexandra was in the middle of her heartfelt and well-researched presentation on gender-violence when a congregant interjected that we needed to remember it wasn’t only men to blame for gender violence, that often the victims themselves were essentially asking for it by being scantily clad or provocative. When I spoke of male-domination as a product of sin, a pattern we as walkers of this new Way were not to live by, I could almost hear the comment made at a planning meeting the other week about the dangers of feminists who “refuse to submit” to men, or a female co-worker innocently commenting she just didn’t trust female doctors as much as male.
For me this has never been about blame. Nor is it really or primarily about women. It’s about justice, and therefore it’s about love– about truly believing and understanding that God loves every one of us, and made the world so that we would love one another as well, completely, wholly, in a spirit of mutual service and humility.
In the opening ceremony of the march the Ruta Pacifica facilitator instructed all of us in the circle to turn to our neighbor, look at them in the eye and each say “I am you.”/”You are me”. As usual during these kinds of symbolic/emotional moments (think foot-washing) I found it rather uncomfortable, funny, and silly. Yet it is that kind of recognition of self in the other, all other, that will eventually help us move out of the structures of violence we are imprisoned within–whether they find shape on aircraft carriers, in board rooms, or bedrooms.
I am you, you are me. There is a new creation. Amen, let us see.