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The violence of words and attitudes

The violence of words and attitudes

There is a particular sort of violence encountered by women who work in the church,

writes Laurie Brock at the blog of the Episcopal Church’s Global Partnerships blog:

The endemic violence that most if not all women will encounter in their lives is the violence of words and attitudes that tell women we are less than men, that our thoughts and opinions aren’t as important as those of men, that our physical selves are fodder to be reduced to comments about nice legs and nice breasts and a pretty face that violate our dignity. This violence is all too often excused as boys being boys, men making jokes, and women being over-sensitive. This gender-based violence pervades our churches, schools, and workplaces each day. This violence cuts our souls so that our spirit and lifeblood ooze from us, day after day, year after year.

After writing of my experience with this type of violence in Where God Hides Holiness, I received emails, letters, and had tearful conversations with women whose hearts, too, had been broken by the violence of having their dignity abused and assaulted by the church. Some resonated with my experience of being told I had a nice rack in a clergy shirt by a senior priest or hearing other demeaning comments made by clergy and laity about women and the pain of having those comments laughed off as jokes when we spoke of the discomfort we experienced when hearing those words. Others shared far more tragic accounts of psychological and spiritual assaults.

Let’s be clear about violence – it does not just occur when there is physical damage. Studies of the human brain show that when we experience a physical wound or an emotional wound, our brain registers it the same way. In our faith, we are charged with binding and healing the physical wounds. But the emotional ones, the ones where our very spirits and souls have been systemically degraded and demeaned by the actions or inactions others? We rarely do anything to provide healing, and even less to prevent those forms of violence.

Brock is co-author of Where God Hides Holiness and keeps the blog Dirty, Sexy Ministry. The global affairs blog has published some excellent material during the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women and Gender Violence.


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In the past I’ve been highly skeptical of claims that words and attitudes are “violent” because it seems to do a real disservice to victims of physical violence; I have doubted that someone who has been shot, for example, would agree that being told you have a pretty face or a nice rack is on the same level. But maybe I’ve been wrong: exactly what brain studies support the idea?

Bill Dilworth

Linda McMIllan

I have tried to warn you all about this. Church is a Danger Zone. I would not set foot back in that place for a million bucks. I have been abused enough! But I fear for my friends… many of them too innocent to know what they may be walking into, and so tender and vulnerable. Church is too brutal for tender souls.

Ann Fontaine

I find it better than when I first came back into the church and became a leader or when I got ordained after that — or maybe I am just too old to take it anymore. I tell people who think they want to be ordained – get ready to have your heart torn out. Be sure you are working for God in the end and not the church.

Elizabeth Kaeton

Sadly, the only really shocking thing about this article is that it’s written in 2013.

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