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13 June 2014

A healing community

A healing community

End sexual violence in conflict summit. Pic credit:Foreign and Commonwealth Office

This week, we have seen a whole host of stories about the barbaric treatment suffered by women across the world. Each story is horrific in its own right. However, I think it was the almost drip effect of story after story that really had an impact upon me, making me both angry and sad.

The first story was about the gathering of global charities and leaders in London to address the theme of sexual violence in war. The conference highlighted the despicable practice of rape as a weapon of war. While both men and women have been abused, the majority of victims are women. There were countless stories of shattered lives and desperate situations.

In his opening remarks William Hague said: "There is power in numbers and if we unite behind this cause, we can create an unstoppable momentum and consign this vile abuse to history."

I wondered what role the worldwide Church has in eradicating this blight on our generation. Do organisations like the World Evangelical Alliance have a role to play? I need to find out more.

The second story concerned the rape and torture of women in India. The horror of these events are mind-numbing in the scale of their violence and depravity.

The third was from Glasgow where a march took place in the Queen's Park area of the city. It was organised by two women under the banner "these streets were made for walking."

More than 4,000 people joined the peaceful Glasgow protest in support of victims of rape and sexual abuse. This was a response to an upturn in cases of rape in the last month in the city. It was a community cry;a response saying we have reached a tipping point. "This cannot go on. Women have a right to feel safe in our society."

Why does there appear to be so much sexual violence taking place across the world? In England and Wales alone in one year, there were more than 16,000 recorded rape offences.

I'm sure the issues are extremely complex. Yet I wonder whether a common feature is the way in which our society finds it easy to objectify people. In a fast-paced, consumer world it becomes easier to treat people as commodities - things to be abused and disposed of when we have no further use for them. To think of people in that way is to rob people of their identity. It is to deny the beauty, feeling, aspirations, dreams and gifts that mark us out as wonderfully made individuals.

As Christians we follow a Lord who touched a leper, blessed children and had female friends. Jesus created a narrative of value for and hope to each individual. He refused to see people as less than they were and went out of his way to challenge the objectifying of his day by treating each person as unique.

Let's be challenged. Let's make sure we, as the Christian community, are being discipled by Jesus and not by the cultures we find ourselves in. If in our congregations we give the impression that some people are worth more than others, or we stereotype people because of their gender, race, capabilities or financial acumen, then we need to ask whether we are really being faithful to our calling. To give lip service to valuing each person is not enough;we must live as the community of faith in a way that continually values the individual and strengthens their sense of identity.

Can I suggest two other things that we need to reflect upon? In our congregations are we helping each person fulfil their God-given potential? Are we listening, with enough care to the perspectives and voices of both men and women equally and valuing both? Are we painting a living picture of a counter-cultural movement that radically follows a radical Jesus?

Lastly, can we find a unity that creates a platform for those who are victims of sexual violence? Helping people speak with less fear and timidity. We must be prophetic voices that challenge evil where we find it.

Perhaps you would join me in a short prayer;
God who hears the cry of the victim draw near to all victims of rape and all forms of sexual violence.
Bring hope even in the darkest situations.
Help us never to harden our hearts to victims.
Give us courage to speak out for those who have lost the confidence to tell their stories.
In Jesus' name
Amen

Fred Drummond is national director of Evangelical Alliance Scotland and director of prayer and supporters for the UK Evangelical Alliance