Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central committee. Photo: ELCA

Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central committee. Photo: ELCA

More than 1,000 attendees at the 15th Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly have formally endorsed the Thursdays in Black campaign for a world free from rape and violence.

Wearing black and donning buttons supporting the campaign, participants expressed their enthusiasm for ending gender-based violence once and for all.

Speaking during a plenary session on 8 August, World Council of Churches (WCC) moderator Dr Agnes Abuom saluted those assembled for their collaborative work in embracing Thursdays in Black.

“The decision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to endorse Thursdays in Black is timely,” said Abuom. “For the signs of the times around us indicate that here in North America and beyond, the world is in crisis.”

Xenophobia, racism and populist nationalism gain momentum every day, she said.”Xenophobia has caused division, claimed lives, and is a threat to peace and security in many spaces,” she said. “And far too often, the first impacted are women, children, and the weak, such as the elderly and the disabled.”

Abuom acknowledged that it is time for action. “With the increase in militarization and with installation of peace-keeping and security forces globally, there is also an increase in sexual and gender-based violence in such spaces,” she said. “It is unfortunate that rape is now being normalized as part of the whole culture of war, which is a development that we must resist in every way.”

One of the most pressing and most urgent problems, Abuom said, is sexual and gender-based violence. “It has become a severe pandemic to which the church must continue to respond,” she said. “Perpetrators include strangers, family members, and friends; persons of prominent social standing as well as the ordinary civilian; men and women;  the young and old.”

The role of the church

The time has come for the church to reclaim its prophetic role in speaking truth to power on behalf of the victimized and vulnerable, Abuom concluded. “The World Council of Churches is committed to drawing attention to the problems and to creating awareness through our programmatic work across the secretariat and through the work and witness of member churches like you.”

Far too often, it seems as if the church is silent, Abuom said. “But there is hope. “This and every Thursday we join with thousands of others who dare to be counted as part of the global church’s move to resist all forms of sexual and gender-based violence,” she said. “Indeed Thursdays in Black is a movement that invites men and women, boys and girls to join as pilgrims of a world free of rape, free of gender-based violence, and in pursuit of a society, church, and family marked by justice and peace.”

Rev. Nicqi Ashwood, WCC programme executive for the Just Community of Women and Men, also spoke at the assembly, expressing her appreciation for the collective global strengthening of Thursdays in Black. “The issue of sexual and gender-based violence is nothing new,” she said. “What needs to be different, what has been different in fact, is the church’s individual and collective response to sexual and gender-based violence.”

Ashwood shared some sobering statistics about sexual and gender-based violence in the USA: one in four women over the age of 18 in the USA has been exposed to sexual or physical violence by a current or former intimate partner; and approximately one in eight rape survivors had this experience before the age of 12.

"Thursdays in Black is ecumenical. It is global. It is collective. It is individual. It is simple. It is action-driven,” said Ashwood. “Thursdays in Black is a resolution to take action in practical ways.”

Read the full text of the address of Dr Agnes Abuom to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2019

Learn more about Thursdays in Black