Stories, music, and many other expressions of solidarity marked a lively observation of Thursdays in Black at the German Protestant church festival. From religious leaders to passersby, many offered words of support and encouragement for the campaign for a world free from rape and violence.
“…I am trying to encourage others to join,” said Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of the World Methodist Council, a strong supporter of Thursdays in Black.
“Thursdays in Black and the fight against violence and rape is something everyone, men and women, in and outside of church can join. We are all affected by it,” said Rev. Dr Jean Hawxhurst from the Council of Bishops.
Still others were just being introduced to Thursdays in Black. “Sexual violence has many facets and I think it starts with disrespect,” reflected Ines von Keller, who was just learning about Thursdays in Black. “Just the other day I overheard four male teenagers commenting on a young girl walking by. I kept silence, but I think I should have spoken up. We all need to start talking about it and demand respect in these situations. I would like to try and include it as a topic in the parish newsletter I am working on.”
Those attending also talked about the messages sent - intentionally or not - in liturgies, hymns and prayers, and whether those messages are inclusive. “To tackle the problem of violence and rape, the church should stop excluding women. Our church has a week of prayer against gender-based violence. It is time to face up with stories about violence against women in the Bible. Everyone should be concerned about this topic,” said Peter King from the Anglican Church.
Everyone can join
During the event, the World Council of Churches (WCC) organized a sharing on how sexual violence is a part of everyday culture - in songs, media and conversations.
Participant Hana Pandian offered her insights on what Thursdays in Black means in India. “We need to raise our voices and create more awareness,” she urged the audience. “Everyone independent from their gender can support this campaign.”
Sonja Skupch, general secretary from the Evangelical Church in Argentina reflected that sexual violence is a dire issue in Argentina. “We can do better and we wish for something better,” she said.
Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, deputy general secretary of the WCC, recalled her childhood in Malawi explaining how she grew up in constant fear of rape. When she was working as a professor in Malawi, she conducted research with fellow female lecturers and unveiled the issue of rape happening on campus and in churches.
Following that she had to leave her country but found another blessing in her work with the WCC. “It gives me an international platform to address the issue and supporting the fellowship of 350 churches in creating just communities of women and men and ending attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence. It is a sin and there is no space for it.”
She also stressed the importance of mutual encouragement of the member churches to start and keep talking about the issue. “I want my granddaughter to live without fear,” she said.