Social media was awash with messages of love on Valentine’s Day, but from Thursdays in Black supporters, the flowers came with strong messages that love is not violent.
“Love heals, not hurts” was the message from the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Thursdays in Black Valentine campaign, which was taken up by individuals and partners around the world.
The board of the Council for World Mission (CWM), based in Singapore, issued a statement on Valentine’s Day to welcome and partner with the Thursdays in Black movement. Stating that CWM is “committed to loving acts” that heal the harms of sexual violence and rape, of abuse of children, of rights abuses against sexual minorities, the board demanded that “churches must play their part in ending the violence against these communities and people God made in God’s image and love.”
From the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the National Council of Churches in Australia, from Stellenbosch University to Kerk en Actie in The Netherlands, staff abandoned Valentine’s red to make a statement in black in their social media platforms. As Lyn van Rooyen tweeted from South Africa, “While the world around me seems filled with hearts and flowers, coloured pink and red, I am wearing black for every woman who thinks it's okay that love hurts. #ThursdaysinBlack.”
Raising awareness about the realities of gender-based abuse and violence, and demonstrating support and solidarity, are key to the Thursdays in Black campaign. But action doesn’t stop there.
“We want churches to be safe spaces for education, support and healing,” says Rev. Nicole Ashwood, WCC programme executive for Just Community of Women and Men. “Churches can offer intentional spaces where advocates and survivors can interact, and where those facing abuse can be linked to help and support networks,” she said.
But what is also critical is stopping the abuse in the first place. Here, the WCC’s work on “Transformative Masculinities and Femininities” seeks to change cultural and theological attitudes that contribute to sexual and other forms of abuse against vulnerable people because of their gender.
“It is a peace-based initiative which seeks to unearth the root causes of abusive behaviour in communities of women and men and address them through biblical, ethical and sociological frameworks,” says Ashwood. “Just communities model positive approaches to relationships between men and women through workshops, training, peer counselling and other interactions in contexts where violence is normative.”
Ashwood invites churches, ecumenical organizations and individuals engaged in Thursdays in Black to join in WCC efforts. Interested organizations can call or write through the WCC office contacts, or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The work to transform relationships is underscored by Damon Mkandawire, United Church of Zambia, in his message on Valentine’s Day:
“Dear generation, raise your men to respect women whom they say they love. Raise them to understand that love is not abuse. It’s allowing ‘differences’ to speak. For you men or women who might read this and find yourself in this situation. Find hope within your struggles. Never settle for an abusive relationship. … There is hope for true love. This Valentine’s is about reminding you that love heals and it never hurts!”
Rev. Dr Collin Cowan, CWM general secretary, sharing his firm committed to the fight against violence towards women following the CWM Board statement, stated “I believe the time has come for men to be in the forefront of the resistance and protest. We must not just resist violence against women but acknowledge how diminished we are by inflicting, allowing or ignoring violence towards women. Patriarchy is a violation of God's creative design and as such it is a sin. he Thursdays in Black campaign must take on new energy by the ecumenical community with men in the forefront declaring that real men don't hurt women.”
For more information:
Thursdays in Black: www.oikoumene.org/thursdays-in-black