It seems the flood gates have opened wide the past weeks to expose the issue of sexual harassment and assault. There is nothing new about the problem, but there seems to be something new about the discussion. Women are becoming more open about speaking out and people are taking the issue more seriously than in the past.
The ELCA Task Force on Women and Justice: One in Christ has been at work since 2012 and it was always the plan to have a draft social statement on Women and Justice released in November of 17.
It turns out that this is a very timely release.
The comment period on the draft is open until September 30, 2018. But now is an excellent time for congregations to make the draft available and make time to discuss it in your ministry settings.
Sometimes pastors will tell me that they do not want to use or even talk about ELCA Social Statements because they are “divisive” or “stir up controversy.” But our social statements exist because people in our congregations have asked for them. These issues are already being discussed in the media in and among their friends and family and co-workers. Our social statements provide a way for members to talk and think about these issues from our faith perspective.
They lend an important voice to the discussions already taking place.
They do not need to be divisive; in fact they offer a way for us to model a more civil and measured way to talk about important issues.
Men and women may be overwhelmed by the disclosures of sexual assault and harassment by celebrities and politicians in the news lately. Inviting congregation members to read the draft and participate in a small group discussion could be a positive and healthy way to deal with the array of emotions and concerns that these disclosures bring up. They also offer an opportunity for members to respond and offer feedback for the final version of the statement.
The draft offers these suggestions for leading such a discussion:
Questions like these may help guide the discussion:
- What in each section speaks to your experience? In what ways?
- What do you think the strengths of each section are? Weaknesses?
- What else needs to be said? How should it be said differently?
- What advice do you have for the task force, keeping in mind that it is charged with writing a social statement for the whole ELCA?
Tips for leading the sessions:
- Keep in mind that discussing matters related to sexism often can touch on sensitive issues and painful personal experiences.
- Invite people of all genders, ages and perspectives to join the discussion. Sometimes people just need to be invited to feel welcome.
- Leaders do not need to be pastors. Discussion facilitators from within the congregation can be recruited and briefed.
- Read and become familiar with the content of the entire draft before beginning a study session.
I hope rostered ministers and other congregation leaders will read this draft statement, encourage other members to read and discuss it together and share your thoughts with the task force.