The Declaration of Humanity by Leaders of Faith and Leaders of Belief, published on 17th November 2020, makes a welcome statement from a wide platform of religious and non-religious perspectives about the global pandemic of sexual violence. For far too long sexual violence against both women and men has been a secret, unspeakable, crime, concealed by both the shame felt by victims, and by structures of collusion. The recent #MeToo movement has helped to open up conversations about these crimes; and publication of books like Christina Lamb’s ‘Our Bodies, Their Battlefield’ has helped to bring the war crime of rape into the global spotlight. Mass war rape is now rightly recognised as an act of genocide.
It is to the lasting shame of the Christian church that at diverse times and in diverse ways, it has colluded with sexual violence. This includes the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults within churches, and the domestic abuse of women and sometimes men at the hands of their partners. Sometimes the Bible has been weaponised for such purposes, including promulgating the misconceived idea that forgiveness entails sheltering an abuser from the criminal justice system, or requires an abuse victim to allow an abusive partner to continue to have intimate access to her. Such teaching is entirely contrary to the broad and plain intention of scripture, which from its earliest chapters is committed to the flourishing of all people, male and female.
Further, within many parts of the global church there is a resurgent preoccupation with dominant, aggressive and sometimes misogynistic masculinity. This often finds its outworking in patriarchal and hegemonic systems of society, church governance, and home management. It flies in the teeth of the plain example of Jesus Christ, whose gentleness and respect for women marked him out, and who dignified the weak, the vulnerable, and the outcast.
The Declaration of Humanity is particularly welcome because it does not merely make a statement, but also makes a commitment to work both preventatively and reparatively towards human flourishing, freedom and justice in these matters. Christians will be proud to join with people of other faiths and belief systems to work together towards lasting change and a safer world for all.