We have watched the senseless murder of women, particularly African American Women by their partners or former partners. It has been a painful watch for any one of them but to see Dr. Tamara O’Neal, Angela Bledsoe, and Aisha Fraser Mason killed stunned the nation. This is not a new problem and reaches all women, and all walks of life.
The question is raised: How do we stop this violence against women? The answer is difficult because of the complicated reasons why people abuse.
The murder of African American women is a continuing disgrace .On April 1, 2004 in Detroit, Michigan, Roger Thompson strangled Lisa Shelton to death. He was her boyfriend. He also killed her four children, William Parker Jr. 16, Wrandell Parker 14, Wanee Parker 12, and Aushani Thompson 9, Roger Thompson’s daughter. They were all beaten to death with a pipe. Lisa’s sister was locked naked in a closet and told he would return for her and left. She escaped and called the police.
I was the only female clergy who spoke at the funeral in the midst of a myriad of male preachers. I wrote the poem: This is Our Promise* in the pulpit because I was astonished at the blaming of the devil and God (God needed new flowers in his garden), shaming women, and the stress of men.
This is our promise. Lisa and your little ones, hear us, and, hear us well. Forget any suggestion that this is a one-day event. Erase any theory that we will not remember. Ignore any speculation that we will not fight. We cannot bring you back Lisa and your little ones. We cannot promise that another one, will not be abused, beaten, or killed. but We declare we will breathe in life, war in the spirit, grab a child, hold a woman, confront a violator until the silence of your screams erupt in thunderous roars, saying no more, no more.
The reasons for these senseless murders are varied, including the problems of: male entitlement, gun accessibility, a controlling and dominant spirit, extreme jealousy, uncontrolled anger, substance abuse, and false biblical or religious beliefs. Two other reasons that impact domestic violence are generational influence and the defense of these acts by men including male pastors.
Children who are exposed to violence in the home are more likely to be physically and/or sexually assaulted. When children are exposed to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes; 70% or more will be either abusers or abused as adults. Abuse is seen as an acceptable choice when they have similar emotions and the abused are raised to believe they are supposed to be abused.
Oddly enough, Shelton and her three oldest children saw Shelton’s mother’s former boyfriend douse her father and brother with gasoline and set them on fire. Family stated there had been evidence of violence in Shelton’s other relationships. Until we break the cycle in children who live through these crises, we are doomed to see the repeating of the generational patterns.
The silence of the church is deafening with the thunderous condoning of the violence. I have sat in too many funerals hearing the vindication of men because of the Adam and Eve narrative: Women are responsible for every bad thing in the world. Years before I attended the funeral of a 14-year old female relative of one of my members. Her father, a police officer shot their 14-year-old daughter and then committed suicide because his wife, her mother had left him. He was a physical and verbal abuser often sending his wife to the hospital. At the funeral, to my dismay, the pastor blamed the mother.
There is no easy solution. Women who stay are often murdered in body and certainly murdered in spirit. Women who leave are often stalked and murdered. While we are looking for long term solutions, we as a church must be absolutely clear that gender violence is not a female issue. Male pastors and men must confront abusers and engage in confrontational yet healing discussions.
The code must be intolerance, get some help, we will not tolerate violence against anyone especially against women and children. The language must be strong in rebuke every time men tell abusive, dismissive, she’s my property statements against women. Men must be allies of women who are abused rather than find justification for their abusers. Nonviolent men must also “check” their misogynistic language and raise both their girls and boys with the same example and teaching. They must affirm that violence is not acceptable or tolerated and there are consequences. Women and children must not bear this journey or provide solutions alone.
Let there be no surprise, no hesitation, no faltering, no miscalculation. the church will not be silent any more we will not let the screams be snuffed or dismiss families in torment. Lisa and your little ones hear and hear us well. This is our promise no more, no more, no more.
*published in The Essence of My Existence, and recorded in Flowing Essence annehenningbyfield