Engaging Communities of Faith to End Deadly Silence on Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault

This post is in direct response to the deaths of four transwomen of color reported in the month of June, Pride Month 2014, and those that go unreported throughout our country. It is way past time to hold the major influences in our society, which affect all of us, accountable for the deadly discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community and other minorities. Religious organizations and faith communities are one of the major legs that support and reinforce cultural norms and common understanding, along with political leaders, the media, and educational institutions.

Anti-Violence Programs (AVPs) and many faith communities are working for justice and equality. Protests against policies and laws for equal rights for the LGBTQ community are too often supported on “religious” or “morality” claims. Faith communities and religious organizations by virtue of their very existence are a visible part of the community response! Even silence is a response.

My previous posts on this site have included information on identifying faith community allies, on issues and concerns of LGBTQ people who are members, and on strategies for providing training and assistance to faith leaders. This post will provide AVPs techniques for helping allied faith communities enhance their support and advocacy to prevent and end violence within and against the LGBTQ community.

The backlash from discrimination supports anti-LGBTQ bias harassment and hate violence. If met with silence on the part of faith communities, then they are complicit in the hate violence occurring within and against the LGBTQ community. Incremental changes by faith communities, even the smallest steps toward ending the silence with behaviors of acceptance of LGBTQ people, can start to open space for conversations that can lead to new ways of seeing, being, thinking, and caring. AVPs can help educate, provide resources and support, and collaborate with religious organizations and communities of faith.

Communities of faith have a strong influence on normalizing the care of survivors and on developing ways through which conflict is resolved. Faith communities can and often do provide the place and the support to end isolation, thereby decreasing the fear and the danger of domestic and sexual violence. They need the training and the assistance to understand, name and respond to the way that violence impacts communities.

However AVPs get involved with communities of faith and with religious organizations, the above applies and can be messaged by AVPs in ways that respond to the community’s or organization’s vision and mission. The situation that brought the AVP together with the specific community of faith can help set the background for their interactions. Further guidance for AVPs to support communities of faith is provided in the following document, “Equal Access to LGBTQ Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault: Envision it. Talk about it. Act on it.”

Equal Access to LGBTQ Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault: Envision it. Talk about it. Act on it.

Envision it.

Faith communities may not own the good, or the effective harm, that they perpetuate in the community. They may say that their faith belief that they preach, consisting of negative messaging against the respect and human dignity of diverse gender expressions and sexual minorities, theoretically, is not intended to hurt anyone. But in reality it creates a culture of divisiveness and hate. AVPs can develop case scenarios and locate contemporary news articles that demonstrate the harm done by negative messages. Example: Shamed: How The UMC contributed to my son's death

People maintain silence because they have not felt it was okay to speak out about their concerns, and maybe in the past they were explicitly told that it was not okay. Create an environment where it is okay to express diverse faith understanding and opinions. Reflect on what that would involve and note possibilities.

Given a choice, faith communities go with caring about their neighbors, acting with kindness, living peacefully and being fair to community members. Tap into the common desire humans share to live and to flourish. Allow for mutual respect and compassion without conversion – agree to disagree. What is the shared common ground the faith community can identify? What does it mean to the faith community members to agree to disagree with each other? With people from diverse sexual orientations and gender expressions within and outside their community?

Some questions to close this section of reflections: How does your faith community feel about standing with others in support of minorities? What are the concerns for equal access to community services? How do they feel about verbal harassment? How do they feel about physical violence? About murder?

Note what information and discussions are needed to further this dialogue that the faith community identifies. They may decide to remain silent at this point, and not speak in support of the LGBTQ community or other minorities. It may be that this material needs to be reviewed and repeatedly refined before the faith community can move further in support of the LGBTQ community. The faith community may be ready to move forward from here toward support of the LGBTQ community and specifically in support of LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

About the Author

Rev. J Zirbel

J Zirbel (no pronouns, simply J) is a minister, ordained in the Church Within A Church Movement and co-founder and executive director for Rainbow Community Cares (RCCares).

J served on the Governance Committee of the National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs (NCAVP), as a member program of NCAVP, a non-profit working to ...