number 7, december 11, 1998

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Don't turn other cheek, women victims told

When Birgit Foth was 16, she was attacked by a stranger as she walked through a park after a church youth event. Having been brought up to believe that women must be compliant, she had no skills to ward off her attacker, except the instinct to scream. Fortunately this was enough and the man ran away.

Now the Rev. Birgit Foth, minister of the Mennonite Church in Germany, rejects the view that if a woman is victim of a sexual assault, she must not resist in case worse befalls her.

"Which means I’m not a nice girl," she adds ironically. Such teaching confuses peace with passivity, she told a Wednesday Padare meeting on the theological basis of peace.

Two important elements for warding off violence, she said, are surprise and creating a space between attacker and victim, a space for the two to look at each other, a space perhaps for shame, for laughter even, and for the question, "Why do you do that?"

That was why Jesus advocated turning the other cheek, she suggested, because when a man — who is expected to strike back — does that, it creates an element of surprise. But for a woman, that tactic would cause no surprise. In her case, resisting is the unexpected reaction.

The biblical aim is not suffering but the overcoming of violence that all may live, Ms Foth said.

Another speaker at the Justice and Peace event, organised by the Mennonite Church, which grew out of the European 16th century Reformation and focuses on peace-making, was Pastor Fimbo Ganvunze of the Mennonite community in Congo.

He emphasised that peace was fundamentally a new relationship between people based on faith in Jesus, but he also set out the requirements for bringing peace to his country: dialogue between the many conflicting parties, the establishment of democracy, a ban on arm sales to the conflicting groups, a solution to the refugee problem and an education process for young people.

The church must play a prophetic role and initiate dialogue between political leaders.

The session was opened by Dr Thomas Finger of the Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Virginia, USA, who argued that peace-making was not just one of the tasks of the church, but was central to its faith. Jesus came to fulfil the Hebrew vision of shalom, which meant peace not simply as the absence of war, but a community creatively seeking harmony.

Read other articles in this issue:

Union wants WCC to tackle Mugabe on banning strikes
Padare: the good and the bad story
Africans put their case to the West
Take Black Theology seriously, WCC told
Polygamy issue resolved
African 'gentility, humility' model for next millennium
Africa's gift of Ubuntu
Don't turn other cheek, women victims told
Churches want state to re-regulate markets
Malawi president won't sign death penalty
Chaz is all over the campus

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor