Re-Awakening the Social Consciousness of the Pulpit

There is an old folk tale that shares a story of an elephant taking a stroll one day. The elephant notices his friend, the hummingbird, on his back with his feet in the air.  The elephant asks him “what are you doing?”  "Oh," says the Hummingbird, "I heard that the sky was going to fall, so I decided I'd better get down here and put my feet up in the air so I'll be ready to hold it up when it falls." 

 "Oh, Hummingbird," he said, "you have to be the tiniest bird I know.  How in the world are you going to hold up the sky?"

The hummingbird looked up at her friend. "I didn't say I was going to do it all by myself," she said. "But I'm ready to do my part."

At that moment, the hummingbird challenged the social consciousness of what was happening in the world.  On the contrary, the elephant was unconscious to the issues occurring around him. But the hummingbird demonstrated the difference she could make if we all do our part.

Many people are unaware of social injustices within their community or the world around them, and have become complacent or uninterested in many of the social ills we face today. This is what it means to be socially unconscious.

In the early 1950’s and 60’s, the Roman Catholic Church was accredited with awakening the social consciousness of the communities they served through gospel messages from the pulpit.  This is where we first find the term Liberation Theology, which is an interpretation of Christian theology that emphasizes a concern for the liberation of the oppressed.

The concept was embraced by the African-American pulpit during the Civil Rights Movement, and was also called Black Theology.  Renowned pulpiteers such as James Cone, and the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were well known for paralleling the gospel message while galvanizing support to propel the Civil Rights Movement forward.

These were the hummingbirds that awakened the social consciousness of the elephants around them. Sadly, I’m disappointed to find a limited number of hummingbirds in the pulpit fighting for the rights of women within our communities.

Too often, I hear from congregants that domestic violence is not addressed, or even mentioned at their place of worship.  How can we ignore the fact that one out of four relationships are impacted by domestic violence?  How can we ignore that over 90 percent of domestic violence victims are female?  How can we ignore the number of women who die each day at the hands of someone who once said they loved them?  These women I’m speaking of are from all nationalities, religions, socioeconomic classes and races. 

Dustin Axe, a social justice activist, attributed social unconsciousness to our culture’s emphasis on individualism.  Consequently, it becomes easy to ignore social problems and the welfare of others when the primary concern is our own personal happiness.

I hear many resounding sermons through the airwaves of our televisions, radios and internet that lend to individual prosperity.  However, it seems as if even the pulpit has become socially unconscious to many of our societal ills.

The gospel message should arouse a great awakening within our communities that motivates everyone to develop a hummingbird mentality. When this happens, we can eradicate domestic violence not only in the faith community, but in all communities.

The faith community can, and should, play a major role in the prevention of all forms of violence against all women – we should be the moral voice of the community.  Additionally, there are many different areas within this effort where we should be in the forefront. 

1.      Collectively, we have an opportunity to develop and implement policies that do not condone violence against women in any form. 

2.      We have an opportunity to train individuals within the community to support victims of domestic and sexual violence without re-victimizing the victim, which lends to supporting individuals on their journey to healing and wholeness.

3.      Premarital counseling sessions provide a great opportunity for clergy to introduce these important issues, and could include respectful relationship segments.  Allowing couples to share their expectations of the relationship, and how their individual socialization will impact their lives moving forward, may be key in preventing domestic or sexual violence from ever taking place in their marriage.

4.      The faith community can set aside time within their youth groups to provide programming that would address some of the risk factors children and youth are exposed to early in life. This same programming could address risk factors that expose youth as victims, or perpetrators, of domestic and sexual violence. Programming for children could include teaching children to make positive choices with both their actions and their words. Furthermore, this programming should address bullying prevention, both cyber and physical. 

5.      Teen and youth programming can address the risks of teen dating violence.  Youth leaders could choose from the many resources that address red flags in abusive relationships, while providing classes on what healthy relationships look like.  A CALL TO MEN’s LIVERESPECT Curriculum is an excellent resource.  Abusive teen relationships are very prevalent within our society because of the lack of visibly positive relationships within our society, and our failure to teach respectful relationships.

The faith community is an ideal place to awaken the social consciousness of men.  National statistics reveal that more than 90 percent of domestic violence is perpetrated by men, but we know that all men are not abusers.  The problem has been the failure of good men to get involved, or play a role in ending violence against women.  Men of faith could serve as role models to boys, and lead the charge in developing young men of character. 

Men of faith should hold one another accountable, but more importantly, we should use our influence and our platforms to awaken the consciousness of other men within our communities.  We can’t change the world individually, but like the hummingbird, we can all play a role in ending violence and discrimination against all women and girls.

- Rev. Rickie Houston, A CALL TO MEN Trainer