faith in action

The Importance of listening

Many people were shocked and angered by the U.S. government's decision to tear immigrant children from their parents. Less covered, and also terrible, is the administration's revocation of a longstanding policy that allowed survivors of domestic and gang violence to seek asylum in the U.S.

Growing up in the church I have always heard the phrase, “All are welcomed at the table.” It is a phrase that sounds pleasing to our ears because it carries a message of inclusivity and unconditional love. The table is not just a place where we gather together to eat, but also a place where we gather in fellowship, affirm one another, and lift each other in dignity and love.

I’ve often wondered if we really mean “all” because sometimes I feel like this phrase is followed by “but.” The word “all” is essential because it does not exclude anyone based on his or her gender, ability, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic standing, or any other status we tend to label our world. The motto of The United Methodist Church — Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. — invites all of us to that same message of inclusion and love.

Jeff Sessions — current U.S. attorney general and fellow United Methodist — recently announced several changes to the way the U.S treats immigrants and refugees seeking to live here. A lot of the coverage of these new policies focused on the ghastly practice of tearing children from their parents. Less covered, however, is Sessions’ revocation of a longstanding policy that allowed survivors of domestic and gang violence to seek asylum in the U.S.

Sessions stated victims of domestic abuse are not part of a “particular social group” that qualifies for asylum. Excluding victims of domestic abuse from a “particular social group” is a clear misrepresentation of reality. According to the World Health Organization, “1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.”

The reality of domestic abuse occurs globally. Disregarding the traumatic experience of domestic abuse as an acceptable claim for asylum is a disgrace and goes against our values.

The United Methodist Book of Resolutions states, “People of faith must work to change attitudes, beliefs, policies, and practices at all levels of society that dehumanize and promote the exploitation and abuse of women and girls.”

This decision undoubtedly affects the lives of thousands and thousands of women and girls, individuals of sacred worth who are fleeing life-threatening situations only to be told their lives do not matter and their claims of abuse are not believable. In many instances, fleeing one’s country is the only option victims have to escape domestic abuse and the potentiality of death. Under this new ruling, the safety of these individuals is in danger.

In her book, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Iris Marion Young challenges and reimagines modern concepts of social justice through a feminist perspective. In the introduction, Young states, “The sense of justice arises not from looking, but…from listening.”

What Young argues is we cannot actively and adequately participate in true social justice if we do not listen to the cries of the world. It is important to note the distinction between looking and listening. Sometimes when we see something, we might not fully understand the gravitas of the given situation, or worse, we choose to look away. When we listen, however, we hear from the perspectives of those who are forgotten and those who face these issues day after day.

It is crucial to keep Young’s framework in mind when assessing the recent decision made by Sessions. In his announcement of these new policies, he claimed the asylum process was being “abused” and prevented “just claims” from being processed. This stark differentiation implies the safety and protection of women and children are not “just claims.”

But this is not the first time women have been disregarded, and their voices have been shut down. Everyday women face misogynistic attitudes in the workplace, in their communities and even in their churches. When women encounter gender-based violence, such as domestic abuse and sexual assault, they are often not listened to and deemed as blowing the situation out of proportion.

This decision is just another example women and girls have to face over the questioning of their believability. The validity and worth of women have always been called into question in a patriarchal society. The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state, “We affirm women and men to be equal in every aspect of their common life.” In Genesis 1, all creation is seen to be of sacred worth in God’s eyes. Therefore, as children of God, we are called to recognize the value and worth of all persons.

So, how do we create spaces where women are believed, especially in instances of gender-based violence?

We listen.

Listening is the starting place of our journey toward justice. If we don’t listen, how will we know what to do?

Here are the facts:

Similar to the disciples who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, the overwhelming reality of domestic violence can cause us to do likewise. For those who do experience abuse, they cannot escape or look away. For many, this is their reality. It is crucial that we do not fall asleep in such desperate times. As Jesus would say to us, “Wake up!”

The question is, will we listen to the cries of those seeking refuge from violence and abuse or will we remain asleep?