Message from pulpits: Stop sexual violence

By Megan Twohey

April 20, 2009
In an unprecedented move in the Chicago area, more than a dozen churches on the city's West Side delivered coordinated sermons on sexual violence Sunday, saying it was time for a widespread but often hidden problem to be addressed from the pulpit.

At Greater St. John Bible Church in the Austin neighborhood, Yancey Bady, an associate minister, went one step further, divulging during his sermon that he himself had been a victim of sexual abuse—a revelation that brought members of the congregation to their feet with shouts of support.

"Brother preacher knows what you're going through," Bady said, as he called on all the victims of sexual violence to turn to God and counselors for healing. "Brother preacher been molested too."

The churches that participated in the Sunday of Sermons are part of a broader coalition called the Leaders Network. The group has coordinated sermons before to bring attention to community issues, such as the need for school funding, but never before have the sermons addressed the often taboo subject of sexual violence.

Sharmili Majmudar, executive director of Rape Victims Advocates, a Chicago organization that helped organize the sermons, said no event of this kind had ever taken place anywhere in the city.

What helped prompt the sermons was lingering outrage over the rape of a teen girl in Austin last fall.

After the assault, members of the Leaders Network, Rape Victims Advocates and other community organizations rallied together to find the attacker, canvassing the neighborhood with sketches of his face, only to see the attacker remain at large, said Rev. Ira Acree, senior pastor at Greater St. John.

Shortly after, he said, the daughter of a minister in the Leaders Network narrowly escaped a sex assault while waiting for a school bus.

"This is a problem citywide and nationally. But it really grabs your attention when it hits home," Acree said.

Sunday's sermons, taking place during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, were designed to shed light on the prevalence of sexual violence and to shatter the silence surrounding it, he said, adding it was especially important in the predominantly African-American West Side.

"You really don't see many black men stepping up and saying, 'We're not going to have this,' " Acree said. "It's a pretty big deal."

Workers from Rape Victims Advocates were on hand Sunday to distribute information, counsel victims and sign up volunteers.

Bady said sexual violence can be encouraged by friends, indirectly taught by parents, and supported by the silence of the broader community.

He drew on his own experience to inspire victims.

"You can't tell me that you can't make it, because I'm standing here today."

Bonnie Simpson, a member of the congregation, said the sermon was inspiring.

"It's good to have the issue of sexual violence out there," she said. "The seeds of change have been planted." 

(To read original article, visit this Chicago Tribune link)


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