October awareness for churches

October 21st, 2019

Every month seems like it is designated for awareness of some very worthy cause. For many years, October was synonymous with Breast Cancer Awareness, which was marked by pink ribbons everywhere. Whether the awareness finally hit a tipping point or the criticism of “pinkwashing” due to the proliferation of pink products during October is having an effect, at least on my social media feeds, the domination of breast cancer awareness campaigns seems to be slipping.

While we might not see as many breast cancer awareness efforts as in previous years, this has allowed two other issues to get some attention: domestic violence awareness and pregnancy and infant loss awareness, officially recognized in October. Both are issues that primarily affect women and that the church has often failed to address.

October 15th is observed across the world as International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, though in many countries it is not an official observance, and the day itself lends to a month-long awareness campaign. The statistics around pregnancy loss vary, but up to one in three pregnancies ends in miscarriage, though many of these occur before an individual knows they are pregnant. In people with a medically confirmed pregnancy, between ten- and twenty-percent will end in miscarriage, with up to eighty percent of these pregnancy losses occurring in the first trimester. 

The prevalence of early pregnancy loss has led to the widespread practice of families often not publicly announcing a pregnancy until they are through the first trimester. However, when losses do occur, it is hard for people to grieve publicly when the pregnancy itself was not public. Having lost a pregnancy also makes ensuing pregnancies more anxious for families.

Christianity’s historic discomfort with women’s bodies contributes to the difficulties of these conversations in church contexts, but infant and pregnancy loss is a real and common pastoral care situation. Recognizing October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month can provide an opportunity for pastors to recognize this very common situation among families and offer pastoral care. At the very least, talking about it can open doors for those who have experienced losses to find community and help one another heal.

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in a world where nearly three out of four Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence, the church needs to be talking about this more. Domestic violence affects people of all genders, races, and classes and can manifest in other ways besides physical violence, including financial manipulation and emotional abuse. Given the statistics, it is extremely likely that someone in our congregation is suffering from abuse by an intimate partner.

Oftentimes, victims of abuse are hesitant to confide in their pastor because of the church’s high view of marriage, and the church must repent of its tendency to privilege an intact marriage over the safety and flourishing of both its partners. Another barrier to reporting abuse to clergy is when both partners are known and respected in the community, the reporter may fear not being believed.

Again, using the month of awareness as a jumping-off point from the pulpit or in church publications, the church can communicate its willingness to believe victims and to help them get out of dangerous situations and get help. Additionally, since many mass shootings are preceded by domestic abuse, having knowledge about and addressing these situations might have even wider effects across the whole community.

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