Archbishop of York gives inaugural Hexham Abbey sermon during White Ribbon Sunday

First published on: 10th November 2021

By Jane Pikett, Churchwarden at Hexham Abbey

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, has chosen his inaugural sermon at Hexham Abbey to deliver a powerful challenge to the ‘macho’ attitudes in society which, he said, can ‘ferment’ into violence against women.

He also cited various passages in the Bible, the effect of which, he said, “can be to condone and even promote the idea that male violence against women is acceptable,” adding that Jesus presents a positive role model for male behaviour which is highly relevant in today’s world.

Addressing a service to honour the survivors and victims of domestic violence, he continued: “We men need to be liberated from the conditioning, the ‘dis-ease’ and the insecurities that ferment into violence. Christ shows us the way.”

The Archbishop, who took up his post in July 2020, said of some passages in the Bible: “In recent years, critique of these [biblical] texts has enabled us to see how they reflect the cultural conditions of patriarchal societies where violence against women was the norm. And tragically, that norm continues to this day.”

But of Jesus, he said: “Jesus models for us a very different attitude to women. The way he treated women and responded to them was radically different to the prevailing culture of his day and deeply shocking to many who encountered him.” 

Archbishop Stephen said it is up to men today to call out inappropriate behaviour and follow Jesus’s example. “It is men who need to change. It is men who need to repent. It is men who need to lead the way.”

The Archbishop was addressing the congregation at a special ‘White Ribbon’ service on Sunday November 7 to remember victims of domestic homicide and honour all those affected by domestic abuse. 

Female survivors spoke movingly during the service, which was followed by a question and answer session organised by White Ribbon UK, a charity which engages communities nationwide in its mission to end violence against women on our streets and in the nation’s homes.

After the event, the Archbishop said: “We need to put behind us the macho posturing common today and recognise other ways of being.

“The church is no longer male-dominated, and it is my female colleagues who have encouraged me to be involved in this. I'm proud and honoured to speak up for men and say we can live differently; we can model a different way of behaving.

“That’s what the world urgently needs, because millions of men are  trapped in certain models of being a man where you don't show emotion or compassion. But that can change, and that begins by boys and men learning they can live differently.”

The question and answer session after the service was addressed by Frank Mullane MBE, whose sister Julia Pemberton was terrorised for many months by her husband before he shot her and their 17-year-old son William dead in 2003.

He said: “The prevalence of domestic violence, and the gendered nature of domestic abuse, is profound. I salute the Archbishop, who talked about men being able to express their emotions and show compassion; qualities that men are sometimes afraid to show because of a prevalent toxic masculinity. This is about men standing up against violence against women.”

The service was supported by White Ribbon UK, a charity whose aim is for all men to fulfil the White Ribbon Promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women. It encourages all people, especially men and boys, to individually and collectively take action to change behaviour in society today.

White Ribbon UK’s Viv Frost said: “It is our hope that this service and the question and answer session which followed it will raise awareness of these issues and help to change the cultures that lead to violence in and outside the home.

“#AllMenCan is our leading message this year. It was developed for us in March when the murder of Sarah Everard brought women’s experience of men’s violence to the forefront of everyone’s minds.

“It has opened up many conversations about men taking action and making a stand. We want as many men as possible to make the White Ribbon Promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women.”

For further information about White Ribbon UK, you can visit their website, and to read the Archbishop’s sermon click here

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