Sunday Sermon: Women’s Month -Reflections GBV 23 August 2020 by Prof Charlene van der Walt

Greetings in Jesus’ name during this Women’s Month!

The message this morning is from Prof Charlene van der Walt, from UKZN, who works in Gender and Religion.  She helps us understand something of the basis of the scourge of Gender Based Violence and how we can respond constructively to it.

Our thanks to Sabelo Mthimkhulu, himself a Masters student at UKZN, for arranging this.

The content of the video is drawn from the text below.

An audio version is available.

Reflections on Gender-Based Violence during Woman’s month.

Prof. Charlene van der Walt

Gender and Religion

School or Religion, Philosophy and Classics.

University of KwaZulu-Natal

Grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the embodied lived reality of Gender-Based Violence during Woman’s month.

However, while it is important to reflect on the life-denying and pervasive reality of Gender-Based Violence in the South-African landscape, we should be mindful of not only speaking of woman in the context of violence.

It is important to celebrate the agency of woman and to think of the myriad of ways in which woman make sense and meaning in the world and how they uniquely hold community.

But, the reality remains that GBV is a major issue plaguing our society as we have again been made aware of during the COVID19 lockdown.

It is well documented and remarked on that the church is often silent on GBV, this amidst the fact that it is so pervasive and infiltrates our homes, families and faith communities.

Everywhere we meet as people we will encounter those affected by GBV. It is everywhere and it skips no community or institution of faith.

To the question why it is so pervasive in the South African society, Prof. Racheal Jewkes from the National Research Council in Pretoria remarks that ideologically it boils down to two foundational ideologies:

  • Ideology of male dominance/superiority. (Patriarchy)
  • A culture of violence. (That we respond to all conflict with violence.)

GBV and Homophobic Hate Crimes hold a number of urgent imperatives for faith communities. It is often a sector overlooked by GBV activist or those advocating for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, because it is deemed irredeemably part of the problem informing the GBV landscape.

Therefore, it is important to start conversations about sexuality in gender in faith communities that engages the intersection of gender, sexuality and religion. Faith communities need develop vocabulary to speak to these issues and critical and systematic analytical tools to engage with the underlying ideologies as outlined above.

What are some or the important tasks for faith communities in the light of GBV?

Before naming some of the imperatives it is important to note a disclaimer namely it is not easy to engage these issues, because they are so systemically foundational. Many of the theological landscapes that I will highlight is beloved core beliefs, foundational truths and doctrinal touch stones.

It is often ideas and notions that give us comfort and that holds great beauty, but it all warrants interrogation and Theological reflection, but it is important that these reflections start with the bodies and the lived realities of those most affected, marginalized or disenfranchised.

Engage the patriarchal underpinning of the Bible.

We should not be surprised by the pervasive of patriarchy or the stability of notions of male superiority if we continue to engage our patriarchal foundational texts (The Bible) in uncritical ways.

We need to acknowledge and grapple with the fundamental patriarchal nature of scripture and with the fact that scripture promotes patriarchy and ideas of male superiority and headship. We need to acknowledge and engage the mostly exclusive male language to talk about God in Scripture and liturgy. Because these ideologies has massive implications for woman and the sexual reproductive choices of woman.

Think about the ideologies informing male-controlled ideas of marriage

We need to ask questions about who gets to speak about woman’s bodies and experiences and who holds the power in the negotiation of sex? (Maybe for some this might even be shocking and surprising…Should sex be negotiated!?)

Indeed, patriarchy informs dominant constructions of the institution of marriage. Beyond individual examples, we need engage the unquestionable stability of the institution of marriage and that it is often the most unsafe place that a woman can find herself. (And living in South Africa that is quite a statement to make.)

We need to interrogate ideas about the headship of men in marriage and the control of decision making that it holds.

These notions informs a toxic theology that often keep woman trapped in life-denying unions for the sake of ‘keeping together what God has put together’.

Grapple with God’s positionality in suffering

We need to ask serious questions of our understanding of God’s role in our suffering hand how we as Christians engage with suffering. Suffering is often glorified with statements like… ‘as Jesus suffered, so we must also endure.’ This often informs our pastoral care engagements with those trapped in dangerous and violent GBV settings. We argue that woman should stay in vulnerable toxic situations because there is redemption in suffering.

Cheap forgiveness

Although we all know that embarking on a process of forgiveness and headlining is highly beneficial. But, often survivors of GBV are pushed or coerced to forgive perpetrators in liturgies and services of healing, without engaging the complexity and hurt of the reality. Almost jumping over the complexity and thus creating cheap forgiveness realities.

We need deep work thinking about the process of forgiveness. We need to question the complexity of victim blaming, the often invisible nature of men/perpetrators in the process and how the burden of healing is often places on survivors.

Interrogate ideas of shame and sin.  

It is important to reflect on how often our bodies and sexuality is engaged within the paradigm of sin and shame. This informs the culture of silence. Within religious discourse the body is often constructed as something that we should escape. We create a culture of shame and sin ripe for GBV to occur when we argue that good Christian people, especially woman, don’t speak about sex and pleasure!

How do we start to address these issues?

We change the direction of our theology from one that moves from scripture and tradition to the body, by rather starting our theological reflection from the lived realities of those affected by issues.

We start our theological reflection on GBV by asking whose experience matter? Who gets to speak? Who determines the agenda? Rather than talking about the issue of GBV or the experiences of those who suffer due to GBV, we should speak to the survivors of GBV and Hate Crimes. However, when we ask people to speak about their experiences it is important that we do not instumentalize it or ask people to perform their pain. It is important that we allow survivors of GBV and homophobic hate crimes and discrimination to allow us to become who we really are namely communities of justice and care.

In an attempt to engage GBV in our faith communities we should therefore allow survivors to lead the process and determine the agenda, we should find ways to protest against and lament injustice and we should find ways to read the Bible with a patriarchal critical lens.

During this difficult time of the global pandemic, you are invited to make a contribution to the ministry and mission of our church by making a donation to the following account:   Account Name: St Paul’s Church      Account Number: 50854628623     Bank: First National Bank (FNB)     Branch Code: 221426