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The redemptive work of the church in combating rape, battering

2021-03-26  Staff Reporter

The redemptive work of the church in combating rape, battering
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Rape can be commonly defined as a type of sexual act usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration without the victim’s consent. It’s a catastrophic phenomenon of our present-day, witnessed in every corner and streets of our nation and the entire world, whereby targeted groups are women and children, unconscious, incapacitated and those with intellectual disability within the society.

It is evident as per statistics that in Namibia, customs and traditions largely aid rape culture. In 2020, figures by the Namibian police revealed that Oshana, Omusati, Oshikoto and Ohangwena regions have the highest incidents of rape in the whole country, whereby “Oshikoto recorded 224 cases of rape, Ohangwena 226, Oshana 134 and Omusati 126, between January 2019 to September 2020 (The Namibian, 30 November 2020, p. 6)”.  

“Kimberly Daniels woke up not from a nightmare but into a gender-based violent nightmare after taking a few shorts from a Whiskey that she got from her father” (Confidente, 11-17 March 2021, p. 3”.

Battering, on the other hand, can be defined as physical, verbal or emotional assault within the home by family members and the society at large. 

In South Africa, it is estimated that 100 women are raped every day, and 33% of married women are beaten by their husbands, 10% of young girls are sexually harassed in their families and only 1.3% of men who rape women are ever convicted or charged (Towards a Theology of Sexuality 1993, Umtata: Women Theology Group, p. 67). Rape takes many forms, including “date rape” i.e. forced sexual intercourse after a few drinks and an evening out. 

In the controversial South African film YIZO YIZO, there is one incident when a guy took Hazel out for a movie; he convinced her to go with him after the film, where he forced sexual intercourse with her. After the ordeal, he said: “I spent several rands on you; did you expect me not to do what I like? 

In light of violence against women and children, the church has a redemptive task – being a healing community, to come out of its male centeredness and address issues that affect women within churches and society. It is easy to be simplistic and impossible to generalise, but there is no question that violence thrives most readily in homes where family structure is already dysfunctional in some way. 

The patriarchal family with its strict hierarchy of control and domination is a root cause of this evil. Women feel that being obedient to their husband/father is an intrinsic part of a Christian relationship and that whatever the husband/father do must in some way be right or for their good. If they are “punished” by being beaten, they easily rationalise it as the result of some great sin in their lives – far from being resistant – they ought to accept such chastisement as being from God.

Joy Bussert’s book, Battered Women, does not only contain accounts written by violent men and the victims, but it also gives an example of the kind of church teachings that lead to such attitudes. Amongst others, she quotes the opinion of Elizabeth Rye Hanford that a woman must ignore her feeling about the will of God and do what her husband says. She is to obey her husband as if he were God himself. 

In light of teachings like that, it is obvious that domestic violence in the church frequently has theological dimensions. Clergy who vacillate about such matters as “submissions” of wife to husbands will be unlikely to have much to contribute to the healing of families that are broken. 

That is exactly the position in the majorities of churches. Many church leaders maybe regularly council women in violent and abusive situations to return to their husband, either for the sake of keeping their marriage intact or for the sake of their children. Others offer simplistic solutions by suggesting that prayer is the answer – and if suffering, women will only accept the situation and pray about it then things will somehow work out all right. Since we are created in the image of God, how do we understand our roles as co-creators of God at a time when abuse of power forms the norm of society?

Paul addresses the issues of abuse when he describes the church as the body of Christ (1Cor 12); he was actually comparing two types of communities. The community – that is the physical body that has the consciousness and characters; Paul also referred to the church as the community made up of many human beings with a shared consciousness about what it means to be a group in a particular time and place. 

Humans form an integral part of the existence of this community because a human is in a society of societies with a high level of sensitivity to experience and a high level of creativity for introducing novelty into relationships. It is important to acknowledge that we exist for others. Since we are corporate beings, we all form part of families, schools, colleges, universities, communities, corporations, churches, a legal systems, political systems and similar institutions that can be abusive. 

Our responsibility, therefore, is to help protect, shape and transform these institutions. It is in such a structure of power that women become victims of sexual violence, it’s within this context that our faith is road tested as to whether we truly act responsibly and are prepared to challenge those who are abusive and bring them to justice. It is important that the church fosters a spirit of care and hope for sexually abused victims.

Bonhoeffer puts it this way: the church is expected to love with the same love that unites God with man through Jesus Christ and further unites the Christian community. The church, as the community of persons, is expected to be a community of love to take upon themselves the joy and sorrows of all others. The collective will of the church is not a human will but a divine will that constitutes the deepest being of the church (March. C Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1994, P. 65-67). 

As women and children experience violence and suffering, it is the duty of the church and communities to reassure victims of sexual violence that they are not alone. What can we do now? Sunday school is one of the important components where children should be taught their rights, since the abuse of women is a human rights issue and not a women issue, it is important to educate males to change their attitudes towards abuse. The church should begin to unmask its ideology of patriarchy by coming to terms with violence against women by formulating policies regarding violence against women and by encouraging ministers to speak out against violence against women. Part of the answer, therefore, lies in what we have also emphasised that the church must be a genuine community of caring people and act as a refuge for those who are hurt and an appropriate place to seek help for problems with battering and other forms of societal abuse. First and foremost, people need to feel confident in turning to the church for comfort and healing, but here are also a number of specific things that we can do. As part of our general store of knowledge, we should know about the laws concerning the rape and domestic violence Act – and about local facilities that offer advice and protection to women in this situation.

Therefore, an urgent need is necessary to promote general awareness of this evil practice within our congregation and society; this will include the need to re-examine the messages we communicate from the pulpit and in our Bible study groups. We can also encourage the whole Christian community – society to be a place of hospitality and healing for the survivors of violence – and make a special provision for the recognition of the predicament during services of reconciliation and healing. It is also helpful to have materials available that will highlight some of these issues. A biblical view of restoration following gender-based violence will also encompass the holistic connotation of shalom as community wellbeing (Isaiah11: 6-8).

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that this evil does not only affect the aforementioned groups of people, though in the smallest percentage or due to social believes men do suffer the same fate of abuse from their counterpart; therefore, it is very important to be sensitive when treating matters of this nature.

2021-03-26  Staff Reporter

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