“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
William Shakespeare – The merchant of Venice
Pastor Tiro Sello from Holy Prescence Church something of a divine storm trooper of the revolution in how the church deals with gender. The man of cloth has no illusions about the church claiming moral high ground when it comes to gender-based violence.
“A program is needed for church leaders because many are uneducated on issues associated with intimate partner violence. They are often unaware of the different forms the abuse can take and can therefore give wrong advice to women. Bringing education to church leaders and the church on intimate partner violence will raise awareness on the issues and promote the idea that it is not to be accepted in the church”, he explained to Sunday Standard lifestyle.
Pastor Sello is not just blowing hot air. As an insider, he has firsthand knowledge on how often the devil cites scripture to justify toxic masculinity. Most Christian men believe they are anointed masters and their women are God damned servants. The quote St Paul’s instruction in the Bible that “Let a woman learn in silence and full submission.” says Paul’s first letter to Timothy. “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. At best, if understood literally, this injunction teaches women that they ought to be subservient to men. Worse, it forces women to stay silent in situations of abuse, as if they must endure it as their God-given lot.
Pastor Tiro Sello explained that society is dynamic. “as society changes so does the power dynamics between men and women. Society was once patriarchal banning women from voting, reserving senior government positions for men and even stopping women from holding paid jobs. This has changed drastically over the years. With this change came changes in the marriage power dynamics. Now marriage is an equal partnership based on companionship and mutual respect.”
Pastor Sello says, however “church leaders often use scripture about a woman maintaining her wedding vows” in an attempt to guilt trip the woman into staying in an abusive relationship. “The clergy may also express empathy for the woman’s suffering but suggest that she should suffer as Christ did, and just submit more to her husband.” He explained that this however is not as common as it was in the past.
“Some church leaders believe that drugs or alcohol are the cause of the abuse, not the men themselves. These church leaders often believe that these men want to stop being violent and can change. Occasionally they offer group therapy, which could end up being very dangerous for those involved, especially the wife since she disclosed the abuse.”
While men and women are both victims and perpetrators of gender-based violence, it is no secret that women suffer the worst of it. In an effort to escape abusive relationships, women often rely on a variety of social networks; family and friends, battered women’s shelters, domestic violence hotlines and justice systems. Some turn to religion and religious institutions in search of refuge, social support and spiritual guidance. Seeking spiritual however is fraught with an array of challenges that are unique to religious settings. For starters, when men and women enter into intimate unions in a religious context they are often subscribing to a set of religious beliefs about childbearing and obedience to authority amongst other things. Bound by such beliefs and expectations while being battered becomes confusing and makes it difficult to withdraw from the abusive relationship.
Pastor Sello’s postulate on the church and gender power dynamics highlights the uncertainty regarding the role of religion in assisting or possibly hindering women who are trapped in abusive relationships. Most church institutions use predominantly male images of God, preach the doctrine of wifely submission and exclude women from leadership roles. These images convey notions of male superiority and authority coupled with an expectation of female obedience and submission. Religious leaders often make the problem worse by blaming victims, promoting marriage as a sacred institution, suggesting prayer as an answer or even failing to condemn the violence. Religious women seek help from faith communities more often than secular agencies and they often suffer a longer period of abuse than non-religious women before seeking help or leaving.
A recent research paper: “ Gender-Based Violence and Christianity: Catholic Prevention of Divorce Traps Women in an Abusive Marriage” by John Gordon Simister and Grażyna Kowalewska found evidence “that Catholic women have a higher risk of GBV than Protestant women. A possible explanation for this higher risk is investigated: the ban on divorce by the Catholic Church. Household surveys confirm that Catholics are less likely than Protestants to divorce. Divorce is a possible escape-route for a woman abused by her husband; preventing divorce keeps many women trapped in marriage to a violent husband”
Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana however feels the church is not sinning on issues of gender-based violence. “From my own opinion the church is doing a lot to prevent GBV, to a greater extent. I say this because we don’t know how other Christians are doing to curb/ help. When it comes to marriage, the church usually encourages people to go through counselling – pre marital counselling so to provide teachings and guidance on what marriage is all about. If two people are married and see things differently as a couple and haven’t gone counselling together, chances are that they will experience difficulties and not know how to deal with their problems especially if they are not aware of what marriage really is about.
I don’t usually think that people are told to stay in marriages when they are abused. I believe that these women go to church with the hope to find healing there. It is wrong for church leaders to tell women to stick it through even when they are abused. I believe that when a person comes to church with marital problems, the problems shouldn’t be to stick it out the solution should be for people to change their behavior towards marriage among other things. Abuse is not at all godly. It is wrong and women whether in church or not should be free to seek help when they are abused. Normalizing abuse within marriage should be unacceptable.