When I read Rom 10:12 “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, my thoughts immediately went to the similar text in Gal 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
What does this text say to us in a week like this?
It is an interesting week in many people’s social and spiritual calendar.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. This marks the beginning of Lent, the time when many Christians prepare for Easter through a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose of this period in the church calender is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection.
Then Thursday is Valentine’s Day – although the origins of the day may refer to a saint of the church, it is mostly known as a time to celebrate love and relationships. In many ways it has become a time of excessive focus on romanticism and on buying things and spending money to show how romantic you are or how much you love your partner.
So, in this week, where we focus on repentance and austerity on the one hand, and on excess and romance on the other, I opened the newspapers.
In South Africa there is a strong emphasis on the brutal rape and murder of Anene Booysen, allegedly by a group of young men well known to her. But it doesn’t stop there. Just in the last 24 hours I also read about:
- The murder and possible rape of 19-year old Ge-Audrey Green in Kraaifontein. Someone well known to her has been arrested.
- The mutilated body of 16- year old Charmaine Mare which was found close by three weeks ago. The person arrested was known to her.
- A Soweto pastor that has been arrested for the rape of a woman from his congregation.
- A man who was arrested after he allegedly murdered his girlfriend and her lover at Boyleni Location in Butterworth.
- A 12-year-old girl who has been abducted on her way to school in Thoboshane Village near Butterworth in the Eastern Cape.
- A 19-year-old man who has been arrested after falling asleep after raping a woman (whom he knew) in a flat in Johannesburg.
- The State questioning the actions of a matron in charge of a hospital ward in which a seriously ill cancer patient was allegedly raped by a male nurse.
- Nine young men, between 16 and 19, who were arrested for the gang rape of a 24 year old in Heilbron.
- The mayor of Bredasdorp, that said that the recent gang rape was one of at least five incidents in the town in the past five years.
- Divorce proceedings of a prominent government minister whose wife accuses her husband of having subjected her to “physical, verbal, mental and emotional abuse and cruelty.”
These were not the reports of the last month, or even the last week – this was just one day. And if I read a larger selection of newspapers, I could probably highlight many more similar cases. If we consider that researchers say that as few as one in nine rapes are reported, this paints a grim picture.
The response to the brutal nature of the rape and murder of Anene was loud and visible – protests, marches, a flurry of news reports, calls for commissions of enquiry and more stringent laws and angry responses on social media. The response fed into and accelerated the wonderful initiative of OneBillionRising (Read more about this international campaign here. Info about South African events here).
But then what? What will change next week when the reports move slowly to the back of the newspaper and eventually get forgotten?
More importantly for us; What will change in church?
There have been good responses from churches and faith leaders: “Leaders in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) called on all members of the Church to use the season of Lent to recognise that every time we fail to act against gender based violence, we are complicit in its perpetration….. All Clergy are being asked to address the issue of rape and to invite members of their congregations to seek ways together for all of us to end this moral sickness and recover our humanity.” (Read rest of Statement here)
But two responses in the media made me think a bit further: Well-known legal commentator Pierre De Vos describes the expression of outrage as “a distancing device and ultimately self-serving.” He goes on to say:
“When we express our outrage about the prevalence of rape in society, I fear that we seek to affirm that we are not complicit in the (often violent) subjugation of women. Our expressions of outrage – well-meaning as such expressions might be – absolve us of our responsibilities. “We are not like that. We are different. We are innocent. Unlike the monsters who rape and murder women. Those brutes must be hanged.” This allows us to continue with our lives without having to change what we think and how we live. We can express sentimental support for the survivors of rape, without having to problematize masculinity. We do not need to confront sexism. We do not need to become feminists. We do not need to confront the destructive power and dominance of patriarchy and how we continue to benefit from it. We do not need to give up anything.”
In the second reflection (“Bekering, weg van dié prentjie” in the Afrikaans newspaper Beeld) Rev. Reggie Nel ask similar questions and goes even further. He positions our faith communities as part of the problem and highlights the role faith communities play in fanning the flames of dominance and violence. And he asks for a radical response. He asks for a conversion. Will we be able to turn away from a culture of dominance and exclusion, to a culture of respect and love?
I agree with Reggie and with Pierre; Something fundamental needs to change – we need a conversion. And I also ask; will we be willing to take this step?
I think this will only be possible if everything we do is influenced by our text: “For there is no difference…”, if the life or body of a woman is no longer seen as less valuable than that of a man, if we truly see no difference in the value of every human being.
To think about: How does your faith community entrench power relationships in the roles assigned to men and women? What are you doing to challenge these issues in our society? What are you doing to create a safe haven for all?
Additional resources on gender and gender based violence, also specifically for faith communities, are available on the CABSA website:
– General Gender and GBV Resources and News
– Resources for Faith Communities