In the just-ended 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, a call was made to all Malawians to report and end any form of gender based violence (GBV).
That call was made in the media, public rallies, workplaces, different institutions and in churches. The latter is what brings me here to write about the issue of GBV.
What role has the church played in speaking out about issues of GBV? Is the church immune from acts of GBV? Is it just a place of finding a shelter or is it also a place where acts of GBV also take place, but are never reported or just end a natural death?
Most of us think of the church or any place of religious worship is a place where forms of GBV can never take place. It has no room for any form of abuse, violence and harassment. Many of us look at the church as where we can go to find help, healing and shelter from physical and emotional pain.
But this is far from the truth as most people have fallen victim to child molestation, abuse and harassment at the hands of church leaders. The place which is supposed to be sanctuary of hope and rest is also where many types of GBV take place but unfortunately they get buried under misquoted Scripture of love and forgiveness or in the name of not wanting to tarnish the image of the church or its leader.
There have been many stories of girls being defiled by religious leaders or other girls or women being sexually abused by church leaders.
It may be argued that the church has taken a stand against GBV by disciplining their errant leaders and referring matters to civil authorities but there is also evidence that some leaders have gotten away with cases of sexual abuse by claiming immunity through some misquoted scritures.
One very often used phrase by church members to defend the church leaders is Psalm 105 verse 15 which says: “Do not touch my anointed ones. Do my prophets no harm.”
This verse has been used as a shield to protect the ‘men of God’ when allegations of misconduct are levelled against them. Many victims may come and testify that they have been abused or harassed by men in the collar but the church leadership and members will quickly jump to the defence of the pastor/prophet and brand the woman involved as demon possessed.
The victim in turn faces further psychological torture for attempting to ‘bring down the ministry’.
Other forms of abuse come in the form of exorcism which ends up in the so called men of God indecently touching women seeking deliverance in bareness and similar conditions.
Girls have fallen also victims at choir practice sessions and funeral vigils.
As we get into the new year it is my hope that churches will take an active role in not only speaking on such issues, but even take a stand to take to task church leaders who want to tarnish the name.
Just as the church has been condemning the government and other public institutions for not living up to their mandate, they should also be in the forefront disciplining their leaders.
I believe if the church takes a leading role in sensitising members on issues of GBV and how they can be handled all forms of abuse that happen under their roofs will be eliminated.
The church needs to face the GBV problem head on. The church has an obligation to look after those who are powerless and weak. The church should not take advantage of the distress of its sheep as a tool of victimisation.
Remember there is a great judge who shall one day call you to account for all the actions that you undertook as you led His church.
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not take a tight reign on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is wordless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” James 1:26-27.