Sunday, October 03, 2010

My Sunday sermon to religious leaders

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 03 October 2010)

Here is the scenario; women are being beaten and killed at alarming rates. Others suffer psychological abuse in the form of being disregarded for being female, being reduced to an inferior social status from men and having the immense emotional anguish of knowing the man they love and vowed to spend their life with is running around with other women.

So what is the role of the religious leaders in this very real scenario being played out in Guyana? Disrespect for women is so ingrained into the Guyanese society that men and women both have been socialised to believe men have the moral license to disrespect women, which then results in ongoing emotional, mental and physical abuse.

Do men have this moral license?

I was raised as a Christian and know very well that a man is to honour his wife. There is no honour in mentally, emotionally or physically abusing a woman. I could easily use scripture to prove without any doubt that men do not, in fact, have that moral license (something I may in fact do one day).

Frustratingly, religious leaders have been eerily silent on this issue. When there is a wrong in society, religious leaders have a responsibility – no, a higher calling – to identify it as a wrong deed, and to expect better from those in the congregation. Turning a blind eye to the disrespect afforded to women is the same as condoning sin.

I have said before that my husband and I were once ministers and even missionaries. As such, I know full well that by keeping my mouth shut when evil is being done, I am just as accountable as the one committing the act. If I watch a man slap a woman and do nothing, I have allowed that evil to transpire without taking a stand for what is right. As a layperson, that is wrong. As a minister, I would have failed in my role as an ambassador of God on earth.

This week, a group of religious leaders met to discuss domestic violence. According to a September 29 article in Stabroek News, “A forum was held…at the Office of the President (OP), where local religious leaders and a delegation of Faith-based leaders from the US met with representatives of the government to discuss domestic violence and the role of the religious community.”

How did the meeting go?

“The initial projected outcomes of [the] meeting were: to sign a joint communiqué by representatives of all religious groups, declaring a Zero Tolerance on Domestic Violence…Following the almost three-hour meeting, [PPP/C MP Pastor Kwame] Gilbert told Stabroek News…that the leaders did not sign on to the communiqué as had been hoped. It was agreed that they would go back to their constituencies first before signing the document.”

Did the religious leaders have to go back and ask their congregations if it was right to declare zero tolerance on domestic violence? What was there to discuss? If the religious leaders did not know if it was right to take a tough stance against domestic violence, I sure hope the congregations know.

There is just something very wrong about this situation. Either this meeting was just a political show put on for the country because violence toward women is at epidemic proportions, or the religious leaders are also so heavily socialised to the disrespect afforded to women that they have lost their sense of right and wrong. Either way, this response by the religious leaders was simply mind-boggling.

There are some who believe men have a right afforded to them by God to “rule” their homes. However, these very same religious beliefs practiced in Guyana are also practiced in many other countries where women are not subjected to such dreadful disrespect. In other words, men in Guyana are using religious scripture as a license to harm women. Will the religious leaders continue to allow this to happen?

I wonder if there are ministers who care enough about the plight of women – and have enough courage – to speak on this issue and explain that scripture does not give men the moral license to emotionally, mentally and physically harm women. The silence from religious leaders must end if women are to ever come to understand their men do not have the right to harm them.

The religious leaders who met in the Office of the President this past week are supposed to meet again soon. If the joint communiqué declaring a Zero Tolerance on Domestic Violence is not signed when they meet again, we will all know the mask is off and that Guyana’s religious leaders are not willing to stand up for the women, not willing to stand up for what is right, not willing to stand up for God.

However, if the communiqué is signed (and I hope it is), that is just the beginning of what needs to be done. There should be sermons on the evils of abusive behaviour, there should be counselling for those who both suffer from abuse and those who inflict it and there should be accountability when someone in the congregation is being abusive. I say “someone” because it is not always the man who is abusive.

Religious leaders play a prominent role in society and consequently have a spiritual responsibility to the females of their congregations. Unless the religious leaders want to see more women set themselves on fire to escape their domestic situation, like Rhondina Adams just did and which equates to suicide, an act frowned upon in most religions, the religious leaders need to show demonstrable action regarding domestic violence…and very soon.

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