This August (Women’s Month) the Anglican Bishop of Natal, Dino Gabriel held a press conference to publicly make a bold statement against abuse and violence against women.
Speaking at St Aidan’s Church in Durban, Bishop Dino said it will no longer be business as usual for the Anglican church, “Every year for a few days in August and 16 days in November-December, the Anglican Church in KZN joins many churches all over South Africa who organise marches, make statements and sometimes even preach about the need to end gender based violence. But year after year, we go back to our routines, our worship and our traditional teachings- until the next calendar date when we begin the ritual objections to gender based violence again. Not this year.”
The Anglican Diocese of Natal has made some concrete commitments towards addressing gender based violence committed by and against its own members. The Bishop and his gender ministry team are putting in place multi-pronged plans to equip local parish churches and their leaders to address gender based violence effectively and decisively.
These include clergy workshops on gender based violence, applying the Anglican Pastoral Standards to investigating past and current cases of clergy misconduct and instituting disciplinary processes, opening safe spaces for honest conversations about gender at congregational level, and equipping regional resource people to offer gender sensitisation training, open spaces for case reporting, and offer appropriate counselling and/or referrals for professional support. The Diocese is also embarking on an advocacy process in response to cases reported to have been mishandled by relevant state institutions.
South African has the shameful claim to having one of the highest rates of femicide in the world. “Just as shameful is the fact that the church has often been part of the problem. Lay and ordained ministers have been perpetrators of abuse. The body of Christ has remained silent about the epidemic. We have failed to listen to and to believe members who have tried to speak out. Our country has an excellent constitution yet we live in one of the most unjust and violent countries in the world. Similarly, we have a set of Pastoral Standards to which every licenced cleric and lay leader subscribes, yet these important Pastoral Standards seem to be ignored.”
Bishop Gabriel explained that over the next few months the Diocese of Natal is planning to gather support teams made up of counsellors, psychologists and social workers who will be willing to give of their time to listen to survivors of GBV, and where appropriate, set up survivor groups that can support each other. The groups will be in Ladysmith, Pietermaritzburg and Durban areas.
Dealing with the difficult questions of culture and patriarchy, the Bishop said patriarchal culture has always been there even when he was a young boy growing up in Europe and even now in the multicultural context of South Africa. But patriarchy has never been questioned. Now this violence against women breeds very well in the context of patriarchy, so we need to question it.
Perhaps it would be helpful to add the following direct quote from Bishop Dino when talking about patriarchal culture and patriarchy in church and society:
“I need to be clear -these things happen in the church. It happens with bishops, clergy, and men in our communities – that we feel that we are entitled as who God made us – as if God did not make anybody else in his image…
“We feel that as men we have the right to exercise our authority – actually our power – not authority. We abuse our power in getting what we want – even in intimate relationships. Gender based violence is rape, beating, but abuse is not just physical – but also emotional, financial.
It is us!
We can say as men and as church leaders– ‘don’t count me in’. But I can’t say I am not part of it – I am very much part of it, as a man, as a leader. Often it’s subtle – there are subtle ways to be abusive, because of the power patriarchy has given us.”
“As a church we need to clean up and ensure we take precautionary measures to protect our young girls and women and thoroughly vet people in power positions in the church or chaplains, even Sunday School teachers. We need to take this matter seriously to ensure we don’t have wolves around sheep, but good honest leaders around our youth,” he concluded.
For further information contact: Daniela Gennrich, Diocesan Lay Canon, Gender, firstname.lastname@example.org; 0845810622 or the Bishop’s office directly, email@example.com.