Africanwomenculture: WOMEN LIVING THE FAITH

Once this is admitted the question for women has been "what does it mean for the community of women and men in church and society?" First it calls for watching our language not only about God but before God. The demeaning, marginalizing and dismissive language about women or any "other" becomes unacceptable before the God who created us human as women and men in the same divine image.

It calls for what Musimbi designates as "prophetic engagement". This is what the WCC was seeking when it launched the Ecumenical Decade, Churches in solidarity with women. The operations of gender in the churches is illustrated in Oduyoye's "Who will Roll the Stone Away?" Recognizing gender in theology will help us deal with violence against women, which has some of its roots in biblical language and Christian culture.

Recognizing and becoming sensitive to gender in theology leads one to a theology that is liberative, one that does not remain theoretical but demands ethical choices that will empower the transformation of relationships that have been damaged by sexism and mysogynist attitudes. Bernadette Mbuyi Beya of DRC exemplifies this ethical imperative in her own life of making a home for orphans. The Circle in Ghana has done this in getting Trinity Theological Seminary to establish an Institute to undertake public education on Religion and Culture that will bring gender sensitivity into daily life and relationship.

Gender in theology forces our faith communities to face the issue of human sexuality and to move from the demonisation of women to a sober recognition of how presumed male entitlement to women's bodies make men irresponsible sexually and promotes the spread HIV/AIDS not to talk of all the marital violence on women. Recognizing gender in theology will enable men to acknowledge the need to set limits to their presumed right to exercise power over women and help them stop their inclination to play God in the lives of women.

Mainstreaming gender in theological reflection requires that we find resources to conscientise women and men alike on the sacredness of their bodies, their sexuality and their humanity. A theology that brings to the fore that fact that humanity has been endowed with free will that makes it incumbent on us to exercise choices, should be part of our repertoire. Women are human and have to make choices including what happens when it comes to their bodies. No man should call himself the owner of the body of a woman. Pauline household and marital ethics points to mutual ownership of bodies when it comes to married couples. Mutual submission of Ephesians 5 should result in mutual respect and dialogue rather than commands and demands.

Mainstreaming gender in theology requires that we transform the patriarchal reading of biblical texts that have become the pretext for violating the humanity of women. Culture as a pre-text has to be challenged if we are to mainstream gender in theology, for much of African culture like church culture bears the mark of the hegemony of male text. This has been dismantled and mainstreaming gender will help us do this.

The gender parameter in theology evokes the naming of evil. Gender sensitive theology is one that names concrete human right violations and avoids the generalized notion of oppression, repression, subordination and the like. It risks naming the agents of evil and is audacious enough to call people to become free enough to think critically about their heritage whether religious or social, traditional or cultural, western or Christian, Arabic or Islamic.

It takes seriously the religious slogans that people inscribe on their business premises and on their vehicles, the words of the songs they dance to, all other signs and symbols of religiosity can be gender coded and need to be examined. Where women are absent or invisible we have to ask why. Where women are present but totally ignored, we have to discover the message being communicated.

The Bible is now an open text in Africa because of its many local language translations, the increase of literacy and even more so the telling and retelling of biblical narratives, commandments and injunctions. The unwritten cultural text is being written into the Bible and thereby achieving validation of its sexism. This open Bible with its entrenched gender stereotype has to be appropriated with great sensitivity and wisdom (Sophia), she who is a companion of God, and we need to be guided by her when appropriating the word of God.


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