Church needs to make fighting gender disparity priority mission

10 April 2019 - 07:28
By MBUYISELO BOTHA
Reverend Vukile Mehana went on a tirade about women not being suitable to be priests in the church and recently being central to a sexual harassment incident at a Methodist Church in Pretoria.
Image: YouTube/Screenshot Reverend Vukile Mehana went on a tirade about women not being suitable to be priests in the church and recently being central to a sexual harassment incident at a Methodist Church in Pretoria.

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa Limpopo Synod Office of the Bishop invited me to talk on gender based violence to address ministers in training.

The Methodist Church had been in the news for all the wrong reasons when this invitation came through.

The Methodist Church has been in the centre of public scrutiny, from Reverend Vukile Mehana who went on a tirade about women not being suitable to be priests in the church and recently being central to a sexual harassment incident at a Methodist Church in Pretoria.

The importance of gender equality and transformation dialogue in the church is critical if the church is to adequately respond to the pain that the body of Christ within the Methodist Church, and churches broadly, is going through.

The church can’t afford to pretend that all is well when the majority of its members,who are women, are not reflected in the leadership demographics of the church.

Thanks to the leadership of the recently appointed Bishop Sidwell Mokgothu and Rev Siphiwe Madi,  the church has seen it fit to open up space to discuss what is ordinarily unconventional,especially within the church.

Gender-based violence, sexual harassment and sexual violence are topics that the church is uncomfortable with confronting, however it is important that they do so because this is what women, who are a majority in the church, face every day.

During the training, there were two young priests who caught my attention, Lwazi Kondlo who is 26, and Bheki Buthelezi who is 28.

It is this type of investment that I find exciting when young men respond to God’s calling. I am excited because as young priests they bring with them the exuberance of youth.

And having them attend this training at such an early stage in their priesthood gives me hope that in the future we will have better churches that are cognisant of the context in which they operate.

The young priests also bring with them far less patriarchal baggage as opposed to the older generation.

They grew up in an era of #FeesMustFall, the total shutdown movement, affirmative action and women’s empowerment. All of these are bound to influence their world view and, invariably, their interpretation of scriptures and the place of women in the church and the broader society.

I look forward to a day when the churches’approach towards women’s leadership would not be based on the narrow subservient role as the only thing that defines women’s leadership.

I hope that Lwazi and Bheki will be the dawn of a new era wherein the church would be asked difficult question such as, why there are no female bishops in the church? I hope they ask why the composition of the leadership structure in the church does not reflect the demographics of the church, which is majority women.

I struggle to understand how the Methodist and other churches find it morally acceptable not to have women as bishops. What is the biblical justification for women’s oppression within the body of Christ.

I still have to be persuaded that there are any sound reasons why the status quo should remain. It is in this context that I find the leadership of Bishop Mokgothu exemplary and commendable.

The church has to respond to matters around gender based violence, gender inequality and transformation, in the same manner that esteemed priests did during the apartheid era.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Frank Chikane and Dr Beyers Naude, to name a few, refused to endorse a system that marginalises and oppresses others.

They used their places of worship to reject and denounce injustice. Churches today must follow suit when coming to matters such as gender inequality and transform ation.

I wish young priests Bheki and Lwazi all the best as they begin a journey of confronting patriarchy (which all men are beneficiaries of) within the body of Christ.