By Alethia Nkosi, July 14, 2016:    The Central Adventist Church in Gaborone, Botswana, hosted a seminar on gender-based and intimate partner violence in June, organized by the Women’s Ministries department. The event was well-attended and featured very educational and informative presentations. Several practitioners spoke, including a university professor in the field who gave a well-rounded summary, a police officer who highlighted recent statistics, a social worker, a judge and “childline” toll free helpline representative. A victim narrated her painful ordeal of basically all forms of gender-based violence (physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, economic) perpetrated against her at the hands of her cousins and aunt, an uncle’s friend, other relatives, the community, school staff and fellow students. She was literally robbed of her childhood.

I observed that most of the presenters were “outsiders” to the Adventist community. I began to reflect as to why as Adventists we were not represented among the speakers. This is a social ill which clearly affects the community of believers. Our faith does not insulate us from the social woes around us.

One must ask several question in light of the seminar: (1) Is this a silent killer in the church? (2) How are church members sensitized to this? (3) If affected, are their available avenues for seeking help within the Adventist denomination? (4) How adequate are these resources?

Searching for Answers

I interviewed Mrs. Susan Williams, the Botswana Union Conference women’s ministries director. She reiterated the message that victims need to speak out. But the challenge also lies in how effective the church structures are in addressing such issues. At the global level, she mentioned that, the denomination has embarked on an initiative called enditnow, a call and commitment by Adventists to “say NO to all forms of violence.” This campaign was launched in 2011 with a march and since then a number of projects to raise public awareness have been pursued at the national level in Botswana.

Williams alluded to the fact that victims shy away from disclosing their situation for fear of stigmatization. She also acknowledged that with regards to structures to assist both victims and perpetrators more still needs to be done, and that this is an area that the church still has a lot of work to do especially at the local church level. In Gaborone there is a counseling center that has been established to address this need, however it suffers low rates of attendance for reasons mentioned above and is not preferred by Adventists. She has been building a network of committed counselors who value confidentiality and they have assisted quite a large number of victims.

Analysis

Issues of gender have come to the fore in recent times and particularly with respect to how religious bodies deal with different aspects of gender and relationships. There seems to be an increase in the number and depravity of crimes committed across gender lines, including the ill treatment of children and the elderly. Is the Adventist denomination dealing with these problems effectively at both the global level and at the local level?

The gospel is good news, in part because it offers human beings an opportunity to be redeemed from the power of sin and in a very real way should also give hope and comfort to those who are afflicted in any way. This is the Christian challenge that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ adequately dealt with. Are we faithful to Him if we are silent? In the face of oppression shall we look forward to the hope of the next life and not stand up against situations and issues that demean human dignity?

One of the most beautiful aspects of Christianity is that it has been an evolving faith making way for it to redefine itself. This development has taken place in the midst of a traditional and conservative stance to a standard that must always be tested against our consciences. A case in point: slavery. It initially was acceptable because of how the Bible was interpreted, the hermeneutics of the day. However subjected to the test of Love, the conscience of some weighed heavily on them that clearly slavery was an immoral practice. The founders of the Adventist denomination were in this progressive group.

We are still facing similar challenges in terms of gender relations and the treatment of gays and lesbians. Combining a traditional interpretation of the role of women and the general patriarchal treatment of women in many cultures creates a room with no windows for those affected. Thus there is a need to provide awareness to the results of discriminative, abusive behaviors and attitudes, and help empower victims to overcome these.

Conclusion

It should be our common earnest expectation that on the right side of history and heaven the church should be found to be a moral leader and not be led by the world. Thus our faith should provide some form of moral security. The worst case scenario in any security system is when the protector becomes an aggressor. When guardians abuse children, a spouse abuses the other and when the moral authority of the church as a body fails to notice and address these kinds of abuses.

This might seem like a harsh pronouncement on the corporate church, but if the church keeps silent on a serious moral issue then in a way it becomes a moral aggressor. This silence has in the past, and in some communities at present, been the result of hermeneutics of the moment. Church members are not immune to these social ills and thus one can conclude that as a body we have a moral obligation to stand up against such and seek redress for those that are afflicted.

To its credit the Seventh-day Adventist denomination has a long standing commitment to fight all manner of discrimination coupled with a willingness to work with other parties. The challenge is how to make these intentions real at the grassroots level.

Alethia Nkosi is a new member of the Adventist Today team. She is our first regular correspondent based in Africa. She will contribute regular news and analysis.