A public pastoral assessment of Church response to Gender Based Violence (GBV) within the United Baptist Church of Zimbabwe
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In a country such as Zimbabwe where 84.5% of the population is Christian, it is expected that gender-based violence (GBV) should be minimal. However, it is not so as GBV remains very high. Sadly, churches and church members are complicit in GBV. The study investigated the role that churches could perform in their interface with communities to address GBV. The study hinged on the public pastoral role of the church in responding to GBV within its social and community ministerial spaces. The study argued for a constructive and meaningful church and community engagement as a responsive intervention to address GBV. To that end, a public pastoral care was proposed as a responsive integrated approach to church and society in addressing GBV. The study focused on the United Baptist Church of Zimbabwe (UBCZ) as a case study whose interventions could mirror other ecclesio-community interactions. To conceptualise the scope and prevalence of the GBV phenomenon, the study explored the global and national impact of GBV from the perspective of human rights infringement that disproportionally affects women in many countries. GBV is persistent despite global and national efforts. GBV actions are deeply entrenched in social structures that continue to sustain it and is prevalent in both times of peace and war. In the midst of the reality of GBV, the church has been blamed for its ambivalent response. In light of the above, the research engaged in a quest for a public pastoral care responsive model that is rooted in possible church intervention to mitigate against GBV in the country. The model is aimed at emphasising the pertinent role of the church as a microcosm of society with a key role to play. Thus, the research achieved this by establishing some key drivers of GBV in Zimbabwe as the national context of the UBCZ and also religious drivers. An interplay between the national and religious drivers exist because the church acts as suitable environment for sustaining some of the national drivers of the country. Though negatively, this amplifies the fact that the church is a subsystem of society, which should publicly respond positively to GBV. Efforts by government to respond to this social ill are discernible as evidenced by legal and policy instruments to mitigate against GBV. NGOs and CSOs have rallied behind the government to implement the drafted GBV laws and policies but the scourge remains. This has indicated the church needs to practise what it means to be a church in the real spaces of GBV. To understand how the church is responding to GBV, the research engaged in an empirical research in UBCZ. The research was aimed at determining how the church responds to GBV. Conceptual deficiencies of the phenomenon, culture of silence, invalid interpretation of scriptures and socio-cultural GBV issues that are sustained in the church emerged as some of the key deficiencies. This accounts for the ambivalent nature of its public pastoral response to GBV. From a biblical point of view, the research investigated God’s ideal plan on gender relations for humanity by studying Genesis 1-2. The creation of Adam and Eve equally in the image of God and equally complementing each other, establishes God’s ideal plan for gender relations. To be created in His image means to perfectly relate to God and to be humane to one another in perfect love and union. The image of God was marred at creation such that gender relations became soured. In both the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT), women were subservient to men; sometimes in a manner that perpetrated GBV. The research underscored that GBV occurred in the Bible and God did not remain silent. He spoke through circumstances and socio-cultural mores of biblical times. The study established that God cared and spoke against the oppression and marginalisation of women. It follows that the church should engage in a public pastoral care role in upholding and honouring the dignity of women. In paying attention to the need for the church to play its public pastoral care role, the research emphasised the need for the church to be the salt of the earth and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-14). As a subsystem of society, placed by God in the world to represent Him, the church should publicly fulfil its ambassadorial role by engaging with public issues that affect society. The church needs to move away from parochial ministries and institutionalised theology to interface with the current situations of humanity, as God would do. The study underscored that public theology should be utilised as a larger theoretical lens to assist the church in framing pastoral care ministries. It also emphasised the need for public pastoral care to be a congregational responsibility, which is characterised by holistic koinonia of congregants in the context of GBV. Such fellowship interrogates the gender imbalances that exist in the church, communities and state. In response to this, the research proposed a church-focused responsive model to GBV for the UBCZ and broader church in the country. The model underscores that the church should widen its human web of public pastoral care by systematically creating synergies with community structures in real contextual ministries. This amplifies the church’s ability to conceptualise the phenomenon leading to framing transformative public pastoral care ministries for GBV victims in churches and communities.
- Theology