File picture: Pixabay
File picture: Pixabay

Dear faith leaders, don't look away

By Elizabeth Petersen Time of article published Dec 8, 2019

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We must make our Places of Worship True Sanctuaries of Hope and Healing to those afflicted by, and vulnerable to gender-based violence. 

South Africans live in one of the most religious yet most violent societies in the world! Around 90% of the population affiliates to religious belief and practice, yet: 

* 1 in 4 women is assaulted by her male intimate partner;

* Every 26 seconds a woman is raped;

* Gender violence is becoming increasingly gruesome. 

When “religion permeates every aspect of human life” (Mbiti), but we lose our humanity towards one another, we can no longer be oblivious to the critical role that faith plays in the most intimate aspects of our lives.

Men use easily misinterpreted scriptures and religious teachings to justify their abusive behavior. Women trapped in abusive relationships draw on religious sources for direction and hope. 

Scholars suggest that, “Like our personal genetic inheritance, we cannot simply walk away from our religious past.” (Maguire &; Shaikh, 2007). And Prof Sarojini Nadar indicated: “Resolving gender violence requires not just interrogating our legal systems, but our belief systems which are based to a large extent on our sacred texts and cultural practices.”

Crucially, in South Africa, GBV can also not be divorced from the complex legacy of colonialism and apartheid. 

Faith leaders are faced with this dilemma in their ministry to our culturally rich, religiously pervasive violent society that continues to seek healing and transformation from this legacy. They are having to deal with unraveling and contextualising the ways in which God has been captured in “the Siamese twins” of oppression - patriarchy and white supremacy. These are the belief systems that God created white people as superior to black people (white supremacy), and men superior to women (patriarchy).

And it is these power dynamics that faith leaders themselves have to address in their own lives to better serve their communities.

The South African Faith and Family Institute (Saffi) is a forum that creates safe spaces where faith leaders can grapple with these complex dimensions of GBV - notably the easily misinterpreted religious teachings and scriptures that continue to wreak havoc in the lives of women and men. 

Faith and culture can furthermore ensure that we do not lose sight of the humanity of the perpetrators of GBV.

Saffi believes we are all casualties of the Siamese twins of oppression. There is no blame or shame, only critiquing of the flaws within our faith traditions in pursuit of the liberative resources that lie dormant in our respective religions.

Indigenous knowledge resources such as Ubuntu - which is embedded in all faiths - provide fundamental resources. We need to cultivate Ubuntu in intimate and public relationships.

Saffi urges that service providers, too, must interrogate their own beliefs in relation to the women and men that they seek to serve.

Saffi invites theologians and faith leaders to participate in initiatives such as their multi-faith Theological Advisory Council on GBV (TACGBV).

We invite faith leaders to become mindful of the fact that those who listen to their sermons might be perpetrators, victims/survivors and children who witness GBV. This calls on them to take a lot more seriously the theological content of sermons / lectures and pastoral care activities.

We encourage faith leaders to equip themselves by participating in trainings that would open their understanding to the dynamics of GBV, and to find the folk
in their congregations who work in GBV programmes, and let them help to explore practical ways in which your Place of Worship can be a True Sanctuary of Hope and Healing.

* Elizabeth Petersen is Founding Executive Director of South African Faith and Family Institute, and PhD candidate with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice, University of the Western Cape.



• December 11: Follow-up dialogue with Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffreys on Substance Abuse and Gender-Based Violence. AFM Church, Chatsworth. 10am. Booking is essential and free. Sam Pillay 082 954 4835


• December 5-10: The RISE exhibition by ANON. Pop-up Art Show. 44 on Long, Cape Town at 5pm to 9pm.

• December 7: Family Preservation. De Grendel Swimming Pools, Goodwood. Theresia Buys 021 448 8513

To get your event listed here, WhatsApp 074 557 3535

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