Thu | Mar 30, 2017

HUSH! Church sisters suffering in silence

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Joyce Hewitt
Pastor Errol Bolt
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Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

Influential members of the local Christian community are worried that domestic violence in the Church is a problem that is widely under-reported, as the mainly men who are doing the beating and the mainly women who are being beaten remain quiet.

"From my experience as a pastor and a counsellor, it (domestic violence) does exist to a measure in the Church, because within the Church, there is a cross section of believers," Pastor Errol Bolt of the Kencot Christian Fellowship Church in St Andrew told The Sunday Gleaner.

"It does exist where some of our Christian men do get physical with their wives, which is totally contrary to the Christian walk and the Christian faith, and to love. Some (men) want to manipulate and control and so they control by force," added Bolt, who has been a counsellor for 30 years.

According to Bolt, this tight-lipped approach is causing the problem to fester in the pews, and the problem is moving towards epidemic status.

"There is a subtle increase, and if it is not addressed effectively and robustly, it could become an epidemic in the Church, because church people are exposed to the same pressures that people outside the Church are exposed to.

"The Church cannot be reflecting the same thing that the world reflects because the world is supposed to look to the Church for answers and solutions about the problems that they themselves are having," added Bolt.

Supporting Bolt, Dr Donavon Thomas, pastor and president/founder of Choose Life International, argued that the battered women remain close-mouthed for several reasons.

"They really don't want to go public because of the embarrassment associated with it. They don't want to cause a disgrace to their family and embarrassment to themselves and to the Church as well," said Thomas.

In the meantime, the Reverend Kevin Richards of the New Life Evangelical Centre believes some persons remain in abusive relationships thinking they can alter their partner's behaviour.

"There is always the belief that persons
can change people, and spouses are always of the opinion that they can
change their partners," expressed Richards.

"So if a
woman loves her husband and vice versa, then the
expectation is that there is going to be a degree of work that you want
to invest before you make any public alarm on any form of dysfunction
that may be in the marriage," added Richards.

The
outspoken Bolt believes there are other reasons for the silence of the
church sisters.

"Women are private creatures,
generally speaking; they don't want anybody to know about their
lifestyle and what is going on in their private relationships. Second,
women are creatures who want to protect their economy and some of them
believe that if they speak about it they will lose economic support, as
their husbands support them," charged Bolt.

"The other
thing is that as people within the Church, unfortunately, they want
their pastors to see them as people with no problem. They want to be
seen as people who are in control, they have power and nothing is going
wrong, and if they were to admit that this is happening then they are
going to admit that they are vulnerable and things are not going right,
and it will reflect a deficiency spiritually in
them."

For ordained minister, the Reverend Courtney
Stewart, the Church bears some responsibility for perpetuating domestic
violence as it often teaches submission for women, who are often not
seen as equals.

"The Church instils in its women to be
subject and submissive to their husbands, and whatever the husband
wants and wishes it is the wife's responsibility to fulfil. And so when
the wife doesn't cooperate, she is abused and has no one to turn to,
because in some churches it is thought that it is the woman's
responsibility," argued Stewart.

Battered Woman
thesis

The issue is not new to the Church, and five
years ago the Reverend Ian Muirhead, pastor at the Upper Room Community
Church, prepared a thesis, dubbed 'The Battered Woman: the Attitude and
Response from the Church', while at the United Theological
College.

According to Muirhead, he found that the
attitude towards domestic violence is the same in the Church and the
wider society.

"My study looked at the attitude and
response of the Church to domestic violence, and what my study showed
was that the attitude of a percentage of the people in the Church
towards domestic violence is not different from those who are not in the
Church.

"In that, for instance, some people might
think that under certain conditions, violence against the woman is
justified, and the research showed that was not just among men, but also
among women," said Muirhead.

Bible Society
workshops

In recognition of the growing problem, the
Bible Society of the West Indies, of which Stewart is general secretary,
has been travelling across the island doing workshops to educate church
members on how to tackle the issue of domestic
violence.

"We had engaged Woman Incorporated in 2012
to do some workshops for us, and then last year into this year we have
been working with our primary facilitator, Dr Hubert Beale, in a number
of communities. Now the reason why we are doing this is that it came to
our attention that Jamaica has a high incidence of domestic violence,"
said Stewart.

To eradicate instances where the victim
is made to feel guilty and carry the burden of shame, women's rights
activist and past president of Women Incorporated, Joyce Hewitt,
believes a serious conversation needs to be started among members of the
Church which does not include only prayer.

"There are
cases that we dealt with where women were wives of pastors and wives of
the high-level deacons who were afraid to let it be known that they
were undergoing the violence, and in the instances where they went forth
and went to someone at a higher level in the Church, they were told to
go do things like pray and pray harder," Hewitt
shared.

"In one case, one woman said sisters of her
church said, 'Oh, we will come and do prayer circles with
you'."

Hewitt added: "So many of the pastors,
preachers and the reverends are taught at the theological seminars that
prayer is the answer. They are not in the majority of the cases equipped
or trained adequately in terms of looking at domestic violence as an
issue, and when they do, they look towards the biblical response which
is totally inadequate. This is what, of course, continues to perpetuate
the situation; it is hushed up, it is not
discussed."