Woman time now!
Yesterday, I spoke at the Sam Sharpe Conference held at Regent's Park College, University of Oxford, on the need to appreciate and analyse the contribution of Christian women to the struggle of propagating the Christian faith in Jamaica's early history and in particular their role in the passive resistance of our national hero, Sam Sharpe, Baptist deacon. This historic conference, held in England and not Jamaica, is, in part, a quest for liberation. And it is apparent that there needs to be liberation of our Christian women in particular and women in general.
Women in the Old Testament were generally seen as property in what was indeed a patriarchal society. They were generally under the authority of a man, whether a father, a brother or a husband. Men held all offices and there were no women priests. Christians need to determine whether what we read in the Old Testament was meant to be descriptive or prescriptive. Was God saying that's how women ought to be treated or was the record describing only the treatment? Was Jesus living within his context when he had all male disciples or was he mandating that that's how it ought to be?
Treated equally and fairly
It is clear that the scriptural witness is that all should be treated equally and fairly and women are equal in the sight of God and should be allowed to serve God fully and completely based only on the spiritual calling in the sight of God. And since women such as Miriam and Deborah engaged in a prophetic role, who are we to deny them serving God through various ministries, including the pastorate and representational politics?
Our national heroine, Nanny of the Maroons, was a spiritual leader who held positions of authority. Moses Baker is a pioneer of Baptist work in western Jamaica. But not many people remember the role his wife, Susanna, played in his conversion and financial survival. George Liele, the first missionary to Jamaica in 1783, had 24 elders and 12 were women. His wife was an elder. It shows that women were integral in the leadership of early Baptist work. It was shared leadership.
Women are in the majority in the nurturing professions of nursing and teaching and the respect and financial reward that is due to them should be re-examined. It is a sad commentary on our society, that for women to be adequately remunerated they have to enter the financial sector.
Lucille Mair, pioneering researcher on women's contribution to Jamaica, posits that the enslaved female was ill- treated more than any other group of enslaved persons. Barbara Bush, a leading historian concerned with women's contribution, makes the point that while the African male was denied his humanity, the female was denied her humanity and femininity. Women were abused as sex objects and then humiliated and called sexually immoral. And the sexual abuse of our women continues.
The contribution of the wives of Baptist missionaries has also been marginalised. The wives of missionaries were a factor in the social life of Jamaica as leaders of Bible classes, classes in sewing, cookery, music and reading. These women were not in the limelight then but it is time their story be told that they were partners in ministry having been engaged in Christian education, administration, practical ministries and having exercised pastoral ministry.
What is often not said is that there were women who participated and suffered during the Sam Sharpe passive resistance. In Morant Bay, one nameless woman hired premises in the town for church work and was arrested and imprisoned subsequent to the 1831 Baptist War. During martial law in 1832, Maroons flogged a female member of Salter's Hill Baptist Church to death and another member was shot to death in her house after mock trials.
It is time to apologise for the way women have been treated and recognise it is woman time now - time for them to be treated properly.
Devon Dick is pastor of Boulevard Baptist Church and author of 'The Cross and the Machete: Native Baptists of Jamaica - Identity, Ministry and Legacy'. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.