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Behind Closed Doors – Churches Together in England

October 15, 2017

A TWO-YEAR STUDY of the grow­ing problem of sexual violence and trafficking has identified a need for Black Pentecostal Churches in the UK to do more to tackle it.

The report, Behind Closed Doors, was funded by Churches Together -in England (CTE).

It calls for the raising of awareness among churches of the early signs of abuse, to encourage increased reporting to police, and the development of theological re­sources to challenge some of the voices among church leaders who support the gender inequality underpinning violence against women.

The report, by the Revd Dr Carrie Pemberton Ford, Director of the Cambridge Centre for Applied Re­search in Human Trafficking, says: “The power and gender imbalance in leadership in some of our Pentecostal church members seriously affects reporting and re­cognition of the criminality and complete unacceptability of.violence against women and children per­petrated in society and consequently present in our churches.”

The chair of the CTE, the Revd Dr David Cornick, said that Pentecostal Churches offered a “unique bridge” between British and African culture in the UK.

He said: “We have rejoiced in the growth of migrant Christian com­munities in our midst. . . In the last few years there has been a marked increase in trafficking from Nigeria and other West African countries. That means that we have churches in our membership who are likely to have encountered (probably un­knowingly) women caught up in this awful experience.”

Women brought into domestic servitude in the UK are frequent victims of sexual abuse “behind the closed door of the domestic space”, the report says.

It also acknowledges concerns among West African church com­munities over reporting suspected offences, particularly given the pub­lic mood on cutting migration.

With many victims being of West African descent the report cites challenges and opportunities for the growing Pentecostal congregations peopled and led by West and Central Africans in Britain.  Bishop Eric Brown, Pentecostal President of Churches Together in England remarks, “In recent years Pentecostal churches have experienced exponential growth in this country and around the world as communities where people have found solace and a space to thrive. It is important that our churches are aware of the signs of those caught up in this immoral trade and are therefore able to extend the love and care that are imperatives of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.

Among the report’s recommendations are awareness-raising among churches of the early indicators of domestic servitude, trafficking for sexual exploitation, trafficking for criminal business such as begging, and for those working with Vietnamese and Asian communities the presence of urban cannabis farms.  Advocacy for better mitigation of the forces which drive trafficking, training of key church personnel around issues of domestic abuse and gender based violence alongside trafficking abuses, with recommendations for developing resilient and resourced multi-agency collaboration at local, national and international levels are included in this far reaching report.

Theological Resources

There has been a repeated request during this encounter with the churches to develop materials which engage some of the highly gendered and disempowering narratives which can underscore domestic violence, sexual exploitation, safeguarding breaches in household discipline and which have their exploitative entrails cast up in human-trafficking narratives.

This is an area of great sensitivity and must fully engage with the whole community –pastors, prophets, choir directors, bishops and the executive leaders of the wider communities.

The form of these resources should not be constrained to books,though some more considered theological work, relating the challenges of contemporary society to the central and important paradigms of the particular church community’s faith and core beliefs, isimportant to undertake.

Requests have been raised around developing:

Choral inputs – new songs raising awareness and underpinning a rearticulation of mutual respect across gender complementarity embedded in equality

Bible themes with clear articulation around how gender inequality, social justice, children’s safety, international inequalities, all forms of disempowerment, refusal of violence against the person and ideas around submission, silencing and enslavement are brought forward in the scriptures

Cartoon-based narratives of ‘Godly’ responses to modern dilemmas being experienced by BMC members’ communities, particularly in relation to gangs, sexual exploitation, sexual consent, prostitution, domestic servitude, domestic abuse, irregular migration and lack of amnesty, household discipline and safeguarding

Prayers and meditations for use in cell groups

The curating of films and the development of a team of ‘facilitators’ who can assist in embedding the learning of the films for congregations and rendering some ransformative changes

Practical books of instruction for discipleship, addressing contemporary challenges for parents, youth (male and female) and the challenges of living trans-nationally

YouTube shorts on a cluster of issues, for sharing across phone-based networks, which will start to emerge as church members with film and media skills become involved

Involvement in Freedom Sunday and other initiatives arising in Nigeria and West Africa and the extended dioceses of different bishops in this fast-moving and fluid church structure.

The first is the old-fashioned pyramid or hierarchy. There are major organizers, many of whom are in Lagos, and are linked with significant numbers of criminal operations elsewhere in the world. These are crime barons, often members of the elite and members of government, who benefit from activities that they coordinate or support. They are also among the beneficiaries of the proceeds of crime that come back to Nigeria. They protect those proceeds from seizure under Nigeria’s very poorly implemented money laundering laws.

The second type of structure is the flexible network. Many Nigerian criminal organizations are relatively small, and they are based around bonds created by family membership, tribal affinity, or personal friendship. These groups operate within a larger network that resembles trade associations rather than traditional Mafia hierarchies. The fluid network provides support, structure and potential connections.

The third type of group is the self-contained cell in which there are a few people with specific responsibilities and a clear cut division of labour.

These cells are independent entities and take the initiative in generating and exploiting criminal opportunities.

why women may stay in violent relationships, including:

Ø fear of retaliation

Ø lack of alternative means of economic support

Ø concern for their children

Ø lack of support from family and friends (we include here disapproval from primary social or faith networks)

Ø stigma or fear of losing custody of children in divorce

Ø‘love’ and the hope that the partner will change.

 

One of the ‘restraining’ texts was clearly identified in two of our training events as

I Corinthians 7:16.  Here Paul calls on those who found themselves in marriages with unbelieving partners to stay with them, unless the unbelieving partner leaves, on the basis that neither partner knows what the future might hold in terms of the potential for change. ‘How do you know, wives, that you will not change your husband?’ is a source of guilt for women if they consider leaving the abusive situation; the obverse in the letter ‘How do you know, husbands, that you will not save your wives?’ is rarely cited and, interestingly, was ignored in the pastoral advice proffered during a number of conversations on the subject of domestic abuse undertaken during this research.

This notwithstanding that the issue of men being abused within their marriages did emerge as an area which church members – both male and female – raised with some rapidity whenever the topic of gender-based violence and abuse was raised.

Another frequently cited text is Ephesians 5:22: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

These texts are particularly problematic in a culture where public honouring of the paradigm of obedience to one’s husband, submission to his will ‘in everything’, persistence in prayer and ‘wiping out sins’ through ‘forgiveness’ is one of the great

obligations and, indeed, ministries open to women.

In a short video clip, shared across the social media networks where conversations around headship, infidelity, prostitution and wife and husband beating were discussed, one Ghanaian counsellorannounced that an African woman is required to ‘treat her husband as a God’.

This posting caused a range of views but none which completely dethroned the male and none which discussed what happens when the ‘God’ turns out to be a demon.

All of these texts–and ways of referencing headship, god likeness, submission to the male–serve to evolve and reinforce a culture of gendered inequality in relation to designated genders of power and authority: male husbands and, more often than not, male leaders in the churches. Consequently, the recognised default situation is for women not to disclose, not to report and not to leave their husband, partner or father of their children (despite violence taking place within the household environment)

A range of responses was evoked from a group that comprised both male and female leaders, pastors and prophets when posed the question:

What should a woman do if she is hit by her husband?

We do not have people that believe in our God. If you look at the UK, we are where we are today due to satanic government legislations: don’t smack, don’t tell off, we end up with little monsters that threaten their parents.

Professional kid stabbers. We have gay legislations. We end up in Sodom and Gomorrah. Now they have come to our church to erode Sunday school, yet we will say it does not matter – it sure does!

This is domestic violence –to be able to save the life of the woman in quesion she should call the police and any further intervention can then follow.

If the man fears God he won’t hit his wife at all, but because of the family or what we are people or seniors within the family and church would like to intervene – may God open our eyes.

Church counselling should be part of the pre marriage counselling and not simply after the woman is being battered –too late!

I am enjoying this discussion and everyone’s contribution. There is a suggestion that a seminar should take place where our women will be educated on how to manage and hold your homes. This is lacking in our orthodox churches. The husbands need to attend as well to learn a few caring methods. (Male pastor)

I will never condone a wife beater because emotional injury don’t always heal – so call the police to let him know it’s not acceptable and it’s a crime  because if one recommend church counselling and he beat her to death one day, who’s to blame? The wife or the minister?

It is a very weak man who strikes at a woman or even raises his voice at her. Whether physical, emotional or psychological abuse, the woman should not  condone any form of abuse at all . After all what makes a man is the ability to live successfully under the same roof with a woman despite their ****.  (Male pastor)

The problem that we have in the church is that the majority of our men leaders are hypocrites. Excuse my fancy words.

Church leaders – men will start talking about submission – which blow up the matter even more. I do not think it is difficult to address if we are ready to speak the truth

(Female pastor)

I will never advocate for the police to be invited. No. The word of God is against it and so it should be. The woman can leave if her life or that of her children is in danger. She can go to a refuge. If the refuge calls the police for her, well that is fine. (Female leader)

It is something very, very difficult and shameful.  As a wife you have a job to do to satisfy your husband. If you are being hit, if your husband is attacking you the question is raised –‘is everything OK in the bedroom? Are you provoking him? You who are his wife, you need to LOOK at what you are doing and do not provoke him.

Pray to the Lord to assist you, and you will receive strength from Him – Lord have mercy.

This is NOT something we tend to talk about in Church, at least not when the men are around.  We might have a little play put on to show a husband drinking, wasting money on gambling or on ‘girlfriends’ and parties – and we laugh, or we look at one another –and recognise. But we don’t look at the way the control works, the expectations of what ‘the good wife’ should be doing, the shouting, the

slaps, and,well, the rape – we think that the wife she should always be available –

so really there is no rape is there? It’s really difficult, and it’s something which is hidden from ‘public’ show. It is talked about between sisters our girlfriends, but not with the men. And you  now, it is expected that you sort out your own marriage if you can. (Female pastor in training and survivor of abuse)

The report is online here

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