CBE international recently held a four-day conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. President of CBE Sydney Paul Perini attended the conference and reflects on his experience here.
The recent Truth Be Told conference, held in Johannesburg, focused on gender equality, paying special attention to the scourge of violence against women. The conference attracted 3000+ delegates on Wednesday night to hear advocate Thuli Madonsela speak. A training workshop was held on Thursday. 300+ came to both morning and afternoon sessions on Friday, and 350+ attended the conference on Saturday (with some 110 university students). The conference was hosted by Rhema Bible Church, and was the initiative of both Rhema and CBE International. The scriptures were consistently taught, one example being a carefully constructed and passionately presented address on the rape of Tamar (which is recorded in 2 Samuel 13).
Speaker after speaker, talking from their own area of ministry and experience, concluded that gender inequality in church, society and home works against both women and men flourishing. Such inequality provides fertile ground for violence against women. The primary cultural and national focus was South Africa, but speakers from Kenya, Uganda and from the U.S helped give the conference cross-cultural relevance.
Rhema is a large Pentecostal church. Some members of its leadership team have lived in an intentional mixed racial community for over twenty years. Through that setting Rhema gave a tangible challenge to the previous apartheid system which governed South Africa. Rhema has a respected presence in the life of Johannesburg with established ministries of social advocacy and action. Now, in part due to the influence of CBE, Rhema has a freshly discovered commitment to gender equality.
The person invited to be the opening speaker for the conference was Thuli Madonsela, who serves as Protector Advocate and Public Protector for South Africa. Her office was established, in terms of South Africa’s Constitution, to investigate complaints against government agencies or officials, including the president. She spoke with power and clarity from a Christian conviction about the need for gender equality throughout the culture and institutions of her nation.
As I participated in the conference I reflected on my own city of Sydney, and on the attitudes and practices of my ‘spiritual home’: the Anglican Church. Regretfully I concluded that the Anglican Church in Sydney, despite all its strengths, is a community in which male privilege is entrenched. Therefore it is an unjust community.
In the Sydney Anglican Church, membership to the office of presbyter (priest) is exclusively male. All rectors are therefore male. All bishops are male. The majority of members of key committees are male. The regional mission area meetings, designed to facilitate outreach and growth, are dominated by males. In numerous churches within Sydney, men are the only ones who preach to the whole congregation. The existence of such privilege, based on gender, devalues women, who are excluded from opportunities and roles for which they have the character and understanding. Women are prevented from expressing their full potential in the life of the church. Such a situation invariably gives the privileged gender a sense of entitlement. This entitlement, and the resultant devaluing of the other, are antithetical to the gospel of grace and reconciliation. They are a denial of the equally shared image bearing capacity of men and women and the mandate given to both to establish family and to care for creation.
Social research and the work of aid and development organisations, such as World Vision and TEAR, point to individuals and communities flourishing when men and women have equal opportunity and participation in education and employment, and have equitable representation in leadership. The United Nations’ set of Sustainable Development Goals includes, as the fifth goal, gender equality:
‘While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment under the Millennium Development Goals (including equal access to primary education between girls and boys), women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.’ (Source)
As a church we must have a world concern. We must be part of the civil society which recognises the importance of gender equality. We must strive for all people to flourish. Such striving is the outworking, rather than the denial, of God’s purposes and plans presented in scripture and encapsulated in the gospel; the gospel that proclaims Jesus as king. Our attitudes and practices, which prohibit women from leading and teaching in the life of the church, limit our ability as church to contribute to the civil society. Our prophetic edge is blunted rather than sharpened.