Dr. Maria Akrofi, a medical doctor who is married to Archbishop Justice Akrofi, primate of the Church of the Province of West Africa, called attention to violence against women in Ghana and in many parts of Africa at a Lambeth 2008 press conference.
Bishops and their spouses attending the Lambeth Conference held a joint session Tuesday to discuss what a Maori Anglican theologian called a “grave, grave issue” that has not been addressed enough by the Anglican Communion – the abuse of power and violence against women.
“One of the things that went into the planning early on was this issue of how power is used and abused within the church and the world and (how it) was something we wanted to address together,” said Jane Williams, who is married to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and who led the planning of the spouses’ conference. “What it says is ‘here’s an area where bishops can listen and learn from spouses’.”
Dr. Maria Akrofi, a medical doctor who is married to the primate of the Church of the Province of West Africa and bishop of Accra, Archbishop Justice Akrofi, told a press conference that rape and domestic violence are rampant in many parts of the world, including Africa. She talked about how rape has been used as an instrument of war in areas where there is conflict.
The church is not exempt from inflicting violence against women, she said, noting that women who experience abuse in the hands of their spouses who are priests or bishops often have nowhere to go.
Dr. Akrofi urged the need for women “to act together,” and cited how mothers – “the hand that rocks the cradle” – are often the ones who perpetuate power imbalances. She cited how there are different sets of rules for men and women in Africa. Women are expected to behave a certain way, while men “are free to fool around,” she said. “When your husband becomes a bishop, it is assumed that you will take care of the community and the family,” she added.
Maori theologian Jenny Te Paa, principal of the College of St. John the Evangelist in Auckland, New Zealand, said Lambeth participants were asked to look at abuse of power “from the lens of physical violence.” Ms. Te Paa helped design the session which had the theme “Equal in God’s sight: When Power is Abused.” (The session was not open to the media for coverage.)
A drama group set the stage for the discussions by depicting key pieces of scripture that showed Jesus’ attitude towards women in the gospel as well as portraying stories in the Bible that depicted violence against women, notably the rape of Tamar in the second book of Samuel. “Many, including men were in tears,” at the end of the play, said Ms. Paa. “This is the story of us. We all have aspects of worst behaviours in each of us.”
She said the session provide participants with “an opportunity to scrutinize our own households.”
Dr. Akrofi said the session has helped provinces of the Anglican Communion come together to exchange ideas and resources on how their own churches can help address the issue.
Mrs. Williams said many spouses are convinced that addressing gender inequality and abuse of power is “a vital piece of theological reflection on how to make our witness to Jesus Christ more effective.” She noted that “even those of us struggling to be disciples of Jesus Christ have a tendency to step back when we (see) power relations that are not Christ-like.”