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United Congregational Church in South Africa Thursday – in – Black

Guest speaker at the Thursdays in Black virtual programme of the United Congregational Church in South

Thanks so much Rev Roxane Jordaan for the invitation to participate in this relevant, important and informative programmes of the UCCSA. Thanks for the hearty welcome and I pray that our time together will be a growth point in our deliberations towards a world without exclusion, discrimination, rape and violence. My topic for this evening is: THE VIOLATION OF GENDER EXCLUSION IN THE MANAGEMENT OF THE CHURCH

In my introduction to our discussion for tonight I will attempt draw our thoughts on then violation of gender exclusion, be it sexism or sexual orientation or choice, in the management and leadership of the church. The focus will be on exclusion as a form of gender based violence, as we all are aware that GBV is not only physical but it is any act that causes harm to the physical and psychological well being of a person.

I do not want to draw a battle line between the excluded and the church. I would like us to discuss how we could engage the church for introspection to identify the presence and traces of gender discrimination within the management of the church. I am conscious of the fact that it was done in the past, it continues to receive some attention but there is very little movement, or very slow movement so we are here to energize, strengthen, rejuvenate the discussion.

Women have always represented more than have of the church membership, they are seen as the backbone of the church (some interpret backbone as being kept back) but women are under-represented or excluded in major decision-making bodies and church leadership..why is it still so, Jesus did surely not envisage a church where discrimination, exclusion, violence of any sort is prevalent.

Exclusion is the demonstration of leaving someone out, forcing someone out, rejecting someone, banishing, ostracize, shun, ignore, fail to acknowledge, shame, humiliate, pass judgment, making people feel inferior. It is like cutting the bonds that connect us to one another, that should keep us together especially as a church although we sing bind us together Lord with cords that cannot be broken while the cords, the bonds are being broken if people are excluded, disregarded, not being recognized, most of all it is a violation against God who made us all equal and in His image. Why are people excluded from church management? Biblical, traditional, religious, cultural reasons; being weak, irrational, unstable; gender, sexual orientation or choice; not knowing church order; too outspoken and liberal; too political; no 2 experience; too young; leadership style a threat to male leadership; what will other church leaders think,etc. Exclusion thus takes place because of strong disagreement regarding life style, choices, religious belief systems, value systems, personality, etc. Religion has a significant impact on gender relations. Through religious texts, traditions, teachings and doctrines religious communities convey values and belief systems to their members.

Unforetunately these belief systems and values are so firmly grounded in male, that is Patriarchal thinking and interpretations as we heard last week from Ms Linda Naicker and have become institutionalized in the church benefiting males and intensifying the problem of exclusion. The selective use of biblical texts focusing on female/gender subordination and obedience to men are often used to reinforce the standpoint that women should be silent, excluded or beaten when they speak.

We know that the interpretation of these texts are often taken out of their socio-cultural or literary contexts and used to exclude, control, intimidate, pressurize and abuse others.

Males, or some males, in church management and leadership positions are very protective and possessive of their status and so-called power, and if they are threatened and in discomfort they will deal with it in a covert or underhanded manner to exclude or get rid of such intrusions or obstacles (stumbling blocks).

Dear sisters and brothers, exclusion is not of God, it is hurtful and abusive, it violates our humanness. The church has institutionalized fear of gender inclusion denying the fact that God portrays all gender attributes.

How did I survive as a female church leader, being a vice-president 3 years, president for 7 years of the MCSA ? After 10 years in leadership I went on early retirement and I am still trying to figure out how I managed in a church of more than 250 years old and being the first first female layperson in leadership, only by God’s grace, commitment and the love to serve all God’s people with compassion.

I came into office after our church became a united church, shortly before the new democratic dispensation of our country. A new church order was written influenced by the pending changes and inclusiveness in the country and thus included some changes, like any person at synod can be nominated for office bearer in the presidency of the church. Previously it was male clergy, as we did not have many ordained women. Revisiting the existing church policies can help the process of inclusion.

Being nominated and elected was a bit of a shock, but also an affirmation that God uses all of us with our different gifts to establish His reign on eartFor many it was a move in the right direction, a move that was in the making and about to happen, for others it probably was a risk having a woman to lead the church. While I was the president for two synodical terms the vice-presidents were men. The journey was not easy, there were hurdles to overcome. Some barriers are overt others are more subtle but still convey the same message, that as a woman you have to prove yourself.

As you know women have to work twice as hard, as we are tested and retested by the dominant group to see how long we will last. Some men cannot handle women who can deliver better and more than them. It takes courage, boldness and lots of self-assurance to navigate your way in a male dominated territory. I was supported by our women in the church. Being a church leader, woman, wife, mother can be demanding and demand planning. How amusing when someone has come to the church office to meet with the president and when you as a female enter the person says..I have come to see the president, my reaction would be “Welcome, you may speak to me” The best is just to be who you are and be careful of those who invite you for tea or lunch.

I am fully aware that my calling as a church leader was not for my own edification and glory but to be a beacon of inspiration, encouragement and hope for women in church and society, by mentoring women and sharing my experiences.

As women we bring our talents and gifts, we bring a different type of leadership and values for we are not carbon copies of men, we come with a different paradigm of inclusiveness, a place for all at the table. We should also repattern and restructure our strategies to move to an inclusive church management style. It can be done.

As church we should enlarge our way of thinking as it is essential for enrichment, correction and redefining the way forward. Listening to the voices and perspectives of the excluded could assist the church to look afresh at our theological interpretations and church traditions regarding church management and rediscover new or often neglected resources. Liberation theology played a significant role in the Christian debate about justice and inclusion. It has forced us to readjust our reading of the biblical message. Why can we not use these tools to liberate the church of the violence of exclusion and other abuses?

To do this, women should be more visible where it matters, turn up and speak up and remain visible. Create opportunities to share ideas, to listen, to act. Don’t give up your ideas to men in order to move forward. Women have the power, confidence and competence to get things done, to mobilize and to access what is needed.. it is not easy but it is worthwhile. The church has fallen short of including a wider gender paradigm of leadership which will enrich all. This can be rectified through inclusion and embracing the gifts given to the church. The church will then truly be living and leading like Jesus.

Angelene Swart – 16 September 2021