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08.12.2005 Regional News

Gender advocates urge churches to declare position on domestic violence

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Accra, Dec. 8, GNA - Gender Advocates on Thursday challenged religious bodies especially the churches to declare a stand on domestic violence and abuses of women within religious set-ups. Religious leaders and churches have been apathetic towards incidents of abuse of spouses, children and the youth especially those perpetrated by the clergy, influential men in the church and society, the gender advocates stated at a sensitisation conference for religious leaders and church workers in Accra.

The conference on the theme: "Women, Abuse and the Church," was organized by the Ark Foundation, Ghana, a nongovernmental organization, which seeks to promote human rights and protection of the vulnerable in society.

The advocates noted that many victims and survivors of domestic violence had reported their experiences of seeking help from their churches when they had been abused by their marriage partners, relatives or church leaders but the responses of their leaders were largely negative.

"Responses from their leaders, have largely been negative, as time and again the scripture had been quoted to the victims to re-enforce their belief that the Bible teaches that they should submit to the abuse and stay within the abusive situation." They also accused the churches of failing to recognize and respond to the reality of violence and abuse particularly against women. "The churches have been unresponsive and uncaring to the needs of such victims."

Speaking on the theme, the Reverend Fred Deegbe, General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana, acknowledged that abuse and domestic violence thrived in an atmosphere of denial and "too often, the church has been and continues to be party to this denial.

"It remains difficult for Christians to come to terms with that fact that Christians and clergy are abusers. It is an unacceptable reality. In denying that abuses exist, the church assists abusers and compounds the consequences of the abuse."

Rev. Deegbe, who is the Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptists Church, also identified spiritual abuses, which he explained to mean, "a leader with spiritual authority using that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds and scars on the psyche and soul of the victim.

"The Bible calls us to live with integrity in all relationships. This integrity requires us to respect the personhood of the individuals in the relationship as well as the boundaries of the roles we have within that relationship. When the boundaries are crossed, the relationship is distorted from the biblical mandate" He, therefore, warned leaders of the consequences of their actions and inactions, which included loss of trust from the congregation, distorted understanding of God and created doubts about God in the mind of the victims.

Mrs Angela Dwamena-Aboagye, Executive Director of the Ark Foundation, noted that it was time for the churches to reach out with empathy and to support victims of abuses. "Abuse is sin and must be named as such and dealt with...that churches must become to all people, regardless of status, age or gender, a place of refugee and empowerment, not a haven for perpetrators and re-enforcement of dis-empowerment," she said.

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