Global statistics presented by the United Nation Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women portray an epidemic and unacceptably high rate of violence against women in the form of rape by both strangers and intimate partners, trafficking of women, sexual harassment, and genital mutilation. The study also show women, who are already more likely than men to contract the HIV virus, are put at further risk by partners not wearing condoms.
The mistreatment of women led the Moravian Unity Synod in 2009 to pass a resolution mandating education and advocacy for women throughout the world. In 2012 the Unity Board assigned this resolution to the Unity Women’s Desk, which has taken on the task of creating a network of support and prayer, programs and resources to turn the tide of this global crisis.
As the Unity Women’s Desk was crafting its strategy to end violence against women, the Rev. Dr. Nancy Bowen (Earlham School of Religion) and I planned a sabbatical trip to East Africa for April/May 2013 to meet with faculties at our respective sister seminaries—TEKU (Teofilo Kisanji University) in Tanzania and FTC (Friends Theological College) in Kenya. Our purpose was to engage in conversations around these same issues and also to explore pedagogical styles and values in our different cultures. Nancy and I were happy to discover that our sabbatical goals and those of the Moravian Unity and TEKU were in sync. A collaboration was born!
The Unity Women’s Desk provided valuable resources and helped us to integrate the Unity’s resolutions, particularly the 2009 resolutions 1 and 8, into our conversations. Dr. Tuli Kassimoto, the Vice-Chancellor of TEKU, and the Reverend Dr. Mwenisongole Tuntufye, Dean of the seminary, along with TEKU’s faculty and staff were equally committed to the Unity’s call for dialogue and resources to eradicate violence against women.
Using the Bible as a resource
While in Mbeya, Nancy and I were asked by TEKU to lead a four-day workshop with the larger seminary community on ways that the Bible can be used as a resource to talk about sexual violence and to empower women. First we began with an introduction to the Unity resolutions followed by a discussion on the values Moravians bring to the conversation concerning healthy human relationships. We then compiled a list of biblical texts that affirm these values.
The second day we focused on Genesis 1-3 and issues around creation and gender mutuality. We concentrated on the difficult topic of rape on the third day and read Genesis 34 (the rape of Dinah) and 2 Samuel 13 (the rape of Tamar) as texts that can open up safe spaces to talk about sexual violence in today’s church and society.
We completed the workshop by focusing on the importance of women’s leadership that is evidenced in Paul’s greetings in Romans 16:1-16 that is directed to several women leaders of the church. Further we read the Gospel texts that recount the stories of the woman who stood before the cross and who were the first to proclaim the resurrection.
The conversations with the group were powerful. Together we learned a great deal about how we read and interpret texts and how the Bible can be used to explore better ways to relate to one another. We also made it a priority each day to bring out the pastoral implications of the biblical texts so they can be applied to present situations in the church and society.
Our second week at TEKU was devoted to conversations with the seminary faculty and administration and focused more fully on how we teach biblical texts in our different cultural settings, particularly those texts that have impacted women. When we weren’t collaborating with the faculty, staff and students, Nancy and I met with leaders from the Tanzanian Moravian Church as well as students and faculty at Utengule and Lutengano and held similar conversations about Bible and violence.
A collaborative resource
The idea for a collaborative resource on violence against women was born out of the April conversations with the faculty at TEKU, Patty Garner and others from the Moravian Unity Women’s Desk, and later conversations with the Moravian Theological Seminary (MTS) faculty in Bethlehem. The project expresses a mutual desire by the faculties to comply with the Moravian Unity’s resolutions.
The resource will be a collection of essays by the faculties of both schools, the Women’s Desk and other interested individuals and will help to meet the Resolution’s goal of educating Moravians around the issues of violence against women. Since the initial conversations focused on the use of the Bible in addressing violence against women, many of the essays will focus on the Bible, but the resource will also include topical essays and those that consider the issue from other disciplines.
A taste of what is to come: “The Maternal Aspect of God,” “Women on the Cross,” “Rape through the Eyes of the Psalmist,” “The Authority of Scripture in the Moravian Church,” “Jesus and Women in the New Testament,” ‘The Woman Caught in Adultery,” “How to Deal with the Household Codes,” “Genesis 1-3 and Mutuality,” “Pastoral Care and Domestic Violence,” “Romans 16:1-16 and Women Leaders,” “The Unity Resolutions,” “Jesus Narratives and the Pastoral Care of Women,” “The Woman caught in Adultery,” “Mutual Love in the Song of Songs,” “The Moravian Choir System and Healthy Families,” “HIV and the Impact on Women in the Moravian Church in Tanzania,” “Condoms and the Moravian Church in Tanzania,” “Women in the Moravian Church” and more! The resource will be available in Kiswahili and English. Our hope is that it will make a difference in the lives of the people who read it so that dialogue and healing can continue.
We are grateful for the hospitality and support that we continue to receive from the leadership at TEKU, the Unity Women’s Desk, the Moravian Church in Tanzania, and from Moravian Theological Seminary as this resource comes to fruition. It is such an honor to be part of this project.
The Rev. Dr. Deborah Appler is Associate Professor and Director of the MATS Program, Moravian Theological Seminary.
From the March 2014 Moravian Magazine