One of the biggest institutions on the continent is the church. Religion in general is a major source of either peace or conflict. It is therefore not a surprise when elections come and contestants, Muslims, Christians or Agnostic kneel before various Pastors, Reverends, Imams or General Overseers (G.Os) who “control” large congregations.
But asides politics, religious spaces are one of the areas in which patriarchy is entrenched and sustained. Women are often demonized, and most of the teachings in the largest faith groups are usually centred on policing women’s social conduct, how a woman should act, dress or behave. In some Assemblies of God churches in Nigeria, women and men never seat together, and some of the pastors of the denomination accuse women who wear trousers as devils.
Read: My Feminist Marriage
Some Nigerian pastors and ministers have outgrown the trouser and skirt preaching. But there’s another major theme that’s always propagated in sermons and teachings, the preaching that centres on marriage.
Late last year, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (R.C.C.G) Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye said in a sermon, “Don’t ever marry outside RCCG. The reason is that if you are both from the same church even when trouble comes it is easier for the pastors to handle it! Don’t marry a girl simply because she can sing! In the choir there are some people that can sing but they are fallen angels! Marry a prayer warrior! If a girl cannot pray for one hour, don’t marry her. Don’t marry a girl who is lazy! Don’t marry a girl who cannot cook, she needs to know how to do chores and cook because you cannot afford to be eating out all the time. Don’t marry a girl who is worldly! If you do, you have carried what you’ll worship for the rest of your life!”
Pastor Adeboye had a similar advice for the men but in many cases the focus is always on the women, and what is expected of them. Gender roles are created and maintained even in a world where men are not necessarily the breadwinners and women are not necessarily needed to cook in the kitchen. Women are encouraged to submit to their husbands in all things and see the man as the head of the home. Of course the interpretation of what submission means in always subjective, but it should not by all accounts mean blind obedience as some proponents of the command believe. Divorce is frowned upon and marriage is made to look like the sole reason for one’s existence.
In an article published on The Conversation, Prof Akosua Adomako Ampofo said, “Much of the current discourse from church platforms in Africa focuses on marriage. Subjects include the breakdown of marriages, preparing women to be good wives, and the “unsuitability” of certain types of young women for marriage.”
In a Sunday sermon on August 23rd 2015, BishopDavid O. Oyedepo said that the call for equality between men and women is the reason for high cases of divorce in the world. The bishop who is obviously against equality and female liberation said that women who equate themselves with their husbands go against the biblical doctrine that advises women to be submissive to their husbands. He was quoted as saying comically but with some seriousness in his tone “Very soon, you would see a male President and the First Lady would be a man.”
One of the issues many feminists have been raising awareness about is the issue of rape in marriage. The church seems quiet or complicit in support of it claiming it is the duty of the woman to satisfy the man regardless of her situation. The woman is hammered with biblical passages, quoted out of context to support the man’s actions. If the man decides to leave the marriage, most times, the woman is blamed and she’s considered to be at the receiving end. These issues are hardly tackled in many churches. The emphasis always remains the man is the head of the family, both spiritual and physical head.
Contrary to what many men of God preach, Christian theologian Paul K. Jewett in his book Man as Male and Female argues that the creation of “man as male and female is not as hierarchy but as partnership”. Jewett questions why those who quote Paul’s teaching on women submitting to women don’t address the issue of slaves being obedient to their masters. If slavery is condemned in this century despite its approval in Paul’s time, why must women still be asked to submit to men?
But the churches in several parts of Africa generally enforce a system of hierarchy in the church despite the biblical passage in Galatians which states that, “in Christ there’s no male or female.” As far as the churches across Africa are concerned, patriarchy is one of those which is the order of things, and thus continues to be sustained.