Tuesday, November 3, 2015

“A Saved Community should mean a Safe Community”

Off the Wall 10/6/15

This week an important step is being taken by the Methodist Church in Fiji in addressing gender-based violence and violence against children.

Three departments of the Church – the Men’s and Women’s Fellowships Departments and the Department of Christian Citizenship and Social Services have combine to hold the first of three awareness workshops on the issues relating to gender-based violence and child protection and care specifically for ministers, Men’s Fellowship leaders and young men who come from Methodist Youth Fellowships. 

In opening the workshop, Methodist Church in Fiji president, Rev. Dr. Tevita Banivanua said that these men were at the “ frontline of the struggle against a form of evil in our community.” The evil of gender-based violence and violence against children.

Rev. Dr. Banivanua pointed out that the churches in the Pacific have been addressing this issue for some time.

“When I was the General Secretary with the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools, or SPATS, I was privileged to support the development of a curriculum for theological schools on Domestic Violence – for PRS, PTC, Davuilevu, Fulton, St. John the Baptist and other theological schools in Fiji as well as around the Pacific. I hope this curriculum, which has been translated into the I-Taukei language is being made use of for the training of our ministers and church leaders.”

He said that this first training programme by three of our departments – marking a serious commitment by the church to raise these issues with the men in our communities.

“In the past we have sent participants to attend workshops on gender-based violence. Today we claim this responsibility to educate our members and our leaders and call our Church to ensure that it is a church in which every person feels not just safe, but loved, welcome and valued.”

Rev. Dr. Banivanua said that the Christian community needs to look beyond the usual thinking of salvation as merely a spiritual concept.

“Our Church’s Connexional Plan calls not only for a “saved” family but a “safe” family. We as Methodists cannot limit our work to the spiritual salvation of our community – we must also look at the physical, economic, and social salvation of our community.
Saved communities, must also be safe communities. Anything less means we are falling short, we are missing the mark in our ministry.”

In the Old Testament, Genesis 1 reveals God’s heart and purpose for humankind. Genesis 1:27 affirms that both women and men were created equally in the image of God. In this light the Church believes in the full equality of women and men in the family, in the community and in the Church, and sees marriage as an equal partnership between a man and a woman.

The three day workshop is aimed at equipping participants to be agents of transformation in their communities, fellowships, churches and homes. The programme includes theological reflections from the Uniting World Pacific Office, and presentations from the White Ribbon programme, the Pacific Conference of Churches, the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre and the Fiji Police Force.

Further workshops will be held in the Western Division in September and in the Northern Division in December.

This first workshop is timely with the Church’s draft Code of Conduct going to be presented to the Annual Conference in just 10 weeks’ time.

The Code of Conduct includes some important sections on Abuse Of Women And Domestic Violence and Child Protection:  
  • ·        In their ministry and in their personal lives, Ministry leaders shall uphold the protection of women.
  • ·        In Fiji domestic violence is against the law.
  • ·        Ministry leaders shall not use their power to dominate their spouse, intimidate them or subordinate them.
  • ·        Ministry leaders shall be examples of loving spouses and parents to show the love of God.
  • ·        Ministry leaders shall seek counsel to gain new understandings from Scripture and theology about the place of women in the Christian faith, and how to avoid giving unhelpful advice to women that could lead to harmful domestic situations.
  • ·        Ministry leaders shall encourage victims of domestic violence to report the abuse and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
  • ·        Ministry leaders shall challenge any words and actions that perpetrate violence against women and children.
  • ·        In their treatment of children, and in their teaching and supervision of others who care for children, ministry leaders shall do all they can to encourage the physical, emotional and spiritual development of children.
  • ·        Ministry leaders shall not hit or belittle children, or neglect their needs.
  • ·        Ministry leaders shall use constructive, non-harmful ways to manage children's
  • ·        behaviour and shall encourage others to do the same.
  • ·        Sexual activity with children is illegal and immoral.
  • ·        Ministry leaders shall not engage in any sexual activity with children, and shall do all they can to ensure that others do not sexually abuse children.
  • ·        Ministry leaders shall report to the police, and to their Superintendent, any illegal sexual activity with children of which they become aware.

While the Code of Conduct is for Ministry and Lay Leaders, it is meant to set the example for the whole community to follow.

Rev. Dr. Banivanua said that Methodists are called to follow the lead of John Wesley in our practical Christianity, who shared with the early members of the Methodist societies “3 simple rules” for Christian living: Do no harm, Do good, stay in love with God.

“As Christians, as Methodists, we must ensure that in all we do we must not harm anyone or anything – physically, emotionally, verbally, sexually or psychologically. We must seriously commit to this.”  

This workshop and the others that will follow are small but meaningful steps the Church is taking to address an evil present in every community. It is good to see the partnership between Church, Police and Civil Society for a peaceful community.

More needs to be done. More will be done.

Hopefully, more partners will join so that this is a truly holistic approach to a deeply rooted “sin”.

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