/ 15 December 2017

Faith can promote rape culture

(Graphic: John McCann)
(Graphic: John McCann)


Have you ever wondered how faith communities promote rape culture?

We believe that faith communities that exclude people based on their sex, gender expression and gender identity promote a culture of rape in society by normalising discrimination.

This is patriarchy playing out in our daily lives. This is a belief in the inherent superiority of males, which maintains that men can determine the standard of sexuality for everyone else. This belief system within faith communities also hurts men and promotes a lie that all others are inferior.

When a woman, for example, gets pregnant out of wedlock, she is paraded as a slut but the man goes around proclaiming his purity and even demands that the woman he weds must be a virgin.

These men who promote the idea of their superiority seek to control and regulate women’s sexuality as well as those considered to be feminine and gender-nonconforming.

One of the main ways to maintain a culture that promotes silence about gender-based violence and discrimination is to make women or LGBTIQA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex, queer, asexual and gender-nonconforming) people out to be “unnatural”.

This was demonstrated earlier this year when Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, preaching at the Grace Bible Church, referred to homosexuals as “unnatural”. In response, the church said: “With regard to sexual behaviour, we believe in heterosexual relationships between a natural man and a natural woman.” This statement displays the privileging of heteronormative or “straight” ideals of sexuality and gender.

Strict gender roles are a breeding ground for violence such as rape. When such gender discrimination beliefs are not challenged, it leaves perpetrators to do as they please without being held to account.

Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola, in her book Rape: A South African Nightmare, helps us to understand that rapists can remain safe to rape others when there are no attempts to make it unsafe for them to rape. We are not socialised to address perpetrators of rape, even when we know who they are or see them violating others.

Gqola further contends that rapists decide who is rapable and who is not. In doing this, they assume a superiority that violates others. Faith communities continue to advance claims that men are the “heads” and everyone else is the “tail”. This promotes gender discrimination and perpetuates a culture of rape.

This not only occurs in public political spaces such as during the rape trial of Fezekile “Khwezi” Kuzwayo or the recent assault case against former deputy minister Mduduzi Manana. This kind of superiority is also seen when we hear of faith leaders molesting children and pastors raping their followers. These rapists maintain the same logic: the logic of patriarchy.

When faith communities exclude and discriminate against anyone based on their genderedness, they create a hierarchy of what is normal and acceptable and what is not. This is often supported with readings of their sacred texts as justification.

There are men who actually think about and act on curing lesbians of their “unnaturalness”.

This is the same logic that faith communities communicate to their adherents. That God, for example, created Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve. This, in the mind of the rapist, implies that, if someone is not acting “normally” or “naturally”, they must be “corrected”. When faith communities make statements in this line, they promote rape culture.

These rapists have a superiority that is advanced when faith communities are not outraged by rape, and when sex scandals remain within the confines of these churches.

It is now common to see faith leaders take part in marches against gender violence. But this outrage is not expressed in Pride parades to speak up against the rape of lesbians in townships. This is a deliberate choice on the part of faith communities. The activism is for 16 days and then disappears.

Faith leaders also do not hold their colleagues accountable for sexual abuse. The consequence of this silence is usually that they continue to rape. African traditional faith communities are not exempt from ending rape culture.

Faith communities everywhere must make it impossible for rapists to rape, by making them uncomfortable and not allowing them to use sacred texts as ammunition.

Ending rape culture is not about telling people to behave in a certain way, such as: “Don’t walk in the night” or “Don’t wear miniskirts.” Ending rape culture includes ending faith practices that give rapists the justification to think that they can rape anyone.

Motsau Motsau is a black queer activist. Mbuyiselo Botha works at the Commission for Gender Equality