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Obituary

Theological perspectives on the doctrine and key religious practices of the JMAC

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MATTHEW MARE

PATRIARCHY stands accused of leading to the marginalisation of women and the girl child, and is seen as the ultimate cause of major abuses against women in all spheres of life.

According to Haralambos and Holdorn (2007), patriarchy originally meant domination by the father and was used by social anthropologists to describe family structures where the father rather than the mother ruled.

In feministic literature, Fulcher and Scott (2007) define patriarchy as simply male domination. It has only been in the past few decades that women and girl child abuse has been studied in detail.

When feminism emerged in the 1960s and ’70s, feminist scholars began assessing the history and impact of misogyny and gender inequality in various spheres of life. This led to the first modern works on abuse on women being published in the mid-1970s.

The patriarchal theory is important in this research in that Johanne Marange Apostolic Church (JMAC) is predominantly patriarchal and most of its doctrines enhance theologically sanctioned human rights abuses on women and children. It is the assumption of this study that feminists are a major let down to human rights abuses and gender inequalities on women and children in the ecclesiastical arena. 

During this period of early modern feminism, it came out that patriarchy, in all its forms, is the ultimate cause of all abuse against women. Walker cited in Fulcher and Scott (2007) in his early classic work on domestic violence asserts that sexism is the real underbelly of women’s

suffering. He asserts that violence against women or any form of abuse are explained in terms of power struggles.

Walker cited in Fulcher and Scott (ibid) argues that in a patriarchal society those with all the power, in this case males, tend to resort to violence when their position of dominance is threatened.

This feminist perspective on domestic violence is still uncommon in the contemporary society. Whilst JMAC members are not allowed to report any offences to secular authorities, the evidence of violence with impunity by JMAC males on succession and leadership is indicative of the violent behaviour of the JMAC patriarchy.

They go to the extent of attacking law enforcement agents and speaking in glossolalia in a bid to scare the law (Engelke, 2005:804). This also points to the abuse of the doctrine of holy spirit, which is a central feature of JMAC to evade justice and scrutiny (Daneel,1971:23).

Much of the early feminist abuse literature is universal in its censure of male power and domination and strident in its condemnation of patriarchy and even of males. For instance, Haralambos and Holborn (2007), in their work on rape, state that early on in human history, rape became men’s basic weapon of force against woman and became the ultimate triumph of manhood. Furthermore, they argued that from prehistoric times up to the present, rape has always played a critical function.

It is nothing more than a conscious process by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.

Various religious feminists and egalitarians have also argued that patriarchy is the ultimate and necessary cause of all abuse against women. Perhaps child marriages, arranged marriages and forced marriages in JMAC can best be explained from the perspective of Haralambos and Holborn who view sex as a tool of trade in fostering patriarchy. Thus, men use sex to dominate, instil submission and scare women into perpetual silence.

Like secular feminists, these writers also tend to indict patriarchy in all forms as a key determinant of all abuses against women. Westmarland (2001) states that the inherent logic of patriarchy says that; if men have the right to power and control over women and children, they also have the right to enforce that control. In patriarchy, women and children are defined in relation to men who control the resources and power.

Women and children are the other, the object, men are the norm, the subject. In a dominance-and-submission social order, there is no true mutual care. Subordinates are to care for the needs of the dominants. From this point of view, the abuse of women is not theologically and legally sanctioned but a weapon used by patriarchy to maintain dominance and subjugation of women. From this perspective, it can be argued that there is nothing religious or spiritual in JMAC or any form of patriarchy.

Similarly, Haralambos and Halborn (2007), hold that domestic violence against women battering or beating is rooted in and is the logical conclusion of basic patriarchal assumptions about women’s subordinate status. After carefully documenting historical and religious incidents and justifications for the abuse of women, Fulcher and Scott (2007) argue that ideologies of inequity (patriarchy) and the practice of violence are inextricably linked because the logic of patriarchy provides one just cause for battery, namely, female subordination. This perhaps best explains why women in JMAC are reluctant to report gender-based violence. Women in JMAC are known for defending their abusers, which is an indication of deep-rooted patriarchy in (African indigenous chirches) AICs.

Most of the religious feminists and egalitarians cite historical religious documents or other modern feminist writers to support their hypothesis that patriarchy in all its forms is the ultimate cause of all abuses against women.

However, not much research has advanced the understanding of the girl child abuse by highlighting the broad social context in which abuse often occurs and the manner in which patriarchy has historically spawned violence against women. The feministic explanation for domestic violence gives many helpful insights, but it is reductionistic as the complete and final explanation for abuse against women. For example, the fallacy attributing all contemporary abuse to patriarchy can be challenged by raising an obvious question; if patriarchy is the ultimate basis for all violence against women, why is it that there are some men who are being abused by women?

However, this reductionist view point may not be too relevant in the JMAC context where the theology of JMAC ensures that no woman is able to challenge patriarchy. The church permanently expels any divergence from its ethos. It is worthy to note that even those that are expelled seem unwilling to expose the church.

Sundkler (1961:12) argues that in terms of gender imbalances, the theology of AICs is not different from those of Western-founded churches, except perhaps in regard to leadership. Thus, AICs founded their churches based on patriarchy so that men became leaders and women subjects.

He has brought the gender power dynamic angle to the issue of why AICs were formed. The objectification of women and children in most AICs is the primary concern in this research. This work pushes for gender equity and equality in terms of roles, language, and opportunities between men and women. The constant use of theological language to label and demean women as second Eves who caused the fall of humanity is being regarded as not only sexist but also a matter of human rights concern. 

This is a human rights concern in that the constitution of Zimbabwe and gender policies do not condone sexist language in all spheres of life. This is to say sexist theological language within the religious sphere is ultra vires the dictates of Zimbabwean laws and government policies.

According to Lovejoy Mutongwizo (2018:2), JMAC during its Passover ceremony of 14 July 2018 warned president Mnangagwa not to involve his wife in his leadership. Daneel (1971:2)

AICs copied the Shona cultural practice where no woman is allowed to occupy key political societal positions like being a headman, adviser and kingship. According to Jules-Rosette (1987:7), whilst women in JMAC are continuously being denied leadership positions in the church, they are numerically the majority and through large families they are making JMAC to grow internally. The JMAC church should reflect and realise that JMAC women are the ones sustaining the church in numeric terms.

The theology of JMAC must, therefore, cease to vilify women because the church risks losing its important constituency like what Western-funded churches did by their failure to come up with effective futuristic plans for the survival and the growth of the sector. Information technology and social media is transforming a number of previously closed societies and JMAC risks inadvertent socialisation.

About the writer: Matthew Mare is a Zimbabwean academic who holds two bachelor’s degrees, five master’s qualifications and a PhD. He is also doing another PhD and has 12 executive certificates in different fields. Professionally, he is a civil servant and also board member at the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe.

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