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Bishops, spouses discuss power abuses in joint session

Theatre group dramatizes Jesus' attitude toward women

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] Bishops and spouses attending the Lambeth Conference had their only joint session on July 29, discussing abuses of power such as domestic violence and the church's response.

Considering the theme "Equal in God's sight: when power is abused," the session, which was closed to the public, saw a dramatization by the Riding Lights Theatre Company of Jesus' attitude toward women, Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa, principal of the College of St. John the Evangelist in Auckland, New Zealand, told a July 29 media briefing. The drama "saw people in tears," she said.

The group then heard a dramatic reading of 2 Samuel 13:1-22, in which one of David's sons, Amnon, rapes his sister, Tamar. The passage "opened up major questions of how men behave, how women behave," said Te Paa. The audience was divided along gender lines and reorganized into small groups so both men and women could speak freely.

They also considered seven questions, including "in what ways does the church abuse its power?" and "in what way can we as leaders in the church respond to abuses of power?" In the facilitated responses, "we shifted the focus to ourselves -- who are the Tamars in our communities? In what way is our church itself experiencing abuse of power?" said Te Paa.

At the media briefing, Dr. Maria Akrofi, who was on the spouses' conference planning group, noted that abused women whose husbands are priests or bishops have few options for protection, since their abuser is also a church leader. Akrofi, who is a physician, is married to Archbishop Justice Okei Akrofi, bishop of Accra, Ghana and primate of West Africa.

"One of our African wives suggested that maybe African women need to learn about our rights" concerning domestic violence, she said. "In Africa, one of our biggest problems is rape," she added, pointing out that rape is often used as a weapon of terror in war-torn areas. "It is important that women come together and educate themselves," she said.

In answer to a question at the briefing, Akrofi said that in respect to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, "the church can't initiate discussions about sex because it is taboo, but our eyes are now open to this and we are getting on our way."

In response to another question about homosexuals' place in the church, Akrofi said her "personal view" is that "the church has the Bible as the center of its message. Therefore if somebody is deviating from that, there is nothing wrong in telling the person this is wrong."

However, she added, "the church in the West has been on a journey. One hundred years ago, they may have been imprisoning homosexuals, killing them. You have moved on in your journey; we haven't. We are just beginning the journey because we became Christians not too long ago, and it was the West that gave us these guidelines. There is a need for understanding. If someone is a homosexual, he should be shown love even if you don't agree that what he is doing is right."

Jane Williams, a theologian who is also married to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, said the theological basis for the day's discussion is "not a distraction from the work of equipping ourselves for mission. Jesus was prepared to humble himself." The crucifixion, she said, is "not the way we expect power to be displayed" in the world, but the church experiences it as "the power of God at work." Humanity, all too often, "falls back into ways of power that are not Christ-like," she said.

One criticism that arose in the session, said Te Paa, was that the participants wanted more time for the discussion. Akrofi said organizers asked participants who have resources such as website addresses and books to share the information "and I'm sure conversations are continuing at dining tables [at the conference]."

Bishop Pradip Kamble of the Church of North India, interviewed after the session, said the "role of the church is to liberate women from all sorts of captivities, including domestic violence." He also said that men and women should have equal rights within the church, noting that in his church, women may be ordained and have been candidates in episcopal elections.

-- Solange De Santis is editor, Episcopal Life Media.

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