By NOELLE NICOLLS
A sermon delivered by Dr Myles Munroe, president and founder of the Bahamas Faith Ministries International (BFMI), has been making its way around the social sphere generating a lot of debate. I watched the video because it was shared by a close friend, even though the online group “Meeting In The Ladies Room” posted it with a message stating: “All Ladies Regardless Of Marital Status Should Watch This!”
After watching the sermon the first, second, third and fourth time, with an open mind, I still could not bring myself to understand, why and how so many women were giving it rave reviews. One woman declared the message to be “profound and powerful!!”. Another woman said: “Amazing word. I can’t wait to show this to my sons.” And yet another called for the message to be played on a “bull horn”. She said it was so “absolutely wonderful” the mighty word had to get out.
I was completely perplexed by these responses, because the same sermon that brought these women to a spiritual orgasm made me want to go out gunning to slay the wolf. I was not completely alone, although certainly in the minority, for there were a handful of dissenting voices amongst the faithful flock who thought the message was outright offensive.
Dr Munroe’s sermon speaks to the story of Adam and Eve, the first marriage in history, according to the Christian creation story, and shares lessons on the role of men and women in relationships.
In the words of Dr Munroe: “The third thing God told the man - Genesis 2:15 - is cultivate. Cultivate means to bring out the best in everything around you, to maximise the potential of everything around you, to make everything fruitful. He only said that to the male. That is why God will never give a man a finished woman.
“The male was created by God to create what he wants. The woman you are looking for, brother, does not exist. She is in your head. Your job is to take the raw material you married and cultivate her into the woman in your head. So if you have been married for 20 years and you still don’t like the product you get, that is your fault,” said Dr Munroe.
When are we going to move away from following doctrines that make women objects in a man’s world. Not only is Dr Munroe explicit in referring to a wife as a product of her husband, he says men are entitled by divine decree to create the women they want.
Such is the conditioning that occurs in abusive relationships, where men tell their women what clothes to wear, how to style their hair, the friends they can maintain and the places they can go. These are the conditions that foster relationships of power and control, the foundation of all abuse. And while the message is gendered in Dr Munroe’s context, it has broader meaning in the context of healthy relationships, because the same doctrine applied in reverse creates the same conditions for abuse.
Speaking about Jesus’ relationship to his wife, Dr Munroe said: “Jesus Christ is a real man, a real man. He has a wife, a beautiful woman. Her name was Ecclesia. He said about his wife, he said husband love your wife like I love my wife. He tells us how to do it. He says you wash her with the word, and then you remove every spot, every wrinkle, every blemish and then present her to yourself. That is mine, I did that. I produced that. Look at her. Look at her. That’s my baby.”
Our leaders need to start using language to affirm the value of men and women and their equal standing in the eyes of God; to affirm the individuality of every man and woman. Our leaders need to consider the way in which their language socialises impressionable young girls and boys, who are trying to negotiate gender relationships in their youth. His message is dangerous not only because it objectifies women, but also because it lays the foundation for the subjugation of women.
Patriarchal religious doctrines have been used for centuries as reason to deprive women of their individual freedoms, and we must never forget. Male interpretations of religious texts have been used to justify some of the most persistent and pervasive human rights abuses. And while organised religion has evolved since its brutish origins, the church has not shed all of its misguided ways.
It is in the language used by church leaders like Dr Munroe that we see those lingering remnants of the patriarchal order, in which robbed men “twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy”. It is this language that often provides the foundation and justification for the abuse of women throughout the world.
Human rights activist Jimmy Carter, the former US president, recently spoke to this very issue when he stated emphatically, along with elders from many faiths: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority, is unacceptable.
“At their most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.”
In Dr Munroe’s sermon, he speaks about God placing man in his presence. He was not referring to man in the sense of the human race, but rather men, represented in Adam. Eden, as in the Garden of Eden, he said represents an environment, a place of divine presence, an open door to God, where Adam was placed.
Dr Munroe further described the spiritual hierarchy that exists between man, woman and God. Referencing scripture, he said God also gave the man his word. When God commanded Adam not to “touch the tree (of knowledge)”, God never spoke to Eve. The significance, Dr Munroe suggested, is that the male is the only one to have been blessed by God with the word (a direct relationship to God). A wife, though she too is created in the image and likeness of God, has to wait to be taught by her husband, for only he stands in God’s presence and was blessed by the word.
In response to a lonely dissenter on the video feed, one faithful follower wrote: “If you find this appalling or offensive don’t read the Bible.” Part of me believes there is wisdom in her response. Another part of me wants to believe there is hope for women of the Christian faith who reject male interpretations of holy scriptures that establish gender hierarchies and justify the superiority of men.
I will certainly question any doctrine that creates a foundation and justification for the abuse of women throughout the world, no matter how divinely ordained the messenger claims to be.
Noelle Nicolls is the Tribune Features Editor. Her Watchwoman column explores genders issues in politics and culture from a feminist perspective. Follow Noelle online at Twitter.com/noelle_elleon.