Rape Culture Thrives in our Churches

On September 23, Dionne Smith and her teenage daughter were brutally murdered in their home by Fabian Lyewsang, Smith’s common-law husband. It was a vicious act, carried out by a man against the women he should have been protecting.

This is the kind of gender based violence that Jamaicans encounter every single day, but we simply pretend it is something less sinister, less insidious. We pretend, as two prominent pastors have argued, that this act of violence and others like it are the result of women. Women choosing the wrong partners, women choosing to stay instead of leave (never mind that they have nowhere to run), women choosing men who murder them in their beds and then drive off a bridge into the Rio Cobre.

In the words of a Parkland shooting survivor, I call BS.

This is victim blaming.

This is the patriarchy.

This is misogyny.

This is rape culture.

This is the church leading the flock astray. Where I would have expected Pastor Glen Samuels (president of the West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (WJC)) and Pastor Joel Haye to lead the charge in holding men accountable for their actions, they have failed us all miserably. And they have failed the women in their congregations worst of all.

When two clergymen can feel comfortable getting behind the pulpit to chastise women for the “bad decisions” that put them in the path of dangerous men we have a problem. When the congregation listens and agrees, when a major news outlet (yes, the Jamaica Gleaner) blasts the story on the front page with the headline “Pastors urge women to choose partners carefully” we have a problem.

And the problem is the systemic, pervasive and frankly disgusting idea that if women would dress right, speak right, act right, choose right then men would not be able to hurt them. The problem is holding women accountable for the behaviour of women AND men, and holding men accountable for nothing. And it has to stop.

Fabian Lyewsang was responsible for his actions, not Dionne Smith. If it had not been Dionne it would have been some other woman. This fact is indisputable. Men alone – not women, not circumstance, not peer pressure, MEN – are responsible for their own behaviour.

When we fail to hold men accountable we fail to notice that 1) our women are in dire need of protection and 2) that our men are suffering from deep emotional and psychological scars. Until we can address these two issues – protect the women while healing the men – our society will stay stuck in this desperate pit of rampant murder/suicides.

When you realize you’re in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Pastor Samuels and Pastor Haye need to stop digging and work with our elected leaders to find a way out that doesn’t involve climbing on the bodies of murdered women.

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Please Stop Throwing Your Bible at Me

Jamaica is not a Christian country. I know people think that the Church is the biggest baddest body on the island, but even though roughly 70% of Jamaicans claim allegiance to Christ, that still leaves at least 30% of us who are Buddhist, Muslim, atheistic and non-religious. To call us “Christian” is mean and cliquish.

If we’re being technical, Christianity isn’t even our religion. Thrust upon us by Spanish/Italian conquistadors and reinforced by centuries of post-colonial fear-mongering, we are clinging to our borrowed robes because now they’re the only robes we know. Before Europe’s God, we were polytheists and spiritualists who were deeply rooted in nature. I’m not complaining that that part of history and herstory is over because religion has to change shape with society. But it does not change the shape of society.

Society is the vessel; religion, merely the contents.

Religion becomes what society needs it to be in order to survive: a guidebook for communal life, an excuse for slavery, the opiate of the masses. When religion stagnantly opposes societal progress, it has lost its most basic function. Its purpose is not to stand in the way of our laws or dictate what we should be teaching our children. We have moved beyond that kind of empirical sovereignty, a realization our churches cannot or will not seem to grasp.

Because religions are largely dedicated to remaining the dominant power. An attack on the “morals of our country” is nothing more than an attack on the influence of Christian values, and Christian leaders are afraid that they will lose the clout they’ve scraped together through years of fire-and-brimstone indoctrination and self-soothing promises of a better life in the hereafter. The “homo agenda” has become the catch-all for rapes, murders, corruption and everything else that is wrong with our country because it is a threat to their control.

(If the church was genuinely concerned about the “moral temperature” of Jamaica, they’d be organizing 25,000 strong rallies to protest the 10,000 cases of child abuse that were reported just last year. But child abuse, unlike sexuality, drives people toward prayer, not to question Christian dogma).

I have no bone to pick with the tenets of any one religion (including Christianity) but the way most followers choose to carry out the principles of their faith leaves much to be desired. But I get a little upset when people quote Scripture first and ask questions later. Because our culture of pointing fingers and guns and Bibles will never solve our problems, but for some reason we haven’t realized that yet.

For us to get anywhere as a people, as a society, we need to have open, honest dialogue about the real evils (poverty, lack of education, discrimination) that plague us. Universal evils, not Christian or upper-class or lower-class evils, need to be the enemy we rally against or we’ll be playing the blame game for a long, long time.