Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. —Mathew 28: 19-20.
This is one verse in the Bible that attempts to elucidate the role of church leaders.
It is understood in our society and in many cultures that members of the clergy are God’s representatives. However, recent reports of sexual abuse involving members of the clergy make sad reading. Women and girls remain most vulnerable to sexual abuse in church.
Lately, a number of men of the cloth have being accused of using their status as spiritual mentors to sexually abuse women and girls in their respective churches.
The trial of RGM Independent End Time Message church leader, Martin Gumbura, has generated a lot of debate and opened a Pandora’s box over the conduct of the clergymen.
The Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ), a grouping of churches, recently said they have handed over cases of suspected sexual abuse involving 10 church leaders to the police for further investigations.
The stories reveal a disturbing picture of how vulnerable women have turned to churchmen for pastoral help, only to be preyed upon.
Another problem facing abused women is that religious leaders who abuse them portray it as “an affair” and often blame the women for seducing them.
Women’s sexuality has traditionally been seen as perilous by society dating back to the time of the biblical Eve.
Abused women are always in a quandary. Their abuse by pastors, often during spiritual or marital counselling sessions wins little public attention and they are often held responsible for the relationship.
In the case of Pastor Gumbura, women alleged great pressure was brought on them to keep quiet about the sexual encounters.
In this case, Pastor Gumbura was seen as being above reproach and the victims are now viewed as the “seductress” who tempted the man of God into a sexual relationship.
One founding member of a Harare church, Duncan Kwambana, is also being accused of several counts of rape after he allegedly lured the victims into being intimate with him by claiming that it was the will of the Holy Spirit.
There are many cases where women are told of God getting angry if they dared to tell anyone, anything about the “relationship”.
They are told time and again that men of the cloth are special people and that the church depends on them.
Victims of sexual exploitation in church often suffer from loss of faith, loss of spouse and loss of support from family, congregation and community.
Society should treat sexual abuse in church for what it is — a crime of violence against women and children. There are dire divine consequences for any man who would engage in sexual immorality, let alone men of the cloth.
Any churchman accused of sexual impropriety by two or three witnesses, according to the Bible (1 Timothy 5:19-20) is no longer qualified to be in the church.
Perpetrators should face the music while victims should be given the opportunity to have their cases heard.
Society eagerly awaits judgement of the Gumbura trial and many others involving men of the cloth.