Ring the Bell Campaign videos to watch:
In the tower of Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town there is a massive bell weighing three-and-a-half tons. For safety reasons it has not pealed since the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. It was silenced because, when it rang, it shook the foundation stones of the Church and surrounding buildings and consequently threatened their structure. It is now known as the “Silent Bell”.
The Silent Bell is a parable of the church over the centuries. As the church, we are a massive bell that is able to sound across this nation and world, like no other. Truly, there is not a single organisation or institution in the world that exists as we do – everywhere. We have branches in the poorest informal settlements, the most remote rural areas, the biggest cities and wealthiest suburbs. Yet, over the last 2 000 years, we have been largely silent in promoting equality between women and men. Perhaps this is because we know that sounding such a massive bell would not only threaten the structures of society, but would also threaten the very foundations of the male-dominant structures of the church itself.
And, when we have not remained silent, we have all too often spoken in the tone of male patriarchy. The exclusive use of male pronouns when referring to God, mistakenly teaches us that God is male. If God is male then male is God, and if male is God then male is superior. This false sense of superiority is the canvas upon which much women abuse is painted. As men, some of the only Scriptures we know by heart are those that seem to validate this false sense of superiority over women: Eve is jokingly blamed for the fallen state of the world; women should keep quiet during worship; fathers are the head of the household; and wives should submit to their husbands. Some of these Scriptures don’t mean what they seem to mean on the surface and it is convenient not to contextualise them. Some Scriptures do mean exactly what they appear to mean, and yet we have not been brave enough to categorically detach ourselves from them, with God’s precious image.
Women have often been told from the pulpit to “go back and forgive your abusive partner” because the bible says you must forgive, even up to “70×7”. But nowhere in the bible is anyone told to tolerate abuse. To forgive abuse does not mean one should ever have to tolerate its occurrence, or the conditions that make it possible. Nor is forgiveness to be confused with reconciliation. Reconciliation will always require forgiveness, but forgiveness need not conclude reconciliation. Sometimes the journey of forgiveness includes moving on and not returning to how things were before the abuse.
There is a temptation to think that neither the victims of rape, nor the perpetrators of violence against women, are in our places of worship. Yet, they sometimes even sit side by side in our pews week after week. The shame of being abused by one who says “I love you” is enormous. This shame has the power to silence. It is therefore imperative for every religious institution to join the Ring the Bell campaign and, in doing so, to break their silence. Ring the Bell is a global initiative that calls for action from individuals, organisations, and institutions – such as the church. It calls for us to speak out, to sound the bell, when we see and hear violence against women. This means ringing our bells and shaking the foundation that supports the false narrative of superiority and subservience which lies at the heart of gender inequality. We could begin by confessing how our silence and patriarchal tone continues to contribute to the endemic violence by men against women. This confession is long overdue.
On International Women’s Day, 8 March, the Central Methodist Mission hoisted a massive yellow banner up our bell tower in solidarity with all women who have been violated by men. It reads: “Women and men are equal in God’s eyes. So… in whose name do men rape?” We hope people hear it ring.