Jesus, Justice and Juju: an unholy trinity

What would Jesus say to these Bantama boys? What words would He articulate had He watched that video?

This now viral video where up to seven boys watched, laughed as they took turns to rape a teenage girl. Throughout the video, she is held down, boys arms pressed around her throat and upper body preventing her from leaving. She resists. And resists. And resists. Her ‘No’ is discarded, drowned by laughter and a group of boys immune to her suffering and pain.

The police are notified.  On 19th December, three were in custody. There is a hunt for the others.

In this modern day nation, the messenger has become social media.  What should the message in the pulpits of power be?

Ghana is a Christian nation. Faith, prayer, Jesus, God matter to us. The voices of those –mostly – men in the pulpit and within powerful bodies like The Christian Council carry weight. There is also a Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs. Such bodies are vocal on multiple issues.  They instruct and sometimes they obstruct.

We need a sermon – multiple sermons – on gang rape and rape culture. A Jesus committed to justice would invite the pastors – and bodies like The Christian Council – to deliver such a sermon. Such  a sermon would be about condemnation and transformation.

We need the pastors in the pulpits to study and find language to communicate to the men and the women in the congregation about rape culture is, how it functions, why it is deadly and the role they have in eradicating it.

This sermon would inform its parishioners that rape culture is a system that normalizes sexual violence, which blames the victim, excuses the perpetrator and fails to sanction the act. It is one that trivializes the bodies of women and girls as existing only for the pleasure of men.

The victim  and the perpetrators are God’s children too. Doesn’t God hate sexual violence too?

Not all your parishioners are guilty, but too many are silent. Obviously not all rape, but all must begin to participate in the work of sensitizing your congregation to this cancer that is rape culture.

Rapists can become pastors. And pastors can be rapists.

They can also become teachers, doctors, CEOs, fathers. Not all men are rapists, and there is no value in a sermon that makes such a harmful accusation. Equally, no men are innocent when it comes to rape culture.

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In Ghana, Christianity sometimes treats women and girls as if their bodies are juju  – things to be tasted, experimented with, feared, problematic, powerful, and dangerous.

Justice and a sermon on gang rape and rape culture is not a water turned wine moment. This is not a magical Ministry of miracles, it is a space of work, learning, sharing and shaping.

This Jesus is calling on his believers to manifest a Christianity that centralizes justice.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, this sermon should say. The sins and stones of rape culture indict us all, so there can be no stone throwing. Why?  In order for rape culture to flourish, we must all participate – some knowingly, some unknowingly.  But participate we do.

Christians are active participants in rape culture. Christians gang rape, too. On morning radio, ludicrous claims such as ‘gang rape is unAfrican’ stifle necessary engagement on the issue. Gang rape cannot be unChristian either. Not when men and boys who tithe, pray and sing hymns on Sunday will also watch a video of gang rape on Monday – and some will participate.

This is not judgment. It is a reality. A sermon dripping in judgment regarding rape culture and we who participate cannot deliver justice or ignite change.  And we need both.

Such a sermon is unimaginable to me right now. So far, The Christian Council’s silence has been deafening on this gang rape video. The Christian Council focuses on the moral fabric of a nation; its work is about conscience within community. This work needs to engage this world of sexual violence and its parishioners.

This Christmas, these teenage boys face frightening futures due to their horrific actions against a teenage girl. This Christmas, this teenage girl faces hospital treatment, a need for long term psychological counseling, flashbacks, nightmares, maybe treatment for STDS and possibly an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy where the father is possibly one of seven.

To the Pastors – what is your message to these young men and boys? What is your message to this girl?

When you occupy the pulpit during this season, when you stand before your flock, when the congregation leans in and listens, your power expands.

It is time our Christianity was more actively engaged in ending Ghana’s rape culture.

This is particularly difficult work. This is particularly necessary work. This is also the men and women of God’s work.

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No weapon formed against a rape culture that castigates and humiliates girls but encourages us to see the humanity of boys, should be allowed to prosper.  Male privilege is a weapon formed against a healthy society in which girls and women’s bodies exist solely for the pleasure and to be the playthings of men.

We need this sermon to go viral. We need a movement from a message where gang rape is treated as the horror it is – and boys or men who commit it, face family, community, society.  Your future should be changed because of the act you committed, just as the victim’s future is changed by the horror you brought to her body.

These are hard and uncomfortable conversations. And yet they are crucial if Ghana is to move from momentary outrage with each incident of gang rape and toward specific action to educate boys and men regarding this particular cancer.

This fight can be more powerfully engaged with your Christian pastor’s voices elevated in support of justice. Justice doesn’t look like silence when a story of this magnitude is the focus of every headline, where a Politician advocates for the public flogging of these boys, and the juvenile justice system will make a mockery of the utter mayhem they each visited on this young girl’s head.

Too often, the mantra of good men is: imagine if this was your sister, your daughter, your friend, your mother. The young girl in the video is someone’s sister, daughter and friend.  She need not be yours in order for you to be willing to advocate on her behalf, or instruct  boys and men about the seductive cancer of rape culture.

Jesus, Justice and Juju may seem like an unholy trinity. Yet it is not. If juju is – in this case – the body of women and girls, and justice the work of a Christian nation to end rape culture and Jesus the men of God who occupy pulpits and could shape a sermon that explores practical measures to educate boys and men regarding their own bodies, self-respect, self-control and respect of women and girls – then this is not so unholy a trinity after all.

It is a sermon that should go viral.

Which pastor would be willing to deliver such a sermon in such a season as this?

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