(Just before I address the issues of concern to me, permit me to apologize to my readers first. Many reached out to me to ask if I had not written last week. I had but my editors wanted a little more refinement of this message. If the readers are seeing this, I have succeeded.)
Dear Mr Symmonds,
As an activist and advocate working in the women and girls’ space in Barbados, I must tell you how profoundly disturbing your recent utterances about the experience of being suspended from the People’s Cathedral Church which you once headed were for me. I have never been supportive of having individuals or church-based groups lead responses to sexual violence, domestic or intimate partner violence and I am now more resolute in this belief after seeing the comments attributed to you in various sections of the local media.
Christianity cannot be some kind of absolution from personal responsibility. If any man chooses to have extra martial affairs, or molest girls or women, or rape or otherwise sexually assault women, then that man is solely responsible for his actions. If anything in Theology absolves these types of offenders from taking responsibility for their actions that is extremely problematic in my view and makes religions that hold such doctrines a part of the reason that women and girls continue to be unsafe in their places of birth.
I do not accept that any church that could make a person believe that they are not personally responsible for their actions in the first place then has any moral or helpful philosophy in rolling out programmes to assist women affected by various types of violence.
If anything, such a church would have to question itself about its deep-seated misogynistic views of woman, what they are signalling to men in general about women and what must be our role as a wider society in protecting women and educating men. I want to reiterate here, if theology allows the interpretation of sexual misconduct to be solely the work of a foreign entity, like Satan, without any personal responsibility on the part of the person involved in the activity, then theology is a part of the problem and cannot also be a part of the solution.
In a section of the media recently, you were quoted as saying, “Satan has agents and there is such a thing as a siren and there are women whom the devil uses as sirens… Satan is a sly old fox and I think all men need to be particularly aware that the devil is out there to get them.”
I waited and waited for the retraction of this statement after you had reflected and concluded that it was wholly inappropriate. I waited, because the world is changing rapidly around us and I felt like somebody associated with religion either in your assembly or another would see that giving agency to outside entities for personal actions cannot be the entire explanation for actions.
People who commit murder may also say that they were taken over by external evil forces but because of their personal responsibility for their actions, they will spend time in prison. Indeed, the Bible seems to suggest that murderers should be so personally responsible they should pay with their lives. I thought Sunday School taught me there weren’t big and little sins, but I concede it has been a long time now. I do believe this – our society would be chaotic if we removed the requirement for people to be solely responsible for what they do.
Men who are involved in sexual misconduct, sexual abuse or rape and other types of violence have various and multiple issues. Counselling is often needed to assist men in working through them. At the end of counselling, we would hope that perpetrators can be more empathetic and realize that victim blaming and shifting responsibility for actions is not healthy behaviour. Victim blaming and viewing women as the problem is the kind of approach to sexual misconduct that we are moving against in the world generally and I would hope in Barbados specifically.
I also waited to see the response of other Christian leaders to your words and was hoping a few other pastors would distance themselves from your comments. I was hoping that there would be enough reply among pastors in Barbados to confirm that the investment in problematic views of sexuality and the responsibility of women for their sexuality but not men for theirs was on the way out. Alas, I heard or read no such reflections.
My final hope was that the women who ascribe to Christianity would come out to reject the statements made. Even if some could perceive that you or the church were upholding toxic masculinity and inbuilt misogyny, I hoped that there were enough learned women in the congregations across Barbados who could check the institutions they chose to be associated with. When even that did not happen, it left me with a sinking feeling.
It left me convinced that members of the church should not be given easy access to children in state run facilities such as schools. If Barbadians want to keep exposing themselves to the contradictions and misogyny built into Christianity, then they live in a democracy and can make that choice. However, the State should be in no way involved in the perpetuation of misogynist views. They lead to men who believe that they can hurt women in various ways and then blame their actions on the woman or external evil forces.
I was shocked that we as a nation were so mute in our response to the comments attributed to you. I do hope that this reflection about the comments attributed to you cause you a moment of pause.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)