Nigeria’s relationship with religion may be the only real relationship it has. Our relationships with each other are often fractured and broken and our leaders continue to disregard the social contract they are supposed to have with us. Through the ups and downs, the one area of Nigerian life that has remained steadfast and faithful is religion. Whether it’s going to church every Sunday or making sure your attendance at the mosque on Friday is non-negotiable, our faith is not to be questioned. But this unquestioned relationship is going through a metamorphosis.
More young people than ever before are beginning to challenge symbols of authority in this country. For many of us, our government is an illegitimate form of control but our religious institutions are entirely different. This is where the Redeemed Christian Church of God comes in, better known as RCCG. The criticism surrounding RCCG has been an ongoing discussion for years. But Pastor E.A Adeboye’s tweets which were meant to celebrate his wife’s birthday was the nail on the head for so many. It started off sweetly enough, speaking about how powerful his wife is as a person and the type of wisdom she can impart to the younger generation.
However, it quickly descended into a now-familiar utterance; ‘no matter how capable and intelligent my wife is, I’m still the head’. These series of tweets baffled some and infuriated many. Not because they were angry on behalf of his wife who most likely shares these sentiments. But because once again a powerful religious leader was using his platform to give credence to the idea that women need to be led. These ideas are almost always bandied about to give legitimacy to women being second class citizens in their own homes. It’s strange that what was supposed to be a celebration of his wife’s life and accomplishments was reduced to her domestic duties to him.
A real and tangible conversation has to be had about the subjugation of women in religious spaces. It often doesn’t take place because of ‘benevolent sexism’. Very often the conversation surrounding sexism in Abrahamic faiths is reduced to as long as men aren’t beating or harassing women, then everything else is fair game. But the idea that women must ‘submit’ to men is insidious in many different ways.
The first manner in which this happens is that we are regulated to the background, regardless of our achievements or if we are truly better at something. Another way this is harmful is that it positions marriage as a field of dominance. Instead of being in a partnership with your spouse, you’re put in a position to ‘obey’ him no matter what. These types of ideas shape who we are not just domestically, but politically, and in terms of our careers. It may seem harmless on its face, but it’s ‘harmless’ ideas like this that cause the general public to balk at the thought of a female president or shrug off pay equity in the workplace. Seemingly innocuous sentiments of this nature coalesce to tell women one thing loud and clear ‘know your place.’
Of course as a man of God, Pastor Adeboye based his viewpoint in scripture. It’s true that wife submission is written about in the Bible, in Ephesians in particular. But that doesn’t mean it cannot be challenged or even *gasp* disagreed with. This is what has many traditional believers clutching at their pearls. The Bible should be taken as it is and unmolested by ‘modern’ views. But feminism, like any critical theory, asks us to engage with everything we have taken at face value. The Bible and The Quran can be used to empower or subjugate and denigrate classes of people just like any other text can. To suggest that any religious text is above reproach is dangerous and inaccurate.
Many people have read feminists outcry against the virulent sexism that takes center stage in some religious institutions as an attack against faith. Feminism and other social justice movements are concerned with bringing every institution we have into the light of inclusivity, equality, and justice. Maybe it’s time to think long and hard about why that feels like an attack. It’s never been millennials against institutionalised religion. It’s millennials against harmful rhetoric no matter where they reside or what they believe. No one is exempt. Not just including, but especially the House of God.
By: Yoruba Mermaid
See also: The Traditional Feminist