Religion can shape masculinity for good and ill, say experts

By agency reporter
January 30, 2009

Religious beliefs have a profound influence in shaping the consciousness of men and their concepts of masculinity and sexuality, members of an expert inter-faith panel told participants at an event in Georgetown, Guyana, focussed on seeking ways of promoting positive masculinity.

Religious institutions prescribe boundaries, impose sanctions and affirm identity, the panellists said.

Thirty-five pastors, church leaders, theological students and lay persons from Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados, South Africa, Malawi and India gathered in the Guyanese capital from 18-22 January 2009 for the event sponsored by the Women’s World Day of Prayer and Bread for All, Switzerland.

The workshop, which initiated a process of education for action in response to gender-based violence, coincided with an awareness campaign in Guyana aimed at “stamping out” gender-based violence.

In remarks at the opening of the event, Guyana’s Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Ms Priya Manickchand, challenged churches to work in partnership with other faith groups and specialised civic agencies to make a difference in the communities they serve.

Manickchand emphasised the importance of education at all levels of the church –from Sunday School to Bible groups to women’s and men’s groups – and offered to provide support for churches which develop action plans to end domestic and sexual abuse.

“We feel that the task we pledge to embark on at this workshop is huge and multifaceted. However, if every man commits to make a difference in his family life then that is the first step towards building strong families and communities,” said lay pastor, Noel Holder of the Guyana Congregational Union.

“The workshop is a significant step in engaging men as partners and as part of the solution to address broken families and societies. This opens new ways for churches to enable healing and transformation of relationships,” says Rev. Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), one of the leaders of the event.

A WARC executive committee member, the Rev Dr Collin Cowan, emphasized the importance of men being involved in transforming patterns of violent behaviour.

“As men who have occupied a privileged space created by systems of patriarchy, the time has come to reject that pattern of living and because of its inconsistency with the theology of life, which finds expression in relationships,” he added.

Participating partner organisations in the event included the World Council of Churches, the Caribbean and North America Council for Mission, the Council for World Mission and the General Board of Global Ministry, United Methodist Church, Help & Shelter (Guyana) and the Guyana Formation for Ministry and Mission.

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) brings together 75 million Reformed Christians in 214 churches throughout 107 countries.

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