Toward Greater Communion: World Council of Churches Publishes Manual on Positive Masculinities

November 29, 2010

In a broad sense, communion can be any practice of relationality, mutuality, and cooperation — with others and with the deep reality of connectedness that is woven into creation.  Relationships of domination and control hinder that communion, including many relationships between women and men. So, it’s good news that the World Communion of Reformed Churches, together with the World Council of Churches has created a (free) curriculum to help Christian men and women think critically and creatively about scripture, discipleship, and what it means to be a man.  The manual is called Created in God’s Image: From Hegemony to Partnership (A Church Manual on Men as Partners: Promoting Positive Masculinity.

In the narrower context of Holy Communion, relationships in which men dominate and control women, children and other men are problematic in particular ways.  Not only do such practices train us in relationships of dominance and subordination (e.g. I can only get the holy food from male deacons/pastors/priests), but they rehearse and sacralize a worldview in which such male dominance is a given —  it’s just the way things are.  After a quick read through I haven’t seen much about Holy Communion in particular, but the document is useful in a broader sense nonetheless, and has important implications for how Holy Communion is done.

You can find the entire document at the WCRC site, but since this blog is partly about collecting, here’s an excerpt seems like a good place to begin.  This is from a section contributed by Dr. Ezra Chitando of Zimbabwe.

Redemptive Masculinities: Principles

In order to read the Bible in a manner that allows men to be liberated from harmful masculinities, there is need to embrace key principles. These principles will assist men to challenge the privileges that patriarchy bestows on them…The patriarchal dividend refers to the benefits that men enjoy for no other reason than for the fact that they are men. It takes courageous men and men of conviction to refuse to enjoy these privileges and work for gender justice. In this section we would like to draw attention to principles that can enable men to read the Bible in liberating ways.

1. A firm understanding that God created women and men equal. If this basic principle is grasped, men will uncover new meaning in all biblical passages that appear to suggest that women occupy a rung lower than men in society.

2. A clear commitment to partnership between women and men as co-workers with God. Partners are not in competition. The Baha’i faith puts it across very well when it likens men and women to the wings of a bird: if one wing is broken, the bird cannot fly. Humanity needs both women and men to be at their best if there is to be progress.

3. A dogged refusal to use violence in relationships. Christianity promotes love, dialogue and friendship. The use of violence in personal relationships must find no place in the life of a man who regards women and children as created in the Image of God.

4. Consistent questioning of the notion of headship. Men have abused the notion of headship to marginalize women and to insist on their viewpoints in gender relations. Headship is no license for men to command women and children.

5. Openness to the capacity of women, youth and children to lead. God’s gifts are not limited to men. It is vital for men to accept that women, youth and children can lead.

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