WINDHOEK, Namibia, 11 May 2017 - Lutheran theology, especially regarding the place of women in society, is a message of hope for all of those who are victims of moral, physical and sexual violence, eminent Congolese surgeon Dr Denis Mukwege has told Lutherans from around the world.
“It is up to us, the heirs of Martin Luther, through God’s word, to exorcise all the macho demons possessing the world so that women who are victims of male barbarity can experience the reign of God in their lives,” said Mukwege delivering the keynote speech at the 12th Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Assembly on 11 May.
A medical doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mukwege has provided leadership for Africa and the world, standing up for dignity and rights of people, particularly women who are survivors of sexual violence in conflict situations.
“These women are my heroes,” he said. “They have been my inspiration,” while noting that Martin Luther’s espousal of inclusiveness set the principles for having women serve as priests.
“Lead as women”
To loud cheers from the Assembly participants Mukwege urged women, “Lead as women; react as women. Be yourselves – this will be your strength and our opportunity.”
Mukwege is an active Christian layperson who has been recognized with a number of prestigious international awards including the 2008 UN Human Rights Award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2014, and he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Lutherans from around the world are gathering in the Namibian capital Windhoek, 10-16 May, for the assembly and the keynote speaker said he knows that “the Lutheran church” fights for women’s rights.
Mukwege’s address was on the Assembly theme, “Liberated by God’s Grace,” which is also the focus of the global commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation this Sunday at the Sam Nujoma Stadium in Katutura near Windhoek.
Son of a pastor
The son of a pastor, Mukwege said his involvement with the voiceless is rooted in his family history and when he was with his father on a visit to the sick one day he asked him, "Dad, you pray to the sick, but why not give them medicine?"
His father replied, “I'm not a doctor.”
His vocation was born that day and he studied pediatric medicine to assist in the eradication of infant mortality.
“Alas, during my first year of medical practice, I discovered the very high incidence of maternal mortality.”
The Congolese doctor noted that violence against women, rape and misogyny are not only found in Africa, but all around the world. Mukwege spoke of the incessant conflict in the DRC, creating massive upheaval “motivated by the need to control the Congolese subsoil.
“This war, which initially engaged seven African states, and the so-called first great African war is not ethnic,” and does not embroil religious fanatics. “It is an economic war that has already caused more than five million deaths and thousands and thousands of women being raped.”
The Congolese doctor said the first response to “this barbarity” was to try to treat women who were victims of physical and psychological sexual violence.
Speak up against violence
When it was taken to the children born of the rape, some of them infants, who were themselves violated, “we had to speak up and denounce this unmentionable barbarism. That is why I am with you this morning.
“How can we accept such barbaric practices in the 21st century?” Mukwege asked.
“That is why I choose to leave the operating room from time to time to make known to the world the indescribable suffering of our fellow human beings, our equals, our sisters, our mothers and our daughters.”
Dr Mukwege said it became clear that those who planned and engaged in systematic rapes were using it as a weapon of war to achieve goals such as humiliating their adversaries. He said red lines had been set internationally against the use of chemical weapons, but there are no such red line regarding violence against women in war.
The Congolese surgeon said he was filled with great joy being among Lutherans at the assembly as they “represent tens of millions of Christians around the world.” The LWF represents 74 million Lutherans from 98 countries.
“I am convinced that I will find in you an attentive ear and faithful mouths to make the cries of the women victims of sexual violence heard, so that never again will there be impunity for perpetrators against women who are victims of sexual violence,” said Mukwege.
“Theology of women’s esteem”
He noted that if “our faith” is defined by theory and disconnected from practical realities, “we cannot fulfill the mission entrusted to us by Christ.”
Mukwege said the aim is to think about “the credibility of the Gospel in the 21st century, to liberate the grace that we have received by making the Church a light that still shines in this world of darkness through our struggles for justice, truth, law, freedom, in short, the dignity of man and woman.”
That is why the “misogynous theologies” that convey contempt, insult and consequently the violence of women must be “corrected and replaced by the theology of women's esteem.”
“This work must begin as early as our children's catechism,” said the Congolese doctor.
“The mission of the church on earth is a prophetic mission to enlighten and also to denounce evil. We have a duty to work at all levels of our society to promote the adoption of laws and mechanisms that enable the rehabilitation and fulfillment of women.”