By Ellen Clark-King

There are few things sadder to a Christian feminist – well, to any Christian – than hearing of the Bible being used as an agent of oppression rather than of liberation. There were two moving and appalling examples of this spoken of at the Ecumenical Women’s orientation day here in New York today.

The first instance came from Malawi where a widow, who had just seen her husband die after nursing him through liver cancer, was told that she should not be saddened, nor seek another husband, because, paraphrasing Isaiah 54, “God is your husband now.” With one deft move a text of God’s love for the desolate and the widowed was turned into a life-sentence of celibacy.

The second and even more shocking example came from Swaziland where, as in much of southern Africa, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a haunting daily reality for many people. Here women are taught that the Bible says they must not refuse sex with their husbands and, because it is a result of Christian wifely obedience, that: “It’s a good death if I catch AIDS in the matrimonial bed.” A marriage partnership which should be based on mutual love and respect is turned instead into an abusive relationship in which awoman’s life is held cheaper than her compliance.

Feminist Christians in the affluent west sometimes feel the work is done:these stories remind us that it has only just begun!