‘The blood of your (sister) cries out to heaven’ A prophetic Trinitarian response to gender-based violence.

1 Comment(s) | Posted | by Nontando Hadebe |

‘The blood of your (sister) cries out to heaven’[1] A prophetic Trinitarian response to gender-based violence.


By Dr Nontando Hadebe


 “1 in every 3 women throughout the world will experience physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by a non-partner.”[2]


“We men are not inherently or irreversibly violent, relationally incompetent, emotionally constipated and sexually compulsive. To the extent that we manifest these characteristics, we do so not because we are male, but because we have experienced violent socialization and conditioning processes that have required or produced this kind of behaviour and we have chosen to accept or adopt these ways of being, thinking, and action.”[3]


“Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image to be like us. So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)


The above quotations raise more questions than answers. On the one hand they may appear disjointed, unrelated, and an attempt to force connections: How does the global epidemic of violence against women have anything to do with distorted masculinities and with the image of God? Is this not a private matter between isolated individuals, mostly men acting in their own capacity, and unfortunate victims, mostly women? Why bring God into this messy business? On the other hand a different set of questions may arise such as: why are the perpetrators of violence mostly men and victims mostly women? Why is violence between the sexes a recurring global phenomenon and what are the causes? Since the fundamental belief by Christians is that women and men are made in the image of a Trinitarian God, how does the image of God critique the sources of ‘violence-producing relationships’ between women and men?

The term ‘gender-based violence’ was adopted to express that violence is done by gendered human beings who act out of social contexts that provide meaning for what it means to be a male or a female.  Research on male perpetrators of violence in South and East Africa (which concurs with other research around the world) correlated failure to fulfill cultural masculinity norms (i.e. what it means to be a ‘real man’) with violence against women[4]. Boyd’s analysis of experience suggests that ‘being a real man’ is not only oppressive to men but drives the culture of male violence.

My research addressed the question of whether, in this context where relationships between the sexes pose a threat to life, the Trinity critiques and offers an alternative. From an image of God who exists in a communion of difference and equality, I developed a model of relating for the sexes that is non-hierarchical, mutual, self-giving and just. Furthermore, since in the historical development of Trinitarian theology, each of the Persons was firstly defined in relation to the Others and then later defined in their own uniqueness, (for example Jesus in the Council of Chalcedon) it became clear that this model of communion-in-difference could provide a framework for interconnected theologies of difference such as theologies of women; men; persons and community. Values that build the common good can be the basis of what it means to be a bearer of the image of God rather than of destructive socially-defined roles.

[1] The context of this text is the killing by Cain of his brother Abel - Genesis 4:9-10 “Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?” “I don’t know,’ Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian (keeper)?” But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” The question of accountability emerges in the protest of Cain and the response of Yahweh.

[2] World Health Organization , Department of Reproductive Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine and Medical Research Council of South Africa 2013.. http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/violence/VAW_Prevelance.jpeg?ua=1

[3] Boyd, Stephen. The Men We Long to Be: Beyond Domination to a New Christian Understanding of Manhood. San Francisco: Harper, 1995, 14.

[4] See Isak, Niehaus.  2005.“Masculine Domination in Sexual Violence: Interpreting Accounts of Three Cases of Rape in the South African Lowveld” in Reid, Graeme and Walker, Liz. (eds). 2005. Men Behaving Differently: South African Men since 1994. Cape Town: Double Storey, 65-8.; Silberschmidt, Margarethe. 2005.  “Poverty, Male Disempowerment, and Male Sexuality: Rethinking Men and Masculinities in Rural and Urban East Africa”. in Morrell, R. and Lahoucine,  O.  African Masculinities: Men in Africa from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present.  Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 189-203.


  1. Thomas Massaro, SJ's avatar
    Thomas Massaro, SJ
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    Dr. Nontando Hadebe is doing excellent and important work on the topic of theological perspectives on gender-based violence. We are delighted to have her this semester (fall 2014) in Berkeley as a visiting international scholar in a new program at Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. We expect to soon be posting on our website the application for similar fellowships for scholars (with doctorates in theology) from the Global South to come to Berkeley to conduct research in the 2014-15 academic year, all expenses paid. To apply, keep your eye on our website: http://www.scu.edu/jst/

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