Liturgy, faith and sexual and reproductive health rights : a study of liturgical reframing in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Gennirich, Daniela B.
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Despite our excellent gender equality legislation, most women and gender nonconforming individuals in South Africa continue to suffer disproportionately from the effects of HIV, gender based violence and cultural and religious oppressions. Considering that in South Africa church membership exceeds eighty percent (the vast majority of whom are women), it is vital to better understand how churches influence some of the key drivers of these challenges, such as gender inequality and destructive perceptions about sexuality and women’s bodies. As an Anglican lay minister and gender activist, I have situated my research in the Anglican Church in Southern Africa as a postcolonial church grappling to shake off vestiges of its patriarchal colonial legacy, while remaining rooted in its liturgical inheritance. Apart from regulating worship, liturgy as a social act constructs theological concepts and relationships within dynamic social and institutional contexts that are deeply influenced by intersectional power dynamics. Employing a postcolonial African feminist theological lens, this study analyses some creative liturgical samples, inserted into the standardised An Anglican Prayer Book. It has sought to understand how liturgical language and discourse tools are employed to reconfigure social and religious assumptions about normal gender power relations, health and sexuality in ways that contribute to improved sexual and reproductive health. The findings describe how transformative liturgy employs liturgical, language and discourse tools intentionally in three strategic ways: creating a liminal space where human dignity, health and wellness can flourish, breaking the silence by addressing sexual and reproductive health rights directly in worship, and preparing worshippers to become a transformative presence in the world. A discussion about barriers to liturgical creativity in a clergy focus group conversation held, highlighted that authentic transformative liturgical praxis requires a church culture that is open to learning from the periphery. The research has identified some crucial theoretical gaps: liturgical studies are dominated by largely gender-blind, late-modernist approaches; while postcolonial and African feminist scholarship barely touches on liturgy, thus missing a crucial strategic opportunity to achieve its transformative objective. Hence, the conclusion offers some preliminary proposals towards what might, through further research, potentially become a postcolonial African feminist liturgical theology.