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Adressing Discrimination in Church and Diaconia

Delegates at the Women's Pre-Consultation in Dar Es Salaam. Photo by: Martina Pauly, UEM

From 22 to 26 March 2023, at the invitation of the Eastern Coastal Diocese (ECD) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), the Africa Regional Assembly took place in the Tanzanian coastal metropolis of Dar es Salaam. A total of 72 participants, including 48 delegates from the UEM's 15 African member churches, were welcomed by the leader of the host church, Bishop Alex Gehaz Malasusa, at the opening service in Azania Front Cathedral.

Youth and Women Pre-Consultation

Prior to the regional assembly, young adult and women representatives from African members shared their challenges and needs within their churches during the two-day Youth and Women's Pre-Consultation during March 20-21. Their recommendations were presented to the plenary of the regional assembly for discussion and decision. For example, the young adults from the African region wanted more professional support from their churches as they move into self-employment. The women's representatives also expressed the need for more economic training measures in order to be able to implement income-generating projects in accordance with the UN goals. 

UEM theme: Discrimination in churches

One focus of the regional meeting was the working topic "The beam in our eye. Discrimination in Church and Diaconia", which was decided by the UEM General Assembly for all three regions. Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Kileo, who was invited as the keynote speaker, began his keynote address by stating that conscious or unconscious discrimination does exist within the churches in Africa. The Tanzanian theologian defined discrimination in its various manifestations as a social construct that discriminating individuals use to permanently dominate another group of people and thereby gain advantages. Kileo differentiated between actors who discriminate and those who reject discrimination but do nothing about it. In addition, there are many people who are discriminated against but have come to terms with their role as victims to such an extent that they no longer perceive it as such. All these different groups can be found within the church.

To address the problem of discrimination in the church, the Tanzanian theologian proposed a three-step approach. In view of the explosive nature and the complexity of discrimination in African churches as a result of colonialism and apartheid, a discussion process should first be initiated to sensitize people at all levels of the church to the problem. In a second step, studies should be conducted on the situation in various churches. Inclusive churches in particular are to be studied here in their pioneering role. A further stage envisages the implementation of seminars and workshops with the aim of initiating and promoting a sustainable dialogue between the various groups within the church institution in order to continuously reduce the various forms of discrimination.

With regard to the specific problem of sexual discrimination, Rev. Dr. John Wesley Kabango, head of the Africa department and member of the UEM management team, referred to the existing UEM code of conduct against sexual discrimination. This paper could serve as a template for churches to develop their own codes of conduct, he said.


Reporting and an appeal

The church representatives were informed in detail by Rev. Kabango and his team from the regional office in Dar es Salaam about the programs, projects and plans implemented in the region. In addition, the theologian from Rwanda appealed to church leaders to provide more projects for young adults and women, as these two groups often perceive themselves as disadvantaged. He pointed to the numerous programs that the UEM provides for its members in this regard, such as the developmental year abroad for young adults in all three regions, the exchange program for employees with different durations, and the scholarship program for academic training. These and similar UEM programs and projects should be published at all levels within each member church to enable as many people as possible to participate. In addition, Rev. Kabango reminded the church representatives to use this regional meeting for stronger networking among themselves, also to benefit from the expertise of other member churches from the same region. This could happen, for example, within the framework of bi- or trilateral South-South partnerships. Here, too, the theologian referred to the funding opportunities offered by the UEM.

Encouraging development of donations in Africa

In view of the membership development of German churches and the expected decline in income, the goals of the fundraising campaign in African and Asian UEM member churches "United Action" were raised most recently at the last General Assembly. This year, the 15 African member churches of the UEM are aiming for a target of €370,000. So far, the German members still bear the main financial burden of the church fellowship, but the financial contributions from Africa and Asia have developed positively in recent years, although they are still in the single-digit percentage range of the total budget. This gratifying financial development, which is supported by the member churches of the Africa and Asia regions, is to be further supported by the "United Action" fundraising campaign. This is also done with the awareness that the financial strength of the African and Asian churches is very different. The income from the "United Action" campaign is used to support projects in all three UEM regions.

"New Home for UEM Region Africa"

There was also news with regard to the construction of the UEM's new office in the Africa region, entitled "New Home for UEM Region Africa." Last July, the UEM received a deed of gift from the ECD Church for a 6000 square meter plot of land in the Kigamboni district of Dar es Salaam, with the stipulation that this land be built on within the next three years. Plans include the construction of an office building for at least 20 people with a small archive and museum for the local region. Due to the favorable location of the land next to the Kigamboni ferry dock, income-generating concepts will also be included in the planning. The office building is to be built in an energy-sustainable manner in view of the consequences of climate change that are also being felt in Africa. The site, which is presently used as a parking area, is also of great interest to the UEM community from a historical perspective, as a small chapel has been built on the foundation of a church founded by missionaries. Currently, the designs of various architects are being evaluated in order to initiate the start of construction as soon as possible.

New governing body of the Africa region elected

The agenda also included the statutory election of the members of the governing body of the Africa Region for the next six years. Delegates again expressed their confidence in the previous chair of the regional assembly and council member, Bishop Motusi Letlhage (ELCB, Botswana). Also elected were: Church President Pascal Bataringaya (EAR, Rwanda) as vice chair, and Rev. Happines Diu (ELCT-NED, Tanzania), Rev. Alexandre Billa Mbenga (EEC, Cameroon), Rev. Daphne Taurrus (ELCRN, Namibia) and Charis Sass (Rhenish Church SA, South Africa) as youth delegate. Council members elected at the General Assembly, Henriette Malinyota (ECC-CBCA, DR Congo), Vuyokazi Christine Vinqi (URCSA, Southern Africa) and Bishop Gehaz Alex Malasusa (ECLT-ECD, Tanzania), also serve on the Africa Region board.

The re-elected chair of the Africa Region praised the good and trustworthy atmosphere at the meeting. "I am particularly pleased that many young people participated in the regional assembly and that they are also represented in our governing body. It is also gratifying that we have achieved parity between women and men in the leadership," said Bishop Letlhage of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Botswana.


Worship visits to host church congregations

To conclude the conference, delegates to the Africa Regional Assembly visited and preached in 17 congregations of the host Tanzanian Eastern Coastal Diocese (ECD) on Sunday, March 26. Each congregation visited received a greeting from the UEM and a sermon on the theme "Faith in Christ Keeps Us Together" from Galatians 2, verses 15-21. The visits to the ECD congregations provided another opportunity to meet with sisters and brothers, share experiences and learn from the practical work of the church. For the visitors, it was particularly revealing to see the ways in which ECD members engage with regard to church offerings and how congregations enable ownership and participation within their structure. Finally, the delegates of the Africa Regional Assembly expressed their great gratitude to the host church for the hospitality and generosity they had experienced.


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