Bride Price, Divorce, and Leadership in African Families

The Adventist Pan-African Conference on Dynamic Family Relationships continues with sensitive topics

This is Part 2 of a two-part report on the March 1-3 Adventist Pan-African Conference on Dynamic Family Relations. ~ Editors

The Adventist Pan-African Conference on Dynamic Family Relations, a milestone event that brought together the three Seventh-day Adventist Division on the African subcontinent concluded with an additional array of challenging topics affecting African families.

The conference, hosted in Kenya on the campus of Adventist University of Africa (AUA) was organized by the world church Family Ministries department directors Willie and Elaine Oliver, in partnership with Family Ministries departments from the East Central Africa (ECD), West Central Africa (WAD), and Southern Africa-Indian Ocean (SID) divisions.

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Marriage Dynamics
Michael Sokupa, associate director of the Ellen G. White estate spoke on two separate topics specific to marriage. The first discussed the distinction between traditional and civil marriage in Africa.

Traditional marriage reflects the involvement of the extended family, and in some cases may include traditional norms such as polygamy, ancestor veneration, common law marriage, and marriage of convenience. “Has the church already taken a stand on [these and other] particular forms of traditional marriage?” asked Sokupa as he advocated an evaluation of traditional African marriage by the Church, which in many instances doesn’t even involve the Church.

Sokupa also shared that civil marriage is a growing African trend, requiring only a state official and two witnesses. The practice flies in the face of African custom and introduces tension between the couple and the extended family. However, civil marriage also tends to cut out the Church—a concern for the Christian community, which has sought to provide guidance for the marrying couple and a biblical foundation to the union.

Pointing out that both elements of both traditional and civil marriage are challenging to the Church, Sokupa argued that both tend to marginalize the Church’s involvement, including the participation of Christian marriage counselors.

Sokupa also tackled questions surrounding leadership within the Christian African home. He explained that the Bible demonstrates a “pattern of patriarchal societies,” but looking at various narratives throughout Scripture also reveals unique dynamics within various families.

A good portion of time was spent unpacking the story of David, Nabal and Abigail found in 1 Samuel 25. Abigail’s actions in carefully countering Nabal’s careless ones in the context of a patriarchal society, said Sokupa, reveal a principle for “dynamic leadership in marriage.” He also pointed out the difference in David’s and Nabal’s leadership style, asking “What kind of leader am I within my household: an autocratic leader or a democratic leader?”

Sokupa concluded with a discussion of “marriage in the context of group dynamics.” He postulated that a couple and a family exist in the context of a group, which requires a form of “group leadership” in marriage, characterized by interdependence. He referenced the biblical call in the book of Ephesians for wives to submit to their husbands, while husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself of her.

“The dynamic nature of leadership in marriage needs a careful study,” concluded Sokupa.

Below is the list of the resolutions voted at the closing event of the Adventist Pan-African Conference on Dynamic Family Relations on Saturday night, March 3, 2018.

  1. To develop a renewed focus on the centrality of Family Ministries in all of the strategic plans and budget priorities of the church, given its important and productive role in church life, nurture, and outreach;
  2. To more assertively develop and promote the role of the family in TMI (Total Member Involvement – Total Family Involvement), Mission to the Cities, and Comprehensive Health Ministries;
  3. To reaffirm the family as the place of training and development for the transmission of Biblical principles, teachings, and understanding, primarily for the discipleship of children, modeling public service and outreach;
  4. To develop pathways and joint projects of Family Ministries with the 26 educational institutions of higher education in the three African Divisions;
  5. To explore further collaborations with Family Ministries and other departments with the goal of developing greater synergy in ministry;
  6. To widely promote the proceedings of the Pan-African Family Conference to the world field via websites, online products, social media, and print;
  7. To develop a list of practical ways Family Ministries can more assertively be brought to the attention of all levels of the church;
  8. To recommend to the Adventist University of Africa to launch a new Doctor of Ministry cohort in Marriage and Family as soon as possible to build capacity in adequately ministering to family-related concerns;
  9. To recommend to church administration the need to revisit the official church policy on polygamy to advance a more biblically-based position;
  10. To recommend to the administration the need to be more intentional about preserving the stability of pastoral families when considering moving them to new assignments;
  11. To ask the administration to develop a more precise set of guidelines to ascertain what constitutes an acceptable marriage for members.
  12. To conduct research on Adventist families in the three African Divisions to develop intervention strategies from an evidence-based perspective.

Read the complete article at Adventist World and Adventist Review