EMPOWERING WOMEN THROUGH A MESSAGE OF DIGNITY AND EQUALITY – REVEREND DR SEFOROSA CARROLL

A church leader’s passion to have gender equality integrated into teaching curricula in theological colleges in the Pacific came to fruition in 2016 with the introduction of Gender Equality Theology (GET).

Reverend Dr Seforosa Akata Carroll is a church minister, theologian and academic who has been instrumental in integrating GET into church theology in Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific. Dr Seforosa says PNG is leading the way with a simple strategy that works “to identify leaders, theologians, practitioners and to get them to roll GET out into their own communities.”  

Originally from the matriarchal island of Rotuma in Fiji, Dr Seforosa is an ordained minister in the Uniting Church of Australia and has been conducting ministry work for the past 20 years. Following the birth of her premature daughter in 1997, she turned her attention to studying women’s place in society.

“Sitting on my hospital bed, I thought to myself, is God punishing me? That began my theological journey, looking at what the bible was really about, especially all the messages about women and the place of women in society,” Dr Seforosa recalled.

“I started to explore ideas like feminist theology, post-colonial theology and I started reading the bible with different eyes and interpreting scripture through a different lens.”

Theology, which means ‘the study of God’, has traditionally been maledominated, especially in the Pacific. Church leadership is also a role dominated by men and Dr Seforosa felt this did not reflect the reality of God’s message and his equal love for men and women.  

Dr Seforosa started working with another Pacific Theologian, Reverend Dr Cliff Bird from the Solomon Islands, to develop a theology for the Pacific which reflects equality between men and women. This collaboration resulted in an ecumenical statement in 2014 called the Theology of Gender Equality.  

After 12 months reflection, the statement was endorsed by seven heads of church in PNG including Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, United, Salvation Army, Lutheran and Seventh Day Adventist.

These church leaders signed a shared statement in Port Moresby in October 2016, affirming their agreement that this theology represents the gospel truth.

“For ministers of churches, theology is the heartbeat of the church and the congregation. If we get our theology right in the first place, and we understand what it means, then our actions follow. Theology is our belief and our belief is what drives our action,” Rev Seforosa said.

“Looking at how GET is implemented in our churches means we have to look at how it is implemented in our theological institutions. This is how our church leaders are trained, and that training is critical to Pacific society because what the minister says is taken as gospel.”

Dr Seforosa was in Port Moresby recently to facilitate a GET consultation hosted by the United Church and supported by Australia through the Church Partnership Program. The two-day interactive program brought together church leaders, youth and women from PNG’s seven mainline churches.

“I find it exciting to come back to PNG and see how far the churches have advanced with the implementation of the GET,” Rev Seforosa said.  

“The drive and commitment felt in a room full of PNG church leaders and laity truly inspires and speaks volumes of the success of the GET initiative.”  

One thing she is particularly happy about is the support of PNG church leaders, mostly men, who willingly participate in the GET trainings and workshops and promote the GET message to communities.

“We live in a male-dominated patriarchal society and it helps in the early stages to have men supporting strong women to stand up. This is something women should not have to do alone. It is transformational when church leaders take the risk to be vulnerable in these gender trainings,” Rev Seforosa said.

“Equality comes down to first understanding and then believing that each person has dignity and each person deserves respect. We need to understand that in our everyday interaction, when you respect an individual, you are respecting God’s creation.”

Efforts are underway to roll-out the GET to other Pacific Island countries.

Media Release
March 7, 2019