THE PLACE OF WIDOWS IN METHODIST CHURCH DIOCESES OF UYO
Widowhood is caused by the death of a spouse. Widowhood is often associated with pain, grief and depression especially for women who are not educated and have no skill or business to fall back on. Widow is a woman whose husband has died and who has not remarried another man. In other word a widow is a woman who remains without a husband after the death of her husband. There are two types of widows which are young and old widow. Young widows are those whose age is below 60 years, while the elderly widows are those whose age is from 60 years and above.
The review indicates that many issues exist in the state of widowhood, such issue include emotional, physical, social, psychological and spiritual plight. However, based on the biblical teaching, it is observed that God command rulers, judges, community and church leaders to defend the rights and welfare of widows.
Therefore the purpose of this research work is to examine how Methodist churches understand the biblical teaching concerning widows, identify the plight of widows in Methodist churches, find out the response of widows in Methodist Churches and give suggestions on possible ways the Methodist churches can respond to the plight of widows. The researcher adopted the historical and phenomenological methods of research. The data was collected through two main sources. The secondary sources include books, journals, newspapers, internet sources, magazine while the primary sources also included interview from notable leaders and personal observation.
The researcher recommends that regular financial assistance to widows; giving material support, regular supply of food items; raising educational fund for widows’ children; involvement of widows in spiritual leadership, and gainful employment of widows could go a long way in assisting and encouraging widows especially in Methodist Church Nigeria, Diocese of Uyo.
The Place of Widows in Methodist Church Dioceses of Uyo
1.1 Background to the Study
Widowhood is often associated with pain, grief and depression, especially for women who are not educated and have no skill or business to fall back on. Upon realisation of this ugly societal trend, more than few non-government organizations have emerged to ensure that these women survive despite their situation. In different parts of Nigeria, the state of widows varies, depending on ethnicity and culture. In some cultures, the moment a man dies, his belongings are taken away from the widow by his relatives, and thereby leaving her with little, or in most cases, nothing to survive on. It is more pathetic when the poor widow has nothing to fall back on; she is left alone, rejected and abandoned to wallow in abject poverty with her children.
This ugly situation has forced many widows to resort to various means of survival such as: Prostitution and begging. Most times, many of them find themselves at the mercy of their dead husbands‘ relatives, many of whom may want them as second wives. In most African cultural settings, women are regarded as second class citizens. This explains why women have little or no say on the issue concerning the family affairs in most African societies. Women in most cultures are deprived of the bride price of their children. In Nigeria today, a good number of young and old women who have lost their spouses find it difficult to cope with life.
Death is an inevitable phenomenon that causes a compulsory separation of couples and this is prevalent in every society. Widows, both young and old, are faced with challenges in their daily living by feeling lonely, dejected, isolated and abandoned; thereby leading some of them to become weary and end up backsliding in the Christian faith. The question at this juncture is, what does the Bible teach concerning widows, or what is God‘s mind towards widows?
In Old Testament, there were three sets of people apart from the Levites whom God warned not to be neglected or maltreated: they were widows, orphans and aliens or strangers. Sometimes the society or people exhibit social injustices against widows and this is against God‘s plan for widows. God absolutely hates and punishes those who oppress and suppress widows socially, economically, emotioally and physically. Concerning unjust rulers and judges, God explicitly pronounces punishment on them.
The word of God states, ―Curse is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan and widow… (Deut. 27: 19). God continues, ―Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves, they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widows‘ case does not come before them (Isa. 1:23). Then God denounces and passes his righteous judgment on the wicked rulers. ―Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and rob my oppressed people of justice, making widows their prey… (Isa.10:1-3).
God in his love hates deprivation of the people from their properties, specially the underprivileged such as widows. The word of God States, ―In you they have treated fathers and mothers with contempt; in you they oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widows…they devour people, take their treasures precious things and many widows (Eze. 22: 7, 25). But since people (relations) refuse to listen to God, He said, ―So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against… those who oppress the widows (Mal. 3: 5).
On the other hand, God commands rulers, judges, a community and church leaders to defend the rights and welfare of widows. It is stated in the word of God: ―Speak up for those who cannot for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Prov. 31: 8-9). God continues ―Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other (Zech. 7: 9-10).
Furthermore, God requires that widows are shown kindness by supplying them with their needs. God instructed: ―When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches the second time; leave what remains for the…widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyards, do not go over the vines again; leave what remains for the…widow (Deut. 24: 17, 20, 21). Similarly, God directed the Israelites thus:
At the end of every three years, bring all your tithes of that your produce and store it in your barns, so that the…widows who live in your towns may eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
In the New Testament, widows were given special support as found in Acts 6:1-6, and some criteria were observed. The criteria were: a widow must not be below the age of sixty (60), she must be a wife of one man, meaning she must have married once and that she had lived a useful and charitable life. Individual churches have been commanded to ―Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need… (1 Tim. 5:3-4). It is required that Christians show love and support to widows. The Bible says, ―Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress… (James 1: 27).
The early church did so much that they never had a needy person among them, because all who had property sold them and brought the money to the apostle and it was distributed to anyone who was in need (Acts 4: 34-37). The apostles, in the early church, planned and distributed food to the needy Christian widows.
As a result, the church increased in number because the apostles concentrated in teaching, preaching and prayers while seven spiritually responsible people were in charge of the church social needs. A disciple in Joppa named Tabitha (Dorcas) was very generous to widows; she was doing good and helping the poor. She became sick and died and all the widows stood crying and showing the robes and other clothing Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter prayed and she came back to life (Acts 9: 34-41). This shows that God really has abundant love and compassion toward the afflicted—widows in our society.
Pentecostals are notorious for love and evangelism, their emphasis on love and evangelism is meant to go out and reach the ̳lost‘ for Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and the less privilege especially people widows and orphans; this they do charity opportunity where they bless the people spiritually, materially and financially.
Consequently, changes in their living conditions reveals widows are worse off emotionally after the observance of the mandatory mourning period and the widowhood practices that accompany it. Ozoagu (1993) maintains in some towns a widow is forced to undergo some serious observations, especially when it was agreed that a widow is responsible for her husband’s death. Ozoagu noted that after the burial of her husband a widow is forced to go through the mandatory mourning practices and widowhood rites. Later on she has to choose between being remarried outside her in-law family or allowing herself to be inherited by a member of the husband’s family.
Widowhood is also associated with the expression of anger, which is even more intense than the anger experienced by a divorcee. In the view Thomas (2008), intense grief and anger are more common among women in widowhood because of denial following the loss of a close spouse through death. Widowhood, it is also reasoned, is the greatest source of psychosocial deprivation for children of female-headed families.
From the foregoing, it is very clear that the Bible clearly teaches how widows are to be treated. Even with this teaching, people nowadays do not follow the plan of God for the widows. Therefore, there is need to investigate the place of widows in the Methodist church Nigeria; Dioceses of Uyo.
The Place of Widows in Methodist Church Dioceses of Uyo
1.2 Statement of the Problem
There are problems confronting widows in our church today which may look so hidden or even doubtable in the minds of many members in our churches. Even though the Holy Bible talks of widows’ welfare, they still pass through some challenges in their widowhood such as deprivation of their husbands‘ inheritance and abandonment due to traditional practices among others. It has been observed that, widows are not getting the deserved love and concern that is due to them. In his invitation to humanity to consider the care of widows, James proposes that: ―Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27).
The author immediately observes that there are some religions which God does not accept as pure and faultless. These are the types which do not care for the widows and orphans. On this note, it becomes evident that the care for the widows constitutes God‘s heartbeat. Millions of the world‘s widows endure extreme poverty, ostracism, homelessness, ill health and discrimination in law and custom.
Widows in many countries are often confronted with denial of inheritance and land rights, degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites and other forms of widow abuse. Widows are often evicted from their homes and physically abused –some are even killed by members of their own families. In some instances, a woman‘s social status is inextricably linked to her husband‘s, so that when her husband dies, the woman no longer has a place in the society. To regain social status, widows are expected to marry one of their husband‘s male relatives, sometimes being forced to the marriage. For many, the loss of a husband is only the first trauma in a long-term ordeal.
In many cultures, widowhood is stigmatized and seen as a source of shame. Widows are considered as cursed people in some cultures and are even associated with witchcraft. Such misconceptions can lead to widows being ostracized, abused and dehumanised. The children of widows are often negatively affected, both emotionally and economically. Widowed mothers, supporting their families alone, are forced to withdraw their children from school.
Moreover, the daughters of widows may suffer multiple deprivations, which may increase their vulnerability to abuse. Such deprivation is often seen as justified in terms of cultural practice. Impunity for abuses of the rights of widows is rife, with few perpetrators ever successfully brought to justice. Even in places where legal protection is more inclusive, widows can suffer social marginalization. In the midst of this ordeal, the woman is left destitute when her husband dies.
Poverty becomes well pronounced on widows with little or no access to credit or other economic resources, most especially when the widows are uneducated. Without education and training, widows cannot support themselves or their families. Many widows in traditional societies have no rights, or have very limited rights to inheritance or land ownership under customary and religious law. Without inheritance rights, in addition to lack of rights to the property of their birth family, widows find themselves financially insecure and totally dependent on the charity of their husbands‘ relatives.
Poor nutrition, inadequate shelter and vulnerability to violence, combined with lack of access to health care, can impact the physical and mental well-being of widows. In fact, some of the plights of widows are: emotional, social, psychological, economical and spiritual. Some of their challenges are sometimes caused or compounded by the relatives and other people in the community. Other kinds of problems that widows face are lack of companionship and financial difficulties which lead to drastic change of life style. It has been observed that some widows are deprived of the basic necessities of life such as food, shelter and some have faced serious disgrace by the members of the deceased family.
Most widows especially in most Methodist churches have suffered deprivation of their husbands’ property as the brothers and uncles of their late husband‘s claim the ownership of all the property, all in the name of tradition, thereby living the widow and children in abject poverty. As soon as this happens, the widow is disorganized, leading to many problems and would have to start with the children all over again. Some have suffered abandonment from the members of the society as well. This mostly happens when the widow is alleged to be responsible for her husband‘s death.
In such a case, she is left alone to suffer with the children. The main focus of this study therefore is to evaluate the place of widows in Methodist Church Nigeria; Dioceses of Uyo.
1.3 Purpose of Study
This research is aimed primarily at evaluating the place of Widows in Methodist Church Nigeria. Specifically, the study intends to:
- investigate how Methodist churches understand the Biblical teaching concerning widows;
- identify the plight of widows in Methodist churches;
- find out the response of Methodist churches to the plight of widows; and
- give suggestion on possible ways the Methodist churches can respond to the plight of widows.
The Place of Widows in Methodist Church Dioceses of Uyo
1.4 Significance of Study
This study will be significant to widows as it will provide some recommendations and suggestions that would be of benefit and value to them. It will help them to realize that the problems they pass through are not peculiar to them only. This study will also be of benefit to the Methodist church leaders because it will help them have more understanding of the plight of widows, and what they can do to help reduce the plight of widows by giving priority to widows in their planning.
The social workers will also benefit from this study as they will understand generally the challenges widows are facing. By this, they will be able to make reasonable suggestions to the government on ways that the widows’ plight can be alleviated. Also, future researchers of similar topics will benefit from this study as it will help them gather more ideas for their study when consulted.
Lawson Peter – Chief Editor in Projectvilla Nigeria. A writer and academic researcher.