Original Research - Special Collection: Tjaart van der Walt Commemoration Lecture

A time to confess? An ecclesiology of vulnerability in light of #metoo

Selina Palm
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 53, No 4 | a2484 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v53i4.2484 | © 2019 Selina Palm | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 May 2019 | Published: 28 October 2019

About the author(s)

Selina Palm, Unit for Religion and Development, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


This article draws on Robert Vosloo’s call for an ‘ecclesiology of vulnerability’ in order to bear faithful theological witness to a vulnerable God. He is concerned that prophetic witness avoids a cheap triumphalism and rediscovers painful solidarity with the crises of our times, embodies a hope grounded in lament and mobilises the vulnerable ‘body’ of the church to perform resistance-in-action. South Africa’s kairos tradition of prophetic witness was addressed to the church, calling for a vulnerable self-critique that acknowledged its theological complicity in the face of the sin of apartheid and calling the churches beyond pious words to acts of embodied resistance. This article draws on this trajectory in light of the evidence regarding churches complicity in relation to sexual violence against vulnerable women and children. It explores the Dutch scholar, Leo Koffeman’s claim of 2009 that the church is ‘morally vulnerable’ and that as a result, violence plays an ongoing role in its life. This institutional complicity needs to be acknowledged if authentic prophetic witness is to emerge from current places of lament. In this task, a ‘pneumatology of vulnerability’ may help disrupt abusive theological power-claims. Churches must risk admitting their own institutional vulnerability to embody public practices of confession and lament, if they are to refuse an ecclesiology of denial for one of disruption for the sake of justice. This is an essential theological task if they are to enable the vulnerable body of the church to admit #metoo.


Vulnerability; ecclesiology; sexual violence; #metoo; body theology; churches; gender; theologies of liberation; feminist theology.


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