The Anglican Church of Australia’s apology to victims of domestic violence, offered at its triennial General Synod, has received understandable media attention this week. The full text is on page 14 of this PDF. Here it is in full:
Condemnation and Apology for Domestic Violence
Bishop Stephen Hale moving, The Ven Kara Hartley seconding,
The General Synod affirms that:
- All human beings, male and female, are created in the image of God, and are precious to him. So their value and dignity should be upheld by all, and rightly commands respect and protection.
- Healthy Christian relationships are characterised by servanthood and sacrifice, supremely modeled by Jesus Christ. So we encourage healthy marriages and families based on mutual love and respect. No one should feel unsafe in their own home.
- The Bible always condemns the misuse of power to control or exploit others, and rejects all abuse, whether physical, verbal, or otherwise expressed from one person towards others. Therefore domestic violence is sin, and Scripture should never be twisted to justify or excuse any abuse.
- No victim of domestic abuse should ever be pressured to forgive, submit to, or restore a relationship with an offender.
Our churches are committed to being safe places for all people, especially children and vulnerable adults, and we will therefore work to protect those experiencing domestic abuse as a first priority.
We grieve with victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and pray for their healing and recovery. We give thanks for those women and men, clergy and lay people, who have faithfully supported, cared for and protected such victims in our churches and communities.
However, we also confess with deep shame that domestic abuse has occurred among those who attend our churches, and even among some in leadership. We apologise for those times our teaching and pastoral care has failed adequately to support victims and call perpetrators to account.
We urge Anglican dioceses around Australia to ensure they have policies and good practice guidelines in place, along with education and training, for responding well to situations involving domestic violence within our parishes and organisations.
We also acknowledge our responsibility to work with the police, statutory child protection authorities and specialist agencies in responding to domestic abuse, including our legal obligations in reporting abuse.
Finally, this Synod again upholds Faithfulness in Service as our national code of conduct for clergy and church workers, specifically its affirmations
- Abuse of power is at the heart of many relationship problems in the Church and the community. In essence, abuse is one person’s misuse of power over another. Sometimes abuse will be a one off event and at other times it will be a pattern of behaviour. (§6.2)
- It is important for clergy and church workers to be good citizens and obey the laws of the community, except where those laws conflict with Christian convictions. (§6.4)
- You are not to abuse your spouse, children or other members of your family. (§6.6)
I’ve written previously about unhelpful church responses to Julia Baird’s report on domestic violence among evangelical Christians, and in the meantime have engaged directly with a number of church leaders and other Christians about church-complicit abuse. Unfortunately, even after getting past deflective and compassionless quibbling over Baird’s use of statistics, I’ve encountered ongoing resistance to principles like:
- Victim safety should be a higher priority than the continuation of a marriage (this is affirmed in theory, but in practice, the first step typically taken when dealing with troubled marriages is to suggest counselling to “work on the marriage”, without considering the risks this might create if the marriage is abusive);
Non-physical abuse is just as violent as physical abuse (without bruises, abuse is often considered to be “just harassment”);
Claims of domestic abuse should be believed by default (because abusers usually appear to be charming and godly, and expertly “groom” observers to doubt the veracity of their victims’ claims);
Domestic abuse is rarely identified as abuse by its victims until after they’ve left the relationship (and pastoral responses to relationship difficulties should therefore follow a process that facilitates a professional assessment of this possibility).
It’s heartening to see a formal response from a large denomination that includes meaningful, compassionate engagement with all of these points, and urges the adoption of relevant policies, guidelines, and education to address this issue moving forward. Massive kudos to the Anglican Church for making this statement. Hopefully words like these will translate to cultural change within Christian communities, and domestic abuse will start to lose its foothold within churches.
We’re a long way from evangelical Christians really believing that “no victim of domestic abuse should ever be pressured to forgive, submit to, or restore a relationship with an offender”, but we’re a few steps closer than we were last week.
If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, or suspect that you might be, please contact one of the following family and domestic violence support services: