Tag Archives: domestic abuse

Credit where due: Australian Anglicans apologise for domestic violence

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
that:

  • 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:

  1. 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);

  2. Non-physical abuse is just as violent as physical abuse (without bruises, abuse is often considered to be “just harassment”);

  3. 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);

  4. 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:

1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277

Protesting too much: Christian leaders on “alleged” abuse

You would think that in the wake of the ABC’s damning report on domestic abuse among evangelical Christians, leaders of evangelical churches would take a moment to ensure they understand domestic abuse, consider the ways it might be hiding out in their congregations, and take proactive steps to help possible victims feel safe within their communities.

Instead, we’re seeing responses like this from a Newcastle evangelical church (published on the cover of its weekly newsletter on Sunday):

Response to ABC abuse claims

Despite the opening sentence, it’s actually one of the better responses–it acknowledges that Christian husbands are sometimes abusive, and that Christian wives sometimes accept it because they believe they should–but it’s also defiant, insensitive, and hypocritical.

It makes no sense to open with refusal to believe clearly presented evidence of abuse (“alleged link”, “ridiculously false”, etc.), while simultaneously promising victims that “we will listen to you” and “take what you say seriously”.

The ABC report was thoroughly researched and its accuracy remains unimpeached, despite spurious claims by Andrew Bolt and The Australian (see the ABC’s response to those). The reporter, Julia Baird, is an accomplished journalist who also happens to be a pro-church Christian, so claims of an anti-Christian agenda are equally nonsensical. And it’s demonstrably true that Christian abusers use the Bible to manipulate and control their partners, so arguing about whether or not this requires incorrect theology isn’t useful.

Stating, without evidence, that Baird’s report was “ridiculously false” creates immediate hostility towards readers who are abuse victims, deepens their sense of isolation and insignificance, and destroys trust in the church’s leadership. It offers the polar opposite of loving concern for victims of domestic abuse, who almost certainly exist in this and many other churches.

The flippant tone of subsequent acknowledgements of Christian abuse amplifies this error (e.g. “this is plain wrong!”). Domestic abuse has devastating impacts and failing to respond to it with proper seriousness demeans victims rather than supporting them.

The opportunity to properly describe the nature of domestic abuse is also missed. Victims frequently assume abusive behaviours from their partners are their own fault, i.e. not abuse at all, so this is unforgivable. Non-violent abuse (whether sexual, financial, emotional or spiritual) is widely regarded as equally if not more harmful than physical violence, but is consistently downplayed by victims and observers. This church’s superficial reference to “emotional and physical abuse” does little to help women who already doubt that they deserve better than what they’re getting from their husbands–a simple list of abuse types would have made a significant difference.

I won’t comment on “headship” as a “stewardship role”. The merit or otherwise of complementarian theology is a topic for another day, but including this sentence when talking about domestic abuse beggars belief: “So by my reckoning the closest person to experiencing abuse in marriage should be the man!” The writer’s point, I think, is that if Christian marriages were to match the metaphor of Jesus marrying the church, the man would be the one crucified (abused), if anyone is. It’s a worthless hypothetical expressed so poorly that it appears to be a flippant reference to male suffering–as if that belongs in a discussion that rightly emphasises the suffering of women in abusive Christian marriages.

The pastor goes on to suggest that although abuse doesn’t belong in Christian marriages, it’s not actually a reason for divorce, officially, but maybe it might be ok, except the Bible says no. In the final paragraph, he adds, “We will not give up on either of you or your marriage”. Or, to paraphrase, “Bringing your abuser into the conversation in an attempt to save your marriage will be more important to us than your welfare.”

Victims are assured that “we will do all in our power to see that you are safe”, but everything else about this response indicates they will do the opposite. They will quickly include the abuser in the conversation (risking repercussions for the victim). They will be unlikely to believe the victim (since abusers are expert liars, distressed victims rarely present as reliable witnesses, and according to this pastor, not even investigative journalists with relevant studies, hours of interviews, and an independent news organisation behind them are capable of providing credible testimony regarding abuse). And they will prioritise keeping the victim and the abuser married (because apparently the sanctity of marriage isn’t compromised by abuse).

But it’s ok, because “we will uphold the laws of our country where domestic violence is a criminal offence”.

Women deserve better than this. We must insist on it.