Tag Archives: faith

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

Ah, the futility: debating marriage equality with “those” Christians

As a former Christian, here are some observations about the futility of debating marriage equality with Christian opponents. (I note that many Christians do support marriage equality and will be voting “yes”. The following isn’t about them.)

They “own” marriage

They believe the word/institution/sacrament known as “marriage” is solely occupied by the version of marriage they teach and practice within their churches. They do not consider the long secular history of marriage relevant, nor do they care that the Marriage Act is secular legislation that stands completely separate from any faith-based definition of the word.

They care about all marriages “equally”

Flagrant disregard for the sanctity of marriage among heterosexual non-Christians isn’t a priority for them (it’s a secular institution, after all). They are saddened by high divorce rates and widespread domestic violence between spouses, but when gay couples choose stable monogamy and want access to the legal rights of marriage, nothing else matters (because marriage is first and foremost a Judeo-Christian tradition, when it suits them).

They are “victims”

Their perceived ownership of “marriage” is so entrenched that when the validity of their arguments is challenged, they feel persecuted and refuse to engage with the substance of their own statements (much less any counter-arguments that are presented). They claim to be in a fierce battle for the preservation of marriage and believe they are part of the vulnerable minority. They cannot see their overwhelming privilege, nor the damage they’re doing to the actual victims: LGBTQ+ people and their families, all of whom are (in Christian-speak) “made in God’s image” and completely deserving of full participation in every aspect of society.

They are “loving”, not hateful

Because they never get sweary or violent, and because they are taught to “hate the sin, but love the sinner” (not a concept that appears in Bible, incidentally – it’s a Mahatma Gandhi quote), they will not accept that their demeaning words and actions are anything but “speaking the truth in love”. Many can’t even see that petitioning the government to refuse marriage to same-sex couples is a method of forcing their beliefs on others. Instead, they think it’s “loving” to “protect” people from “invalid marriages”.

When told their hatred is driving people away from Christianity — by the very people who are being driven away — they feel comfort, not pain. They’ve been taught to expect offence from unbelievers, and that being “in the world, but not of the world” should entail exactly this type of rejection. They must be doing something right!

What can be done about these “Christians”?

Nothing.

They are ignorant and abusive, and choose to remain so. We can only remove ourselves from their company, vote them out of office, outnumber them, and defeat them.

And while we’re doing it, we must relentlessly love all the people they hate.

Today, that’s the entire Australian LGBTQ+ community.

My friends, know that I love you and am standing beside you, along with so many others, to help you take what should already be rightfully yours.

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.

Losing my religion (part 1)

I’ve been reliably informed that “losing my religion” means something else entirely, but it should be taken literally here. And if I lose my mind along the way, consider it a tribute to R.E.M.’s intended meaning.

Also: tribes are great. I don’t have anything against tribes. I’m just looking for a new one is all.

Last month, I came to the realisation that after 3 decades of committed involvement in Christian churches–my entire adult life and most of my childhood–it was time to leave the tribe.

Over the years, I’ve preached, been on music teams, done beach missions, led youth groups, attended conferences, and done heaps of other Jesus-related stuff, so this is no small thing. Reaching the point where I no longer consider myself a Christian represents a pretty major transition. (An “epic fall from grace,” you might say, if you’re a Christian.)

I’m not writing about my “unconversion” with a particular agenda. Many others have shared similar stories, and I’m not delusional enough to believe I have an Edgy New Angle on quitting the church that definitely deserves to go viral. I’m simply trying to straighten out my thoughts. I’d also like to avoid explaining myself hundreds of times.

So, what does it mean to “leave the tribe”? Some of my Christian friends have tried to comfort themselves with the notion that this is only about taxonomy–that I’ll be calling myself something different but carrying on as I always have. I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m not going to be rebranding myself as a “Jesus-follower” and living up to anyone’s expectations of such a person.

What I believe (or don’t) about spiritual things will be between me and a handful of others. Although I currently consider this to be more “identity crisis” than “crisis of faith,” I won’t be keeping you posted on how I’m tracking in the faith department. This is partly because I expect my spirituality to be a moving target (the more I learn, the less certain I am), and partly because I can’t see a good reason for you to know.

I’ll simply be another person trying to live a compassionate, wholesome, and balanced life. Please don’t assume that I’m an atheist, an off-brand Christian, or something in-between–I have no interest in the expectations or baggage of any religious (or irreligious) monicker.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue many friendships with people of faith, but I realise that some friendships won’t be the same anymore, and others won’t survive this change at all. There will no doubt be moments of grief as the reality of this hits home, but I’m sure the pain will pass.

Becoming progressive

Over the last 10 years, I’ve slowly but surely transitioned from “conservative straight white Christian male” to “progressive pro-diversity anti-patriarchy straight white Christian male.”

At first it was only my politics that changed, but my faith was gradually overhauled too. Although my theology remained conservative (mostly), I became less dogmatic and accepted the legitimacy of alternative views in many areas.

There were several critical moments at which I consciously chose to remain among conservative Christians. I believed it was important to challenge the idea that conservative morality could only be expressed through conservative politics, so I resigned myself to bringing that challenge from within. It was uncomfortable and multiple friendships evaporated, but I pressed on anyway.

Late last year, I become increasingly discouraged with the collective resistance of my fellow Christians to critical thinking, genuine compassion, and real-world action.

I was constantly locking horns with Christians, mostly online but also offline. The battle for Just A Little Bit Of Progress was unrelenting and mostly unrewarded (despite quiet encouragement from a few like-minded friends). My patience was waning, my ability to engage respectfully with bigots was slipping, and my mental health was suffering.

At first I thought it might just be my local church, so I disconnected for a few months and sporadically tried a few others. None of them felt right, all of them would have struggled to have an open conversation about issues that I consider important, and honestly, the weeks I stayed home were more beneficial.

Eventually, I accepted the reality of the situation: I just don’t belong in the Christian tribe anymore. That’s not to say there aren’t Christian individuals with whom I share common views / hopes / dreams. But, ironically perhaps, I’ve lost confidence in institutional Christianity as a vehicle for outcomes that align with the words of Jesus.

You might be wondering if I’m still “following Jesus”. My answer is no, because it’s a phrase that comes with baggage. All I can confirm is that my “Christian worldview” hasn’t been discarded. (But it’s under ongoing review.)

To my Christian friends: I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not sorry to have made this change. I already feel more authentic, more healthy, and more useful.

Welcome to Luke 2.0. The old has gone, the new has come.

Essential listening for evangelical Christians: The Liturgists on LGBTQ

Essential listening for evangelical Christians: The Liturgists on LGBTQ

Maybe you don’t really do the podcast thing. That’s OK. Listen to this episode anyway. You don’t need to install a podcast player on your smartphone. You don’t even need a smartphone. Just follow the link.

What’s missing from so much of the evangelical response to same-sex marriage (and gay rights in general) is genuine empathy with LGBTQ people. We insist that we love gay people, but we don’t take the time to hear their stories, to understand their points of view, and to learn from their experiences. It’s easier to hide behind careful theology and theoretical care.

This episode of The Liturgists artfully and respectfully interviews gay and transexual Christians, along with several pastors and commentators, with a diverse range of views on sexuality and faithful Christian practice.

It’s a 1.5-hour antidote to ignorance, and I think all Christians (especially evangelicals) should listen to it.

Life before birth, according to the Bible

Life before birth, according to the Bible

Click through for what is presumably a typical defence of abortion from Christians on the “left” of this issue.

I don’t endorse it, but I’m not in a position to post a rebuttal, either. (That’s code for “I’m still figuring out what to think about this.”) Feel free to help enlighten me if this is something you’ve studied with an open mind.

For now, I remain opposed to abortion, but unconvinced that making it illegal is an effective/useful response to the various forces that make it a reality in our society.

Fear and creativity for Christian educators

Fear and creativity for Christian educators

This post on The Christian School Journal is pretty inspiring. If you’re a Christian involved in education, I predict it will help you feel less worried about the road ahead, and more enthusiastic about putting your creativity to work as an innovator in your area.

Here’s an excerpt, but it’s worth reading in full:

How should we respond as Christian educators? With courage not fear, with optimism not pessimism, with excitement, not dread; with a vision for the future, not with a nostalgic longing for the past. We should respond with creativity, vigor and innovation, not with the mechanical and routinized habits that have become so comfortable but are increasingly arcane and irrelevant for our students.

Our Tower of Babel, a.k.a. the Unlimited Internet

Quoting Shawn Blanc, who was quoting Matthew Smith:

I think we designed the wrong Internet. We’re creating rapidly for the Internet and we’re creating things that are life-changing for people. I think that smart people with good ethics need to make hard decisions about what we’re making. For example, I think about the feed, which invites us to come, be obsessed, and compare ourselves to everyone, all the time. Who came up with the idea of endless content constantly streaming toward us? There’s this unlimitedness that concerns me because it is so unlike the rest of the human experience and I think it confuses the human mind and puts us into a space where we aren’t at our best.

It occurs to me that we’ve been here before. We couldn’t swim in Twitter’s unfiltered river of information about the entire planet’s last 5 seconds, but our heart beat as one in a different way: we had one language, and we lived in one city. We may not have been feverishly creating and collecting petabytes of data about pretty much everything, but that didn’t stop us gloating over what we were capable of at the time: baking bricks and building stuff.

I’m referring to That Famous Monument to Narcissism, the Tower of Babel, as described in Genesis chapter 11 and arguably found in one of several thrilling [or not] archaeological digs. Here’s the relevant section:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

I’m not especially keen to debate the historicity of this story. Not today, anyway.

I simply find it interesting that the God of the Bible (whatever you make of him) has a problem with humanity being collectively over-empowered. Now that we’ve all but beaten our diaspora with optical fibre, jet propulsion and Google Translate, are we on the cusp of needing another intervention?

What’s it going to take to knock us off our pedestal this time?