A new campaign aiming to address domestic violence was launched on Saturday morning asking the government to take seriously the 52 deaths of women this year due to violence inflicted by a partner or family member. Eternity sat down with two women involved with the campaign, Erica Hamence and Rachel Neary to find out more.
Rachel, a social worker at a women’s shelter in central Australia, and Erica, an assistant minister at St. Barnabas’ Broadway, say that Common Grace, a Christian group passionate about Jesus and justice, is keen to “clear up our own house first” when it comes to domestic violence. That is, they want to look at what churches have done or are doing that are actually permitting violence within the church, or things that could be used as excuses by perpetrators. But they also want to consider what they can do, and think about trying to resource church leaders to lead well in that.
In time, they hope to release a common statement on domestic violence with cross-denominational support, with the aim of providing a united stand against domestic violence.
“[Domestic violence] has long been a private issue,” says Rachel. But it is a big and largely silent problem, because historically it has been “something that happens in the home, something between a man and his wife, and not an issue for the public domain.”
Erica adds that the social pressure to stay silent is compounded by the personal pressure, saying, “for someone to speak out means that they’re often naming the father of their children, or the person they’re married to who may even be respected by their community. So it’s this whole web of relationships and interdependence that you tear up if you speak out, or if others speak out on your behalf.
“Domestic violence relies on silence to perpetuate itself,” says Erica.
Erica and Rachel agree that the churches have sometimes responded poorly to disclosures of domestic violence, and have in fact occasionally contributed to the abuse that women have already experienced.
Rachel says, “If they’re not given any affirmation, if they’re judged in such a way as to place blame on them (which can be conveyed by questions like: why did he do this to you? What did you do to cause him to do that to you?), or even the way disclosure is dealt with can also be a form of institutional abuse on top of their existing abuse.”
“Covering [domestic violence] up is sin. If you’re putting the reputation of your church above seeking justice for victims, or if you’re protecting oppressors, then that’s sin,” says Rachel.
“We’re not saying that church leaders are failing women,” says Erica. “But we don’t want church leaders to be unaware of the way that a doctrine of obedience or forgiveness or reconciliation can actually be misused by an abuser, even if all the good intentions are there, and even if there’s great teaching from leaders on [those doctrines]. Those are convenient structures that can be used to perpetuate violence.”
Common Grace believes that churches need to be a safe place for women to disclose domestic violence. That means that they need to have confidence that the right things will be done if they disclose. They need to trust that justice will be sought.
Regardless of what you think marriage should look like, Common Grace says there are shared values and beliefs that are held dearly by people on all sides of the debate.
“Whatever marriage [looks like],” says Erica, “it is at least self-giving love which doesn’t ever use any power to oppress or abuse. And at the core of domestic violence is power and control, and abuse of that power and control.”
“We just don’t want to say that we have to change your view on [what marriage looks like] in order to work for victims of domestic violence, or against abuse in the church,” says Erica.
Common Grace wants to show how the gospel itself is a resource for dealing with domestic violence.
Rachel says that domestic violence is present in all different sectors of society, and across all different cultures, and always shows itself in the same ways – abusive power and control.
“But in Jesus’ life, his ministry, his death and resurrection, his character is one of self giving love,” says Erica. “He is Lord of universe, everything belongs to him but he never uses that power oppressively, he only ever responds to it by giving up power for the sake of others.
“Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve, and this is the model [for human relationships].”