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Churches ‘should unite’ to fight domestic abuse

‘Long-lasting genuine cultural change for good will find its root in the local church’

A domestic violence specialist with BaptistCare, Bruce Chan, has called on churches to band together to fight the scourge of domestic and family violence.

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Chan told an audience of 350 people from half a dozen denominations in Sydney that the Baptist church in NSW was developing a pilot programme on domestic violence, More than Skin Deep, that would be trialled in churches this year, and rolled out to 1000 churches next year.

“It’s not restricted to Baptist churches, so any other church can contact BaptistCare who are interested to find out,” he told a room full of people gathered to listen to a panel discussion about domestic violence led by journalist Julia Baird.

“Encourage your churches, encourage your leadership teams, encourage your communities to understand and explore this topic. Be active bystanders. If each of us did something in our own community we could make a big difference.

“As a Christian community we should be light, we should be shining brighter than any other community because this is what Christ asks us to do. We’ve got great professionals with great experience across our networks, we should share it. We shouldn’t be siloed into Presbyterians, Anglicans, charismatic churches, etc, etc. We have a common mission.”

The NSW BaptistCare package follows similar projects in other states, notably a handbook for clergy and pastoral workers by Uniting Care in South Australia.

“Long-lasting genuine cultural change for good will find its root in the local church.” – Graeme Anderson

Meanwhile, Common Grace, a movement of Christians passionate about Jesus and justice, will launch a package of resources, called Safer, in November, said Erica Hamence, who led the team that developed the package. It will include theological resources, resources for sermons and Bible Study leaders, and what to do when someone discloses abuse.

The public event, called Time to Listen with Julia Baird, also featured Michael Jensen, Rector of St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point in Sydney’s east, and Liz Mackinlay, chair of Mary House women’s refuge. There was so much interest in the event that it had to be moved from Northside Baptist in Crows Nest to a bigger venue, the Independent Theatre in North Sydney.

“We genuinely believe that tonight is an important moment for the church in Sydney,” Graeme Anderson, Lead Pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Crows Nest said.

Anderson organised the event because Baird’s articles on domestic violence in the church over the past two years have prompted a great deal of pushback and denial from church leaders.

Saying he believed that “long-lasting genuine cultural change for good will find its root in the local church,” Anderson said: “This is an opportunity for us to step into the breach and be the local church.”

Each member of the audience, which included representatives from Baptist, Anglican, Uniting, Churches of Christ, ACC, AOG and Catholic churches, was challenged to come up with an idea for something they could do as a member of their church in the area of domestic and family violence.

Graham Hill, senior leader within the Baptist Association NSW/ACT and Founding Director of The Global Church Project, said he was stunned by the storm of reaction to a recent article by Julia Baird that quoted US research on the high levels of abuse by men who attend evangelical churches sporadically.

“When I see Christian leaders trying to silence this conversation … we’re causing more pain, more grief, more suffering, more silence, more loss, and I think we need to begin to address that honestly.” – Graham Hill

“I was quite stunned personally when your article came out and people tried to push back on that with excuses and denials and justifications and so on,” he said.

“That stunned me, the extent of abuse that happens in many families and certainly in the life of the church. I have no idea personally of what it’s like to suffer, of course, like many of the women are suffering, but when I listen to them I hear stories of shame and fear and secrecy and being silenced. And then when I see Christian leaders trying to silence this conversation, it feels to me that we’re exaggerating those feelings, and so we’re causing more pain, more grief, more suffering, more silence, more loss, and I think we need to begin to address that honestly.

“Some people say ‘wouldn’t it be nice if instead of justifying and excusing and denying, we just said sorry. I’m sorry that we haven’t listened. I’m sorry that our systems and our cultures and our language and our theology has silenced you. I’m sorry that when you come to ask for help that we’ve told you that you need to practise more forgiveness or you need to be more submissive. I’m sorry that when it’s come to our attention that there are men behaving badly, that we’ve exonerated or we’ve colluded with those men in some way or we’ve allowed them to charm us. I’m sorry that instead of actually seeing a moment when we can make a difference we’ve resorted to excuses and denials rather than actually embracing the moment and choosing to change and make a difference.”

Coincidentally, the Anglican Church of Australia has voted to conduct professional research into the extent of family violence among Anglicans. Other churches may be invited to join the research.

The church’s triennial General Synod (church council), meeting at Maroochydore, Queensland, also formally condemned domestic violence and offered “a heartfelt apology” for failures in teaching and pastoral care to support victims and hold perpetrators to account.

Donna Crouch, a pastor from Hillsong Church who has worked in the domestic violence area for a long time, gave some practical tips for churches trying to work out how to respond.

“The break-up is most critical period for a woman to be killed.” – Donna Crouch

“I think to start with we’ve got to change our language in church, that domestic violence is ‘out there.’ It’s not ‘out there;’ it’s in here, it’s everywhere – and not be ashamed about that … how to own that without being embarrassed. Of course it’s going to be in our church because our churches are a reflection of the community we’re in – so let’s get on with it!”

Crouch said her team focused particularly on how to intervene during the critical period when a woman is about to leave an abusive husband.

“The break-up is most critical period for a woman to be killed; that means our response before, during or after is also critical,” she said.

She said in NSW there had been cases where the first instance of physical violence was murder.

“That only heightens our responsibility for all this intervention with all these other symptoms of family violence.”

She said her team had been working on developing relationships with the local police domestic violence liaison officer, and finding out who the professionals and counsellors were in the community.

“We’re not going to do a Christian version of the professionals; we can use the trust that people put in us to refer them and do the journey with them. If that means sitting with them, calling the DV hotline, if it means going to the police, we do that.”

“Jesus is an interesting guy, you know – humility … not exercising his muscle to assert his masculinity.” – Michael Jensen

Michael Jensen said it was really important for pastors to have the knowledge of the dynamics of domestic violence to be able to see through deception on the part of the perpetrator.

“To see where I’m being buttered up is really important, just to even see that as a possibility that by his charm he’s actually trying to win me to his side is extraordinary,” he said.

He also said churches had an important role to play in speaking differently about masculinity.

“Jesus is an interesting guy, you know – humility … not exercising his muscle to assert his masculinity, that kind of taking the anxiety out of being seen to be a man, I think, would be something that in church communities could be revolutionary, could be a real change in the balance.”

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