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Domestic violence in the name of God

Domestic violence in the name of God

Fri 21 July 2017

In the last few days we have been reminded of the reprehensible effects of family violence through the heart-wrenching stories gathered by ABC journalists Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson, especially as it is perpetrated against women. Their reports make it clear that the church is not immune from this scourge and may indeed provide a place where it may be hidden.

We must be clear that it is never right for a husband to be violent towards his wife, or a male against his female partner. It does not matter how one reads the biblical passages describing submission within marriage, it is not a valid or sustainable reading to use them as a cover for evil – for that is what violence against one’s partner is.

In the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn we have attempted to address some of the right concerns raised by Baird and Gleeson. These can be collected under four areas:

1.       We benefit from and enjoy the leadership of women, both structurally and through their teaching and pastoral leadership. Their wise voice blesses us all in many ways, not least in hearing what can be assumed or missed by men.

2.       Our safe ministry training, developed initially to address matters of child protection, also addresses matters of abuse within adult relationships and the vulnerability that comes through imbalanced power. Everyone, lay or ordained, who is engaged in ministry within our diocese must complete this training and attend regular refresher courses.

3.       Our Code of Good Practice enshrines safe and respectful relationships between all as the standard of discipline within our churches. When there are concerns that these standards have been breached (e.g. by clergy perpetrating abuse) then I would encourage those who have become aware of this activity to speak with the Director of Professional Standards, who will investigate these reports and initiate action against those who have breached the Code. The Director can be reached on 1800 070 511.

4.       We have contributed to significant forums speaking openly about the reality of family violence in the church. Indeed the latest forum developed a set of resources to be used by churches to help create a culture in which violence cannot be perpetuated. This resource has been distributed to every parish.

As I have had cause to reflect on my practice as a pastor over the last two days there are two things that have hit home once more.

As pastors we need to think carefully about how we teach doctrines that can be twisted and misused for an abuser’s ends. This is particularly so if we have not experienced abuse in our own lives. I have found Baird and Gleeson’s reports a helpful reminder for me to think carefully about the ramifications of what I teach, and how what I assume to be self-evident may not be so to those who are living in the midst of abuse. I have been reminded that when I speak on the goodness of marriage, and how it envisages patient faithfulness, I also need to speak clearly about the way that abuse is unacceptable. Indeed it is the abuser who is responsible for emptying the promise of faithfulness and the one who is being abused is not bound to stay in the face of danger and harm.

We also need to know the limits of our competence as we interact with those who disclose that they are living with violence. In previous training as a physiotherapist I was taught to develop my skills: to be great at what I could do, and then to be quick to refer people with needs that were outside of my capacity to others who were able to help. Pastors can and do play a vital role in nurturing people in their Christian faith. However, as the reports have pointed out, the needs associated with living with violence are complex and deep. We must be quick to help those who are being abused find the skilled help that is needed, whether that is to keep them from harm or to provide therapeutic support.

Hearing the stories of those who have been abused under the cover of the church is painful. Yet I am glad that these stories are being told.

Rt Rev Dr Matt Brain

Assistant Bishop
Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn
21 July 2017

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