You may have read recent reports by the ABC seeking to highlight the issue of domestic violence in Christian churches in Australia. The initial report raised questions as to whether in Australia our church cultures and pastoral responses may be concealing or even enabling domestic violence. It also indicated that some in evangelical Christian churches are misusing biblical teaching to justify control and abuse of their partners.
Steve Bartlett responded to the article by issuing a message to pastors in Baptist Churches in NSW/ACT. In his response, he said:
While we may wish to question some aspects of the reporting, I believe the call to respond proactively to the issue of domestic and family violence both within and outside of the church is something we need to continue to take very seriously. Our churches need to be places of protection and safety for those at risk. Let me reaffirm what will be clear to us all – that the Bible in no way condones abuse of any kind. It also affirms the fundamental equality of all people regardless of race, gender or station in life.
We need to recognise that domestic violence is not only physical. It may take multiple forms including economic, emotional, sexual, verbal, social and spiritual – all of which are antithetical to the way of Jesus, Christian teaching, and our values as an Association.
The heightened awareness of this issue presents us with an opportunity to make sure that our churches are safe spaces that acknowledge that we are sometimes part of the problem, yet we fully commit ourselves to being part of the solution.
One of the key things we need to do is to make sure that our theology and our teaching is not being misused to justify or enable domestic and family violence. The ABC articles made direct reference to misuse of teaching on headship and submission. However, we also need to consider our teaching on topics such as punishment for sin, divorce, turning the other cheek or bearing the cross. We need to consider how these might be interpreted by victims or perpetrators of domestic and family violence.
For example, consider a teaching as fundamental to the Christian story as forgiveness and reconciliation. Our belief in the power of God, through the Spirit, to change people and restore the brokenness of relationships is fundamental to our faith. However, a simplistic application of this teaching has sometimes led Christians to encourage victims and children to remain in unsafe situations, when removal from the situation would have both increased safety while also improving the possibility for a suitable resolution to the problem.
The Public Engagement Group has been working on this issue. Many of you will be aware of the resources already available on the Association’s website. Later this year we will join with all our partners across Australian Baptist Ministries to launch a national awareness campaign on domestic and family violence.
We’d love to encourage all people in Baptist churches to take the opportunity to become more aware of the signs of violence. Listen to stories of survivors. Prioritise the safety of victims. Get to know the services available in your community that can support victims and perpetrators to get help. Stand against gender inequality and celebrate the gifts of all people in your churches.
Together we believe that we can make a difference in the fight against domestic family violence in our churches, our community and our nation.