“We may believe that because we have had 'a word with the offender', wrong behaviour will have stopped. We may even follow-up the victim, but she may have learned from the beatings that followed her last disclosure, not to tell the clergy, so she lies and says it has all stopped. As pastors we may feel self satisfied that we have solved a problem. But the only thing the victim has learned is that you don't speak up, or seek help. Our fault was that we overestimated the power and influence of our 'having a word with him'. Long-term violence is harder to shift than that.” Bishop John Harrower
As churches, we believe in the power of forgiveness, but we often misapply it. We use forgiveness to foster and propagate bad relationships, and encourage victims of violence to stay quiet, pray and forgive. While forgiveness is a central tenet to our faith, so too is repentance. Yet we have been soft on repentance, and soft on accountability for wrongdoing.
We have underestimated the grip that domestic and family violence has on intimate relationships. We have failed to direct perpetrators to professional help as we have thought we could handle it. We have considered intimate partner violence to be a “domestic matter” and best dealt with privately, by the couple, in their home.
Perpetrators need to be held accountable for their violence. This may take the form of legal consequences. It could mean the dissolution of their relationship. It must involve repentance and restitution.
Churches need to require perpetrators to repent from their violence, control and abuse – and hold them accountable.