Geoff Broughton reflects on how a church might respond to domestic and family violence through a restorative justice lens, as we ask ‘how did this happen in our midst?’

How Did This Happen In Our Midst?

The Australian church is so often complicit in domestic and family violence. But what if Jesus is encountered in our midst whenever the church gathers to ‘make things right’?

Rev. Dr. Geoff Broughton is a research scholar for the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre and senior lecturer in Practical Theology at St Mark's National Theological Centre. Geoff is also Rector of Paddington Anglican Church in Sydney, Australia.

'If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.'

- Matthew 18:15-20: 15 

Imagine the Christian community that, in the aftermath of domestic and family violence, gathers to ‘make things right’ because it is prepared to ask: ‘how did this happen in our midst?’ What kind of discipline does such a community exercise? One approach to be rejected, yet practiced in some church traditions, is to simply ‘shun’ the perpetrators.[1]

But many Christian approaches to justice-making after domestic and family violence have come under sustained critique. First, justice for victims is often marginalised in the pursuit of reconciliation. Second, attempts to reconcile victims and perpetrators reduces victims to a ‘prop’ in a wider process. Third, justice is reduced to a battleground between the competing narratives of victims and perpetrators. Each of these is wrong and must be avoided.

The simple structure of Matt 18:15-20, a four-stage process that is both confrontational and restorative, avoids the twin perils of ‘cheap forgiveness’ and ‘shunning’ offenders. Asking how domestic and family violence has happened in our midst proceeds through four, biblical steps: negotiation (18:15), mediation (18:16, cf. Dt. 19:15), arbitration (18:17) and binding – loosing (18:18-20). [2]

In Matthew 18, victims of domestic and family violence have moral agency. They demonstrate this agency in Jesus’ words, in the preceding verses 12-14, ‘it is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should be lost.’ Friends and peace activists Myers and Enns highlight the twin obligations for churches where domestic and family violence has happened in their midst:

there is no victim whose pain does not deserve attention, and no offender who is beyond redemption. It establishes a priority of the minority: the Christian community is not governed by majority rule, but by the task of restoring those whose relationships have been shattered by violation. [3]

The widely-held assumption for one of Jesus’ best-known sayings: ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them’ (Matt 18:20) is that Jesus is talking about when Christians gather for worship, prayer and fellowship.

What if Jesus is encountered in our midst whenever the church gathers to ‘make things right’?


The Australian Church must keep asking ‘how did domestic and family violence happen in our midst?’ How might we turn the tide? How might your church be better equipped to participate in “full spectrum” peace-making when domestic and family violence has happened in your midst?

By ‘peace-building’ (or negotiation, where there is cooperation and no third party)
By ‘peace-making’ (or, mediation and dialogue, where there is cooperation with a third party)
By ‘peace-keeping’ (or, arbitration which is lacking cooperation and requires a third party) or
By ‘peace-waging’ (or, nonviolent struggle where there is non-cooperation and no third party). [4]


Pray for ourselves and the Australian church the Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


Go Deeper

Geoff has written an excellent book on restorative justice, based on the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. You can find a review of it here:

And you can purchase it here:

Read more from if you’d like to think more about the prevalence of domestic and family violence in the Australian church or the way Churches are responding here.


[1] Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 14, ‘Discipline in the Church’
[2] Enns and Myers. "Jesus: Inter-Personal Restorative Justice" (paper presented at School of Discipleship. Canberra, 10 July, 2008).
[3] Myers and Enns., Ambassadors of Reconciliation: Exploring a New Testament Theology and Diverse Practices of Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, p. 63.
[4] Myers and Enns., Ambassadors of Reconciliation: Diverse Christian Practices of Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, pp. 15-21.

16 Days of Prayer Against Domestic and Family Violence