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Facing the depth of the church’s problem with Domestic & Family Violence isn’t a quick-fix positive story

I’ve been trying to write this article for over a week now.

I’ve set aside time in the schedule, I’ve sketched out various topics to cover, points to make. But every time I approach the task, I just can’t.

This is supposed to be my ‘hey, we’re back!’ blog. It’s supposed to be exciting and encouraging. Common Grace’s Domestic and Family Violence Justice Team has a new (old) team leader (me), and we’re firing on all cylinders. We have a bunch of projects we’re working on, and we’re really excited about them.

All of this is true, but this is also true: I’m exhausted, and angry. 

I’m sick of hearing about how Christian ministers have shouted at victims when they chose to disclose abuse. I’m discouraged to see these leaders lionised for their ministry prowess. I despair when I think of how little recourse some victims have in their contexts. I’m sick of hearing about women being discouraged from going into ministry because their experience with abuse ‘disqualifies’ them. I cannot believe the irony that a church might have a policy that doesn’t allow a minister to drive a woman home alone, but also thinks it’s appropriate to question her about her abuse with only another man present. 

Last year, I spoke at an event as part of a panel about Domestic and Family Violence. The panel was criticised afterwards for being too negative. Some people felt that we were not positive enough about the steps forward that the Australian church is taking in addressing Domestic and Family Violence.

I understand where the criticism is coming from. There are positive things – many of them - to talk about. We at Common Grace launched Safer Resource, a comprehensive resource to walk Christians through responding to Domestic and Family Violence, and it has been enthusiastically received by thousands. Most denominations in Australia have now either produced or disseminated resources to help their leaders and members respond better to Domestic and Family Violence. Some denominations have appointed advisors with expertise in this area. Many people are now feeling able to disclose abuse, and I’m hearing of more and more churches that are trying to equip their members to create places of safety for survivors and victims. All of this is wonderful, and something to be celebrated.

But still this call to be positive is stalling me. What I see in it is an impatience with the wrong things. It’s an impatience, not with the injustice itself, but with the inconvenience and discomfort that comes from facing it. If that’s where this call for positivity comes from, I refuse to play ball.

In the past fortnight alone, seven women have been killed by current or former partners. There is no good news story to be told about that1.

It’s been this sense that my job is to be positive in this, our first blog post for a while, that has stalled me in my writing. I just don’t think that is where we are, as a church. 

What has happened in recent years has not been so much the undoing of these things, as the uncovering of them.

This is the critical point, to me.

It’s like as the church we’ve discovered we have cancer. There are treatment options available. In one sense, this is good news. But it’s only really good news if we make use of them and they actually heal us. Until then, it’s a devastating diagnosis.

We now have a sense of how deep and wide the problem is. Yes, we have made some small, important steps towards change. But, it seems clear to me that we are, nonetheless, still reckoning with the issues themselves.

The deeper, more difficult challenge we now face is to ask: how did we get here? What changes do we need to make?

Recently at church, I preached on Judges 19-21. It’s the story of the Levite and the concubine. It’s an awful, true story, an anatomy of how a community fails a woman on every possible level. It’s brilliant, and incisive. It reminds me that God has placed in our Scripture not only a diagnosis of our condition, but the resources for grappling with it.

In Judges 20:3, after hearing about the concubine’s rape and murder, the Israelites asked the question, “Tell us how this awful thing happened.”

It is the right question. It is a question we need to be asking as the church in Australia.

Crucially, and unlike Israel in this particular episode, we must not merely ask the right question, but answer it correctly too.

Israel’s mistake was to seek a comfortingly clean answer: it was their fellow countrymen who were responsible. As soon as they could be punished, the problem would go away. In the process, however, the nation committed the same acts on an even greater scale.

This must be instructive for us. Any attempt to answer the question which does not at least allow for the possibility of more uncomfortable answers, answers which point to cultures we have created or sustained, to practices and preaching we must re-think, to complicity – however unwilling or unwitting – on the part of our leaders, in other words, any answer which seeks to point a finger out rather than in, will not help us.

Normally what I do when I set out to write these blogs is I take all of the things I’ve heard and seen, things that horrify and sadden me and provoke my self-righteousness, and I try and metabolise them into something conciliatory and constructive. I say to myself and to Jesus: ‘Okay, so that’s the issue. What’s the way forward? Let’s focus on that.’ And then what I write is an attempt to come at it from that angle.

I will get to that point. In the coming weeks, we’ll be posting about some projects that we think will make valuable change in these areas. We’ll share some good news. We’ll both produce and point to some resources that we think offer support for survivors and their churches.

But I’m just not there right now.

Right now, I’m lamenting, and praying for change. Will you join me?

1 SBS News

A prayer inspired by Psalm 31

God of all hope, justice, patience and timing,

We give you our pain and frustration. 

We long to see your justice, mercy and protection at work in our churches.

We long for them to be safer spaces - for them to be places where your protection is felt and your voice speaks words of comfort and healing.

When will you heal us?

When will you bring about repentance?

Be merciful to us, Lord, for many of us are in distress. Our lives are consumed by anguish and our years by groaning.

We feel forgotten as though we were dead. We have become like broken pottery.

We say to you: 'You are our God.' Our times are in your hands; deliver us from the hands of our enemies, from those who pursue us.

Make us people who can say: 'you heard my cry for mercy, when I called to you for help.'


Erica Hamence is the Common Grace Domestic & Family Violence Spokesperson. Erica is an Associate Minister at Barney's Anglican Church in Sydney.

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