Early this week I penned a reply to an article my church printed in their newspaper and social media about Domestic Violence.https://crosslight.org.au/2020/02/17/exposing-the-hidden-cost-of-domestic-violence/?fbclid=IwAR0d-wJPGnijMPxbFSAZ5c3z2Y_jBB0u-Va0qnfgSYP1gw_Ux419ihEEmiU All in all, it was a comprehensive piece that covered many salient points. But the ending of the piece did not live up to the promise at the beginning. I felt it was too easy an answer, too filled of hope and that was neither my experience or my understanding of domestic Violence, but still suffering jet lag I replied concisely and I was surprised that no-one has questioned or asked for more information.
I was not to know when I penned that reply that Australia would once again erupt in anger and surprise at another domestic violence case that saw the loss of 5 lives. Last night I noticed that a family of 4 were killed in an act of Domestic Violence in America.
It is sad and it is difficult that there are no easy answers and yet if the church is truly serious about the safety of Children we can not just look at our own perpetrators of violence we must be able to stand up and wonder what we do, or how our practices may be perpetrating offenders wider than the church.
How do we teach Christians to be protective and not harmful, is there a message in our preaching that inflames the thoughts of the domestically violent or silences the victims?
Are we looking the other way when married couples put down their partners instead of building them up?
Are we following safe church practices including the custody arrangements for each family, and are we strong enough to follow the law on this issue rather than be swayed by teachings of love and forgiveness, in the first instance.
The reason I felt I had to reply to the article was because what I knew about the ending of marriages was that it is the most dangerous time for the family, for violence to manifest. We still believe that legal intervention orders are enough of a deterrent, or that counselling might help, both admirable in themselves but it is not doing enough to safe guard families. We are told that Domestic Violence is about control and the loss of control, and that the controlling nature of one partner over the other will have been manifesting itself in many ways for a long time.
It is foolish to think that these families do not attend our church or our playgroups. They do. In forming community, we have many ways of observing. And many questions we should be asking, like
Why can’t they attend single sex functions?
Instead of asking for money for the plate or for mission, how about finding why a person can not give? Used correctly it can be a great pastoral tool.
But sometimes our observations can be counter intuitive.
And that’s when it helps to have an employed Child and Family Worker or a Social Worker or Counsellor as part of your community. But we all know this is not a feasible scenario for many congregations.
When I trained as a Couples Counsellor with Relationship’s Australia, I remember hearing the statistic, it takes 7 attempts to leave a Violent relationship. I thought then, but kept it to myself. Gee that figure seems low, how long were those relationships, did the statistic change with longevity and what about the ones who don’t leave?
I still have not seen answers to these questions. From my own observations, people do stay in Abusive relationships because the fear of ending the relationship is more terrifying than staying in that relationship, that the type of abuse/s experienced also determine the choice to leave. That financial loss or loss of access can make the bar to leave too high.
Nor do I believe that it is masks that we wear while in the Church community that prevent people from seeing “the real situation”. It may very well be that the Church Community offers a space to escape from the abuse, for someone to practice the skills of the person they want to be, and to learn of a love and a self worth that are separate to the everyday they experience. A space for healing.
A past lecturer of mine, Beth Barnett, encouraged those who had some experience in this area to speak out. I am adding my voice and my ideas to that debate. What I don’t have is a solution.