Church & Domestic Violence. Love your statistics, sorry, neighbour as yourself.

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Australia’s ABC’s 7.30 report and then 60 Minutes current affairs programs have, in the past week, again put domestic family violence (DFV) in churches, due to the misuse of scripture and warped readings of submission, under the spotlight.

Again it caused all sorts of defensive positions. Some Christians took refuge in atheist commentator Andrew Bolt decrying (Christian) reporter Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson’s quoted research. To paraphrase most defensive camps, very loosely:

“The quoted statistics about evangelical men irregularly attending church being most likely to abuse their wives is offensive and nonsense and too old. So the rest must be rubbish.”

Or, “the ABC hates us Christians, we’re persecuted, so you can’t believe what they’ve said.”

Or, “I was interviewed for that story, I’m doing a lot to help victims of DFV, but they didn’t use any of the footage. Which made the DFV issue in church look worse than it is. And that’s why they chose not to use it. Because they want us to look bad.”

Baird has been called a “shameful Christian” and worse. The phrase “feminist agenda” pops up a lot – giving something or someone an agenda makes it/them sound so dangerous, underhand and divisive, doesn’t it?

What did the rush to redirect to incorrect reporting, bias, errors in statistics and vilifying Baird really achieve? It buried all the stories – the true, researched, on-record, painful stories – of women who had been abused by their husbands under the incorrect application of scriptural submission. As a result, many Christians focused their attention on any errors in the quoted statistics – rather than paying more attention to their neighbours. Consequently they derived false, horrible comfort at victims’ expense.

The rush to legal fact-checking was like the Pharisees questioning Jesus on the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath. If we keep it about rules, regulations, and berate you for getting a statistic wrong, or not giving another statistic sufficient prominence, we might avoid looking at the real sinful failure here. Which is this:

There are wives who have been badly beaten, raped, made to feel unsafe in their homes, made to feel terror for their own safety and their children – all at the hands of Christian husbands misusing submission and headship scripture. There may be thousands, there may be hundreds, who knows, because the problem is, there’s no up-to-date data in the Australian context. But just because there’s no data – or the data that’s being extrapolated is from another country – is no excuse to blame-shift. Experts recommend we draw patterns from other countries and level those numbers UP because DFV is notoriously under-reported.

In fact the whole crux of Baird and Gleeson’s research shone light on this problem: there is no data and Australia desperately needs it.

I can’t believe I’m having to write this: but just ONE woman saying this has happened to her is one woman too many. More than one woman came forward to speak to the investigative reporters. All with awful stories of abuse. How dare we diminish their voices playing games of smoke and mirrors over data?

Please, all those men who assumed the defensive – “I’m an evangelical Christian and I’M NOT A WIFE BEATER, saying this damages the church, and me as a Christian, it’s wrong, you must stop sharing and spreading this sort of story, the statistics are wrong!” – I ask you to be bigger than that. I ask you to be stronger than that. I ask you to make yourself less in this. I ask you to lay down your lives. Put their stories first, put these women first. Love these sisters in Christ as Jesus does.

As an aside, when the research also shows that regular attenders at church are much less likely to be involved in domestic violence – which was reported by Karl Faase in Eternity in 2015 and also by Baird but less prominently – I’m slightly baffled as to why so much defensiveness and bluster. You faithful, solid Christian guys got paid a compliment…unless, of course, you don’t attend church regularly and are now paranoid everyone will think you’re a wife beater. If this is you, I’m going to gently ask you to man, I mean, Jesus up.

Jesus didn’t roar and bluster defensively. He wouldn’t have said, “Shame on you, Julia Baird for your use of that data that reflects poorly on me and my church.” Or, “Go fetch me more Australian data to support the story the woman shared of how her pastor told her to pray about it when her Christian husband was raping, abusing, and hitting her, and if he killed her first before he repented, well, at least the pastor reminded her she’d be in heaven with me. I need more data, Julia, data. Data thy neighbour. That’s it.”

Jesus is gentle.  Jesus comes back with love. With grace. He reached out a hand to the Samaritan woman at the well who, in my eyes, is the closest we have to a likely DFV sufferer in The Bible. He prevented the stoning of the adulterous woman. He didn’t join in throwing the stones.

I’m a former journo. I understand the news agenda. Immediacy, conflict, proximity, consequence etc etc. Baird and Gleeson have held up their research to scrutiny and while detractors and trolls will still likely scoff, it reads as solid research to me, not news agenda sound-byte chasing. Solid particularly in light of the lack of Australian data and fear so many women have about going on record.

As I’ve written before (links below), I don’t want to hear more stories emerge about DFV. I don’t want our churches to be viewed as places where wives who have experienced this will not be heard. Where their husbands will be allowed to stay while they themselves lose their body of Christ support. But until we move away from shrill, scared, ‘it’s just a feminist-agenda’, or trying to reduce it to errors in fact-checking, and an unwillingness to listen to women’s voices more fully in some church contexts, I’m afraid the stories will continue to emerge.

I want to thank those pastors who have been quick to say, “I don’t care who you are married to, I don’t care what position your husband holds in your church, if this has happened to you, I am here, I will believe and I will help and support you.” For those who tackle DFV in full sermons, not simply in passing through one or two verses, I salute you.

I contribute to sites written for women to learn what it means to follow Jesus. Some of whom use it as a safe place to reach out. DFV sufferers in the past week have shared to the site’s management team how they value the support and willingness of others to keep speaking out when they feel powerless and voiceless. So let’s be like the Lord we follow. To whom we owe our lives. Shine light, speak out and, please, weep with those who weep.

Other related posts pertaining to DFV on this site:

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

 

If only you could see yourself as I do

Her Mummy clicked on the bedroom light and burst crying through the doorway. The little girl sat up groggily in bed, rubbing her eyes against the brightness, squinting.

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Photographs of Sunsets Through Broken Glass by Bing Wright

Dragged out of sleep, she stared bewildered. She had gone to bed early the night before after vomiting all afternoon. It wasn’t – as all assumed – the odd banana flavoured chocolate she’d eaten at the six-year old birthday party she had attended. It was something in the air of their home yesterday afternoon. Her Daddy had gotten really upset at the lunch table about the lid being left off the toothpaste. Why was he so angry over toothpaste? And the invisible crows had come back, pecking at her, flying in currents of the adults’ wake that she could feel but couldn’t see to navigate.

It made her confused. Her head ached and the paracetamol tablet her mummy gave her sat dizzily in her tummy. She had run out of the ‘Pass the Parcel’ game at the party, vomiting into the bowl of the downstairs toilet. She had felt miserable and alone but hadn’t told the mother of the birthday girl because she didn’t want to go home yet. She dreaded stepping back into those unseen currents that bit and buffeted her invisibly; she worried they would again flare into rapids of angry, bitter words between her parents that made her head hurt and clogged up the words in her own throat. Staying quiet might mean the currents would stay quiet too.

“He’s leaving us,” her mother sobbed. The child stared up from her bed. Her mother added: “Daddy has met another woman and he’s leaving us for her.”

—–

The child sat in front of the TV eating her supper from a small table in front of her. The lounge room door was shoved open suddenly and her mother appeared, in nightdress and dressing gown, Daddy just behind. Her mother’s clothes fluttered behind her as she half ran, half stumbled across the room. She thrust a buff A6 envelope onto the little girl’s lap, where it caught between the underside of the table and her knees. “This is for you, don’t read it yet,” her mother said, sounding angry.

Her Daddy left the room, saying he was calling an ambulance. Her mother chased after him, sobbing hysterically. Small egg-shaped, yellow tablets scattered on the floor. The child stood to follow them out, the envelope falling onto the carpet. She waited in the lounge doorway, staring up the hall. Her Daddy was on the phone, trying to call, but her Mummy kept slapping her hand over the cradle so it disconnected. He ran out the front door saying something about the public telephone box. The child didn’t want him to leave her alone with this strange version of her mother,  collapsed at an odd angle up the stairs. Nor did she want to get any closer. So she stood at a distance, watching her through the slats of the wooden bannisters, feeling a little scared but mostly removed.

The ambulance man with dark hair wore a dark navy jumper with patches at the elbows. Proper patches, not ones to cover holes. He helped stretcher her mother into the ambulance. “She bit my hand,” said her Daddy, over and over. “I tried to get my fingers in her mouth to get the tablets out, and she bit my hand.”

——-

“He didn’t even bring me clothes to the hospital,” her mother  told her bitterly. “The nurses thought it was awful of him. I had to come home in a hospital blanket over my nightdress.”

——–

“Wake-up, get up, you have to get up,” her mother cried, snapping on the bedroom light. The child woke up quickly, a pit of dread in her stomach, clamping her muscles against the panic drops of urine that wanted to escape as she sat up. “You have to call him, come on, get up. I’ve got her phone number. Call her. Tell her he has to come home.”

But I can’t, thought the little girl. I’m too scared to call her. You’ve told me how awful she is. How nasty. She is dark-haired and so much bigger than me, you’ve told me. You told me she works opposite my school and is watching me. You told me she might steal me. I’m too scared to call her. 

But then the little girl remembers the small, egg-shaped yellow tablets. The ones she had quietly picked up from the floor. The ones with the tiny black writing that matched the title on the paper sheet she had found in her mother’s bedside drawer. She was a very good reader for her age. Everyone told her.

If she didn’t make the phone calls, then her Mummy might take more of those yellow tablets. And if she didn’t wake up this time, if they didn’t pump her stomach the way her Mummy had told her they’d done in the hospital, then she’d have to live with her Daddy and the big, dark-haired lady who was waiting to steal her.

She sat on the stairs and dialled the number her Mummy told her. But Mummy hadn’t given her a chance to do her morning bathroom pee. It was wet and uncomfortable, her nightdress sticking to her bottom. Her mother stood at the top of the stairs, making sure she called, listening to her cry and sob and ask for her Daddy to come home. The next morning was the same. And the next. And the next…

——————

When she was 11-years old, her mum went out to an evening meeting. The man who had moved in, who would eventually marry her mother, jovial, tall, always smiling and clapping his hands, told her to climb into bed for a bedtime cuddle. “I’ll keep my hands clasped under my chin,” he whispered. “No need to worry. No need to tell anyone.” He kept his hands clasped but the 11-year old never quite relaxed around him again. If there was nothing to worry about, why did it have to be kept a secret?

——————

Before she was fourteen, she had defended herself with a knife against the same man who now liked to use his fists in places it didn’t show.  He wasn’t so jovial now. She had watched a tea-tray thrown from the top of a three-storey house because his cup was not placed on it – and it wasn’t a leap of her imagination to suppose he would push her mother out too. His son, who lived with them, watched with empty eyes. She watched where he put his hands too.

—————–

That girl today is 44-years old. She has written about domestic violence, but never about the personal damage of divorce, emotional blackmail and abuse. Never. It was locked away.

She is me. And, finally, she is happy to own her story.

I can only thank God, Jesus and Holy Spirit for the work they have activated in the past two weeks. For a SAP, with whom I became irrationally angry for prompting me to read Psalm 139.

Why was I angry? Anger is a secondary emotion. The real response was fear. Psalm 139 was calling me to look at something beautiful about myself and all I wanted was to run away as fast as I could.

Because, oh my God, hadn’t I already done this? Hadn’t I built something of myself? All that history, it had built me.  It gave me the guts and resilience to move on and through. In a fiery, fiesty, flicking-the-bird, sort of way, I had overcome. With so many benefits, not least knowing myself intensely as a result. I know:

  • I can over-read and internally over-react to emotional cues. Not externally. Externally I am poker-face solid
  • Silent tension in a house is my absolute undoing because of what it heralded 
  • I hate confrontation – when your childhood is soaked with echoes of suicide and violence, keeping quiet is a great thing
  • I will go a long way to avoid asking anyone to meet my needs. I’ll meet them all myself, thanks, way safer.
  • I don’t do vulnerable easily. Emotional independence is, literally, in my make-up. S*&t happens when you  are emotionally dependent
  • Deep down struggling with being deserving of love, no matter how many achievements I could list, how much value I could attach to my life because if your mum attempts suicide the childish synapse locks onto her not loving you enough to want to live and be your mother; and then your dad has left…and then the next husband liked to use his fists…

So I know why I have certain behaviours.  I acknowledge them and have checks and strategies to manage them all healthily. I had therapied myself to self-awareness – which brought forgiveness and insight. You may read the above and judge my Mum. How could she do that to a child? Why didn’t she leave her second husband? But take a step in her shoes. Imagine how lost, how raw, how broken her internal life must have been. So I can forgive her all of it because of how she had been taught to love and be in relationship. My lesson has been not to repeat hers.

So why was Psalm 139 so gut-wrenchingly confronting?

Because of what God wanted me desperately to see. He didn’t want me to look at who I had created in response to life’s circumstances. But at who He had created. Who was incredibly different.

Yet I couldn’t see her because it meant I had to look closely at the experiences that forged the current me; to look back past them to who He created.  And I really didn’t want to. It made me sob and hiccup and be vulnerable. To get back to what He created meant I had to walk back through the car-crash.

“No,” I raged. “I’m not looking. Not there. Not when I have to walk back through that. Leave me alone. I’ve done more than ok despite it all. Let me be. I’m going back to my cave.” I may even have pouted that I was ‘magnificent enough’ to the Lord.

The irony? The SAP had done a sermon series on Jonah as irrational prophet just a few weeks before. As I raged, pouted and refused to do what God asked, I couldn’t help but think of Jonah, stinking of fish guts and sulking under his plant.

My surrender took less than 20 hours, with low to no eye-rolling. A record. “Whatever I need to learn, whatever I need to let go, over to You. And if am wading back through that, be ready for my fingernail imprints in Your palm because I’ll be gripping real tight.”

“Like your fingernails bother me,” replied God: “Did you look at Jesus’ hands lately?”

It took less than five minutes for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to answer my prayer and do Their business.

Directly with Psalm 139, verse 6, to how intimately God loves and knows me, that is ‘too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.’

“Look,” He kept whispered to me. “Look at how fearfully and wonderfully I made you. Before. Before you had to create yourself on top. Because until you see that, you can’t do what I want you to do next. My works are wonderful. You know that full well. And you are one of my works. Look.”

So I sat in my car, in a Sydney suburban side street, had a purging, fast, howl for the teen and for the child, and came out the other side . That the Holy Spirit is so often referred to as fire does not surprise me. Bushfire regeneration before growth. Cauterising and cleansing. G, J & the HS did in less than 30 minutes what many hours of talking with professionals had not delivered. Integrated peace.

God sees me as He sees His son. Holy without blemish. My job now is to live out who I already am.

———

Footnote/Disclaimer: I am not waving my hands in the air, yelling “Praise the Lord, I am healed, cancel all your therapy appointments and give your life to Jesus.” No.

Keep the therapy. Keep the meds if you take them. Keep loving and being kind to yourself. For me, I have simply found it much easier to love and be kind to myself with God and Jesus as the lens and accepting the gift of grace. For me.

For you, there may be psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, medications and help lines. Abuse – whatever its type – leaves a scar. You may have been abused at the hands of the church, for which I am deeply sorry and wish more people who say they are Christians behave like it more often.

All I know from my experience is this: you can’t ever heal by yourself. Tucking the last little remnants away deep inside, whilst congratulating yourself on how well you are doing, rarely works. Those remnants have a pesky way of jabbing to the surface when you least expect it.

Resources

Psalm 139 

www.lifeline.org.au or call 13 11 44. 

https://www.anglicare.org.au/

http://www.salvationarmy.org.au  or call 13 SALVOS

 

 

 

 

No victims or survivors here, move along

How does one follow a couple of blogs on family violence (FV) and safe ministry?

Carefully. Nothing-to-see-here-630x286

Before I return to blog posts poking fun at myself on this Christian journey, I wanted to share a couple of lessons that have popped up for me in the responses to both.

I am not a victim. Please let’s stop using that term.

Yes, I may have been harmed or injured as a result of family violence. But I am not a person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment. Whilst I was physically sick after publishing that post, it wasn’t from any feeling of helplessness. Instead it was because I dreaded someone looking at me differently in the present day. Treating me differently. Like a victim. To be named a victim is to somehow remain stuck in the language of fear.

Nor am I a survivor.

Gloria Gaynor has a lot to answer for. Surviving something feels so limiting. Slightly static. I don’t continue to live or exist in spite of FV. In fact, I rarely think about it. Why survive when you can bust through and grow?

Show compassion, sorrow or anger on my behalf, but, dear God, don’t pity me.

The parents who split messily, the mother who attempted suicide, the step-father who used his fists, all those experiences made me the woman I am. Whom I love. A resilient, strong, sassy, kind, fun, loyal warrior. Sarcastic, dry-humoured, yet compassionate and empathetic. (The latter two are less my default feelings. Thankfully Jesus reminds me to access them more each day). So please don’t pity people for the very experiences that forged them. If they value what they see in the mirror, your pity only devalues the experiences that gave them worth.

Love, forgiveness – ‘turning the other cheek’ – can achieve miracles.

Rosie Batty responded to a hateful, vile act with love. As a result she placed FV far higher on our nation’s agenda and was instrumental in the instigation of a Royal Commission into family violence. It’s early days, and I look forward to seeing how our leaders and our society as a whole tackles it.

There’s more to do, to pray for.

Yes, call for increases to budgets for family violence support services. Safe havens are necessary. But rather than parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff as abusees tumble over, let’s start fixing the underlying issue: why men (and some women) perpetrate family violence. What messages are being sent in our culture that perpetrate it? That cause confusion? Such as:

  • We tell our boys it’s never okay to hit a girl. How often do we teach our girls that it’s never ok to hit a boy?
  • Advertising that portrays women as passive objects that any amount of muck can be done to.
  • Porn. Rape porn.
  • Laws that leave Fathers battling for fair access visits to their children, with little recourse. Yes, there are times when that limited access is necessary. But (and I write from personal experience) there are also times when good men, great Dads, are punished by their ex-wives for the relationship breakdown; via making access visits incredibly difficult to secure.

This isn’t going away.

Ending family violence requires massive societal change; results need to be measured across generations. I’m impressed by the many clergy who have been vocal in calling for change and appear willing to shine the light in the dark corners. I’m also hopeful because of another massive societal shift that spread across the world incredibly quickly, back in the first century, and continues to support the weak and stand up for the oppressed today.

Seriously? We’re asking how a church can model love, trust and respect?

Thank-you. For the heartfelt support that poured through social media and across email in response to the blog about my experience of family abuse as a child. I heard from old school friends who were horrified they did not know. Teachers who wanted to know what signs they had missed. Other victimssurvivors, valiant warriors.  And Christians, so many, who urged me to keep going. To push strongly the importance of safe ministry, domestic violence and educating the clergy.images-1

I don’t know. I hit publish then crept away and vomited. I wasn’t strong. I’m wobbling along on Christian training-wheels here, let alone some domestic abuse specialist with insight into ministry.

The irony, only 48 hours ago, after battling with a sermon on using our spiritual gifts, I typed one of my usual, polite, requests for Christian guidance to the smart-alec pastor: ‘I honestly just bash my head on the keyboard and say to GJ&HS, much as I did at 3am that Easter Monday, “WHAT? What on earth did you chase me down for?’

I then (foolishly) added: ‘Will ask God to let me know clearly. And maybe to use some really distinct voice/accent.’

Well, less than 24 hours later, I heard lots of voices. Strongly. From all of you. How can I ignore voices such as these?

I’ve been involved in a fairly intense debate with a bunch of Sydney Anglican ministers (all men) on this very topic for the last few weeks. I’ve seen some commentary over the last few days acknowledging the issue and saying they need to do something about this, and that a woman should never stay in this kind of situation. They are a very influential voice in the life of this city and getting them on board is a worthwhile exercise, even though I’m sure there’s many who’ll choke on their coffee right now while reading your blog.”

From others, who acknowledged it was their pastor and their faith that got them out their situation, and gave them the strength to rebuild.

And others who had lost faith in the world and were desperately seek a rebuilding: “Phil, go tell those ministers this… God is love, forgiveness and peace. A true man loves his wife, children and life through and with God. Any man that abuses or violates another human being is lost from God and needs help. Women and mums stay hoping it will change or waiting for the best moment to get out. When we do get out, with our children with us, it takes a lot to rebuild faith and trust in humanity. Fixing this starts with listening, acknowledging and working with everyone…. We all suffer from the destruction of it and it needs to stop. As men leading churches… teach men what it takes to lead a family through leadership, personal responsibility, love, forgiveness and peace. Teach the women how to value themselves as the goddesses and glory that they are. We need honour back in common conversation, behaviour and action. Teach honour and model honour, love and respect in the churches and community at large and then we have a great place to start.”

Finally, sadly and scarily:

“I used to work for a church based counselling service and I ran groups for male perpetrators of domestic violence, kids who witnessed DV and I had behind the scenes involvement with groups for women who had experienced DV. Many counsellors can tell you stories their clients have shared with them of the subtle and overt pressure to endure whatever crap they were experiencing for the glory of Jesus. I’ve had clients who have made themselves very very sexually available to their husbands despite their own wishes because it was their ‘Christian duty’. Most counsellors who deal with Christians can name you men in leadership who are engaging in some form of abusive behaviour but the system is so supportive of them no one will speak up.”

I love my church. Its community has offered me renewal in times of trial. But the overall system of the ‘Bride of Christ’? I dare say it’s as packed full of politics as parliament. The response over the years to dealing with abuse has not been the bastion of truth, justice and mercy one would hope. So the light needs to shine. Light disinfects.

As a new Christian, I don’t want to have to defend my faith. I want to smile and uphold it for the source of joy it is. To say, “How awesome is it that faith and church helped a woman leave an abusive marriage?” rather than be caught in a war of doctrine around ‘submission’ ‘headship’ etc. I don’t want to watch a wave of stories come out about Christian leaders engaged in abusive behaviour that has been been covered up.

Clean out the dark corners. Be less parliament (pharasees anybody?) and more Jesus.

As the comments came in, I kept going back to one in particular: We need honour back in common conversation, behaviour and action. It was a familiar echo of something I had read before, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Ah, yes, that big book called The Bible.

  • Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
  • Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)
  • They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. (Daniel 6:4)
  • In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Can someone in church hierarchy please stop for a moment and think: “Hang on, people are asking us to teach honour, and model honour, love and respect in our churches? Shouldn’t we be horrified that so many people believe that’s not actually the case?”