Is Don Burke like the church and domestic violence?

On Ch 9’s A Current Affair last night, Don Burke admitted he had made mistakes in his life, saying he cheated on his wife numerous times, but denied the latest allegations of sexual assault. During the interview he said he was sorry, he may have gone a bit far, but in his opinion it was a witch hunt and claimed the allegations surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein reinforced people’s victim mentality.


Burke accepted fault for jokes he had made and said people were punishing him for making some mistakes. “[It’s] not entirely wrongly, but the sexual stuff is a way of twisting the knife,” he said.

I couldn’t help draw the comparison to the church and DV over the past few months.

When I shared about the accusatory feedback from many in the Australian church to Julia Baird’s initial report in July this year, there was a chilling lack of understanding from too many in ministry. I was asked by a minister not to share on social media any stories by others that did not reflect well on the church.

Last week, more stories emerged. Brave women who found their voice. And an avenue to be heard. There is one glaring difference. The article-sharing and surrounding noise has been far, far less then back in July. This time, there is no data to decry.  Instead there are the stories. Brutal stories of rape. Violence. Too many.  They say the church has known for decades that some clergy abuse their wives but has done very little to fix the ongoing problem.

Since Baird and Gleeson’s original story in July (my blog re: that topic here), four Australian churches have apologised to victims of domestic violence. Yesterday was the Australian Baptist Church, behind the General Anglican Synod of Australia, the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, and the Sydney Anglican Synod.

But to stop at apology – as we see with Don Burke – is never sufficient. Investigations must take place. Resources (and they are beginning, such as Safer from Common Grace ) need to be rolled out to ensure that #churchtoo  – where women around the world have been sharing personal stories of harassment and abuse in Christian communities – stops in this generation.

But, like Don Burke last night, I’ve heard ministers this past week express concerns about the church being part of the witch hunt when the follow-up TV report and online articles regarding domestic violence in clergy marriages emerged. 

Which is tantamount to sweeping the stories of abuse under the rug and diminishing them. Please stop. We – as the church – don’t get to be the martyrs. Jesus already did that.

Do not redirect to another, noisier news agenda.  In the past week, I’ve heard the excuses: “But that was 27 years ago..” or “that was the Melbourne diocese, they’re a bit loose on stuff like that..” and it makes my blood boil. To reiterate:

  • the clergy wives interviewed in the past six months by the ABC say little has changed in the 27 years since the CASA reports were published
  • Some of the clergy wives interviewed were part of a Sydney Anglican diocese support group – so let’s not redirect and blame any ‘loose’ diocese/ denomination language here, please.

Leading theological collages are accused of teaching dangerous submission doctrine. Some women’s conferences are being pointed to as perpetuating this doctrine. This is the most confronting part of all for many: to be accused as a denomination, as a theological college to be contributing to #churchtoo by the systematic theology taught – yes, it can feel like a witch hunt, can’t it?

Tempting to bunker down, say nothing, because, after all, what happens if it’s investigated and the way that the doctrine has been taught is seen to feed in? I can imaging many lecturers and ministers thinking, “but it’s God’s word. We can’t say it’s wrong. It’s what the Bible says.”

Let’s separate God’s Word from humanity’s teaching of it. God’s Word is going to stand up to scrutiny by its very nature of being God’s Word. But we shouldn’t – as the Body of Christ – ever shy away from looking at how it is a body of broken humanity shaping and influencing how it is shared and unpacked. Shining the light on that is not an attack on God’s Word. It is liberating it. It’s being brave and humble and saying – until Jesus’ return – there’s always going to be serpents amongst the apple trees. We have to be wise as snakes and gentle as doves in our recognition of that.

In my last post on the topic, I called on the men of Christ who were blustering defensively about the data to man, I mean Jesus up. In this post, I’m going to ask all of us, men and women, to do so. Let me draw something subtle to your attention.

In the past six months I’ve been told by a woman speaker my studying to preach is a sign of my sinful and broken nature and that I should not teach or have authority over men. Similarly, I’ve been told by a male pastor that he’d never have a woman up preaching because it would disempower and disenfranchise the men in the pews who don’t believe women ought to preach.

Imagine if I were a DV victim listening to that. Trying to find my voice in front of them to ask for help. Because, right there, coming from both genders, there is a subtle disempowerment and disenfranchisement of women.  Would  that make me feel sufficiently safe to reach out my hand and say, “my Christian husband beats and rapes me and has done for 20 years saying it’s ok by the Bible.” Or would I shrivel a little further inside because that same husband had told me so often how worthless I am, how pathetic, how I can’t even hold a decent conversation, so what worth do I have, what voice do I have?

Both a woman and a man, both in positions to help and support me, have just implied to me that my voice has no worth. Not because either honestly believe women, per-se, have less worth under God. He made us equal, after all. But because of what they have been taught.

Don’t they know how much brave it takes for me to even find my voice? Don’t they know how long the subtle eroding of my self-esteem has gone on? And out of their mouths – not even aware, not even thinking it can add harm – come words that erode my worth even further.

We can argue and get shrill about greek translations and “but that’s what the Bible says!’ but as Christ followers we have one great command. To love each other. To no longer speak in ways that offer subtle disempowerment and disenfranchisement. To be wise as snakes and a gentle as doves.

Let’s start today.

Best. Decision. Ever.


Did this three years ago yesterday (hint: wasn’t a swim safety program). As I blogged at the time, it wasn’t the easiest of decisions. I only admitted quite recently to the SAP that on the day of dunking, I almost didn’t turn up. “Like I wouldn’t have driven over and dragged you down to the river,” he answered.

Hmm. It’s not like you can hold people down in baptism against their will. That would be known as..well.. drowning. But I got his point.

My sudden onset cold feet had little to do with my faith in God and Jesus, and more to do with my faith in me at the time. The SAP could likely see quite clearly that G&J had me embraced, secure and held up. It was ME – with all my quivers over being worthy of such unconditional love – that had me teetering.

Now? I look back on that woman and wonder, wow, who was she? There is little from back then I recognise. Which is the beauty of a crazy, radical, loving journey with GJ&HS. They did all the work. I surrendered. Perhaps not totally gracefully (cagefight with God, anyone?) but no-one’s perfect here. That’s Jesus’ gig.

The HS is good. And kind. And patient. But even He’s going to roll his eyes at my preference for ribald language, cheek and a large gin or four. I imagine the discussion of my HS download – after I got to grips with being head-over-heels with the Jesus fella – being an entertaining board meeting in heaven.

The difference now is I sit with ME secure in how I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. Back then, I sat behind the ribald, the cheek, the gin (ok, I’m kidding a bit with relying on the gin, ease up with the AA intervention, SAP), and prayed I could let some love in.

“Be vulnerable, ” God would whisper to me, oh, so often, these past three years. That was the hardest lesson of all. Saying I am vulnerable, and then actually doing vulnerability, are worlds apart.

If it were easy, we’d all be doing it..

I was in my early 40s, had zero Christian friends (but loads of atheist ones) and meeting Jesus was fairly inconvenient. Putting my skin in the game, publicly, was quite the demand.

Plus, to be brutally honest: in Australia today Christians – and the church – are hardly embraced with open arms. You’ve only got to look at some of the same-sex marriage commentary (hating, homophobic bigots, anyone?) or the latest news coverage on domestic violence in the church, and it’s enough to make anyone wonder WHY I’d reach such a decision.

The answer: irresistible grace.

Ask me if I’m religious and I’m likely to have bile rise in the back of my throat. Dear God, I never want to be religious. The toughest words Jesus had back in the day were for the religious rulers, the Pharisees. No, I just want to try to walk a little bit more like Jesus each day.

Which isn’t about me being judgmental or trying to follow churchy rules. I still think that’s where Jesus gets lost in translation. It’s actually more about me throwing my arms open wide and going, “TA DA! I am so utterly loved in the Jesus-fella despite my many, varied and colourful failings, and LOOK, look what he gets to do with me. Fixer-upperer. Holy spirit makeover.”

I was happy to dunk down in that river three years ago because of the sheer love and grace that Jesus showed me when he walked to the cross on my behalf. My journey over the past three years has only continued to show how wide and long and high and deep that love is.

I’ll never be the pin-up poster girl for religion. But I pray I can be a pin-up for Jesus. Who is now covering his eyes and saying, “Don’t type that! D’you know what some people will make of a line about me and pin-up girls!?!”

Me? You talkin’ to me?

It all started with a job interview. I failed one of the essential criteria quite spectacularly, so much so that I’m surprised they even interviewed me. The criteria was practising Christianity.

I figured I was a fairly Christian person. So I only went to church at Christmas, but in terms of being a ‘good’ person, I thought I did OK. In terms of the job, I blitzed the rest of the criteria. So would skill-set trump spiritual-set?images-1

Not. A. Hope.

Not a pleasant feeling either.

My ego had been pricked. The very essence of what I could do was negated by what I was not.

So, like most scorned women, I took myself off for a long weekend with some pals to drink wine, eat chocolate, bitch and drink some more wine. That’d sooth it.

But despite the venting, I wasn’t soothed. Instead, I experienced a none too subtle spiritual shoving that, no matter how much I dug my heels in, pushed me closer and closer to unpacking everything I thought I knew about spirituality. I’ve blogged about the dream on Mum’s funeral morning that gave me much needed comfort. How I could ignore what was going on right now if I wanted to hold my faith in that sign? I couldn’t have it both ways. 

I have experienced too many small miracles in the past to ignore what went on that weekend: The Bible falling off the shelf at my feet at the Great Mackerel Beach communal library – with no one nearby to cause it fall. Or the yacht at Palm Beach, the sail unfurling, emblazoned with the words ‘Mister Christian’. Awaking with Jennifer Warnes’s ‘Song of Bernadette’ playing over and over in my head each morning when I had not heard her music in probably a decade.

So, finally, I surrendered. My conversation with God (3am, bolt upright in bed) went something like this:

Phil: Ok, ok, I’m listening. Enough with the signs and interrupted sleep already. What?

God: Work it out. Sort out your faith.

Phil: Yeah, right. Dreams and signs. Plus my way to Christ and faith is more Mary Magdalene meets Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday than Virgin Mary and Sunday school.

God: And your point is? Aren’t you the one who strives for non-judgement and unconditional love? You’ve lots of non-judgement for Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, etc. How about removing the judgement around your own faith, of ‘how’ Christians should seem to be?

Phil: (rolling eyes as God has just made a rather significant point)

God (chuckling) – You talk to Me plenty, you quietly join the midnight Christmas Eve service. You have The Great Invocation on your office wall. You feel it. You have it. Stop prevaricating.

Phil: (slightly petulant now) Okay, okay, I get it. I can’t witter about non-judgement when I’m not putting my toe in the water on this one. But You know I deal with You differently. What if I’m not, well, God enough?

God: You know Me better than that. Unconditional love is unconditional love.

Phil: You’re telling me to step up to the plate, aren’t you? Sort out my ‘baggage’ around Christianity. You know I’m going to look like a nut-job trying to explain my faith in talking to You through dreams, signs etc.

God: (drily) Solomon did OK with it.

I woke up the next day thinking, “WTF?” My husband was brought up Roman Catholic but had drifted from the church, so I decide I’d run it by him. I was sure he’d help me with a ‘get out of jail free’ card that would allow me to ignore all this oddness.

Instead, he said, “Well, Phil, Jesus did have to ask Peter three times.”

My jaw hit the floor. “You’re not helping!” I yelled. He laughed and told me to go fetch The Bible from the communal library.

I didn’t. Instead, back home, I quietly started researching. My starting point was the place where my own knowledge ended and societal pre-conceptions built up. Which took me back to 15 years old, a Church of England school, and a Divinity O-level. Plus a home life that didn’t include church, or discussion about anything religious or mystical.

So whilst I had learnt swathes of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (even recording them onto cassette to replay at night on my Sony Walkman to deliver an A-grade in the exam), it all stopped there. The subsequent 28 years had overlaid a lovely mix of new age and eastern mysticism.

While many of the philosophies I had researched over the years held reference to God as ‘the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being’, only one religion included a resurrection. There was my sticking point. To get to grips with Christianity, I had to make sense of the impossible. Could a man really have come back to life? Why didn’t I recall being more astounded and moved when taught this at 15?

I could have read articles galore, downloaded YouTube videos, gone to the library for piles of books. But I had this urge to figure it out NOW, tick it off the list, and move on. The journalist in me rose to the challenge. I decided I’d pick up the phone and ask some questions of a local church. But which one?

Tony’s experience of Catholicism hadn’t left him particularly engaged. Nor did I have many happy impressions, remembering the morbid fear of discovery my friend in Ireland lived with whilst hiding his Protestant faith from his Roman Catholic flat mates.

So back to what I did know. Church of England. Which, in Australia, struck me as similar to Anglican. There just happened to be an Anglican Church just around the corner from the children’s school. Taking a deep breath, I rang the number.

It became my first discovery that God has a massive sense of humour. And is very, very smart.  Had the ‘wrong’ Christian answered the phone (you know the stereotype: too much dogma, holier than thou posturing) I would have exited gracefully and taken it no further. Instead, God gave me exactly who I needed. A down-to-earth bloke with an irreverent sense of humour who not only took my mad questions on the chin, but also answered them patiently. He was then kind enough to engage in lengthy emails as I challenged, vented and searched through what I thought I knew, helping me discard the chaff whilst holding onto some wheat.

God’s humour? Well, in an odd parallel to my visiting a psychic after Mum died, the pastor  – in our very first phone conversation – told me quite confidently that he knew how this all would end.

He was right too, which is a blog for another day. Smart-Alec.