New resources to help churches respond to domestic violence
Common Grace launches an online portal; Australian Baptists begin a national campaign
As scrutiny intensifies of the prevalence of domestic violence in the faith community, new resources to help churches and especially church leaders respond well to the issue are being launched this week.
An online portal called “Safer” produced by Common Grace goes live from November 27, following the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25. Common Grace is a non-denominational movement of Christians who say they are “passionate about Jesus and justice”.
The online resource is designed to fill a major gap in the Christian sphere for easily accessible, comprehensive information on domestic violence, says Natalie Williams, a senior policy officer in the NSW Government, who has led the “Safer” project for Common Grace for the past two years. She says the resource includes information on how to identify problems, how to intervene and how to offer support.
Natalie says “Safer” is for anyone in the church experiencing domestic violence or who is supporting someone affected by abuse.
“The reality is that most leaders don’t understand, recognise or know how to respond appropriately to domestic violence.” – Natalie Williams
“But the overall focus in on Christian leaders, ministers and pastors,” she told Eternity.
“Our focus is on them because leaders in our churches are uniquely positioned to respond to situations of domestic abuse. But the issue has been that their formal preparation for ministry hasn’t really equipped them for this task.
“The reality is that most leaders don’t understand, recognise or know how to respond appropriately to domestic violence. They often miss indicators of abuse or can sometimes go on as if it doesn’t exist in their communities.”
“We know that some church doctrines and practices can be used by perpetrators to excuse or minimise abuse.” – Natalie Williams
Natalie said Common Grace believed the church should be a haven from family violence, where victims were believed and perpetrators held accountable.
“Sometimes, the church has responded well. But unfortunately, very often, the church has responded in ways that have left victims unsafe. And we know that some church doctrines and practices can be used by perpetrators to excuse or minimise abuse and have also created barriers for women to be safe and seek help,” she said.
The theological framing of the “Safer” resource aims to promote “respectful relationships between men and women”, and calls on churches to challenge “gender inequality, male entitlement and male privilege.”
“A church of 100 attenders would be likely to have eight women who had been abused by an intimate partner at some stage in the past.” – Baptist Church
Meanwhile, the Baptist Church is set to launch a national campaign to help churches respond to domestic violence and build a culture that empowers women. The launch of “No Place for Violence Here” will make the Baptists one of the few denominations to attempt a national response so far to domestic violence. It offers a pastoral response handbook, 25-minute documentary, a series of short videos telling the stories of domestic violence victims for use in churches, sermon guides, a teaching series on building healthy relationships and workshop on domestic violence. There is also a church audit tool to help churches work through how to build a culture that empowers women.
“A church of 100 attenders would be likely to have eight women who had been abused by an intimate partner at some stage in the past, and possibly one woman who will be abused in 2018,” reads the campaign outline.
“We acknowledge that in our history we have often failed people living in abusive relationships.” – Australian Baptist Ministries
In a statement on domestic violence to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Australian Baptist Ministries said: “Some Baptist churches and agencies have been working to support family abuse survivors for some time. Despite these efforts, it is with sadness of heart that we acknowledge that in our history we have often failed people living in abusive relationships. We failed to recognise the existence of violence and abuse in our homes, and when we did recognise it, all too often we didn’t do what was necessary to protect those who were being abused.”
“To those people we failed, we are sorry,” the statement reads. “We cannot erase the failures of the past, but we commit to do better in the future.”
Statistics from the Domestic Violence Resource Centre in Victoria indicate that one in four Australian women experiences intimate partner violence. One woman is killed in Australia by a partner or ex-partner almost every week. Three women are hospitalised each week in Australia with a traumatic brain injury caused by a partner or ex-partner. Children are present in one out of every three family violence cases reported to police.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported a six per cent increase in domestic violence sexual assault in 2016, reaching 8210 victims. Eighty-five per cent of victims were female.
A 2016 report from Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence found ministers of religion were among those most frequently identified as sources of support for women experiencing domestic violence, but found faith leaders struggled to recognise and respond appropriately. Religious beliefs were also seen as a common barrier for women in reporting abuse.
One woman is killed in Australia by a partner or ex-partner almost every week. – Domestic Violence Resource Centre
A 2015 report from a special taskforce on domestic and family violence in Queensland also found what it considered a “disturbing” number of submissions from individuals, which suggested “the leaders of faith in their particular community would not engage in helping victims or condemn perpetrators of domestic violence.” It called on faith leaders to take up their role of championing respectful relationships in their communities and to do more to support domestic violence victims.
The Uniting Church in South Australia was one of the first churches to respond to increasing concerns about domestic violence in the church community, launching its Beyond Violence website and clergy handbook in early 2014. The moderator of Uniting Church SA, Sue Ellis, says the handbook is widely used, educating leaders on appropriate responses to domestic abuse.
November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Read our story of Caroline, who left an abusive marriage for the sake of her children, here.
If you or someone you know needs help please call the Domestic Violence hotline on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If it’s an emergency dial 000.