On the faith and domestic violence firestorm

There is something of a storm in a teacup going on in Australia at the moment after the ABC did an investigative piece into domestic violence and the church.

Oh yes, I’m going there.

As a Christian, the topic immediately came to my attention. It is something that Common Grace has been trying to bring to the attention of the church at large, and it has to be said something that I have never heard a sermon on in my nearly 30 years of attending church in this country.

But Julia Baird’s piece put it front and centre. And, if reading it with an open mind, it makes for sobering reading.

Some commentators have reacted with outrage, claiming it is the ABC’s “cultural Marxism” at play and having a go at Christianity.

Some, in ignorance, claim that “they wouldn’t do an article like that on Islam”…. Except that they already have.

Others, including a certain Andrew Bolt, claim that the ABC has misrepresented the statistics used in the report. That does have a point, as the source of the statistics cites a New Zealand study that found those that identify with no religion have the highest rates of domestic violence, followed by irregular churchgoers, and then regular churchgoers.

But, to her credit, Baird stresses in this video that it is those men on the fringes of church that are more likely to have an issue with domestic violence. In fact, what looked to be setting up for a debate came out in what I think was a civilized and useful discussion – praise God!

And the ABC has defended its handling of the stats, citing US seminarian Prof Steven Tracy’s study on the issue, which is the original source. It says in a statement:

Professor Steven Tracy found “that evangelical men [in North America] who sporadically attend church are more likely than men of any other religious group (and more likely than secular men) to assault their wives”. Tracy cites five other studies to support his claim: Ellison and Anderson 2001; Brinkerhoff et al 1991; Ellison and Anderson 1999; Wilcox 2004; Fergusson et al 1986.

Source: ‘ABC statement on 7:30 reports on religion and domestic violence’

Without access to the quote in context, it’s hard to make a call on how accurate the ABC’s reporting of the study is.

The danger in all of these reactions is that we miss the point that domestic violence is something that needs to be confronted by the church in Australia.

Put aside the stats and read some of the stories of women who have been financially, physically or emotionally abused by controlling husbands that distort the beauty of Jesus’ vision for the world for their own, sinful means.

It is painful to read that some women have gone to their priests, pastors or other church leaders and have been told to “turn the other cheek” to domestic violence, or even to stay in their abusive marriages.

It is abhorrent that some churches choose to cover up abuse, or even defend the abuser, and turn what should be a place of refuge and sanctuary for the most oppressed people into a place of danger.

That is not the good news of Jesus.

Let’s be clear – it is of the devil.

If we go by the stats, it is only a small percentage of Christians that have been perpetrators of domestic abuse – but that is still too much for a community called to love God and love others – especially for the men who are commanded to love their wives and give their lives up for them, as Christ did for the church.

And so, if there is anything good that can come out of this, I hope it is a sobering call to action to the church in Australia to put this issue on the pulpit, and speak out about it.

Because nobody who has truly experienced the transformative grace of Jesus can justify any kind of abuse of anyone – most of all their own spouse.

But we need to confront it in churches, and make it clear that any form of domestic abuse is not acceptable, no matter where your theology lies. We need to make that clear to both men and women, and as the community, hold people to account to that.

We should be a strong voice for the oppressed, and my prayer is that we will become a stronger voice on this issue.

Because my daughter needs to grow up knowing that she is a beautiful child of the most high God, made wholly acceptable by the work of Jesus – even if she chooses not to believe that – and thus worthy of only the best treatment, especially from her spouse.

And that, my friends, is good news.

Whilst mummy is away, Hey Duggee will play

Last Wednesday night I was thankful for every cent of taxpayer’s money that goes into the ABC, as it was instrumental in helping to settle my little child.

But, I have to admit, it was not as I had planned.

The night was the first that mum was away from her little bubba due to a surgery. That left me on duty with my mother-in-law.

It’s fair to assume that the child knew that mum wasn’t around. Add to the mix three teeth cutting through at once, and her having just got over a virus, and conditions were set for a challenging night.

The first wave hit at 9:30, when she woke up crying. Cuddles weren’t helping, and putting her back in the cot only seemed to escalate things.

So I reached in for the modern parent’s friend and broke one of the ‘rules’. We have for a long time been stringent about not allowing our little girl screen time and pushing it back as far as possible. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Yes, I went for the cartoons. Armed with ABC iView, I looked up the first children’s show I could find. And that was Duggee.

It’s a short cartoon, probably aimed a little bit higher than our little girl’s age, but that didn’t matter. Kiddie voices, bright colours and short episodes had her hooked in. And I’ll admit, I did enjoy the little gags put in for the parents.

It worked a treat, providing the reset that she needed to let the tiredness overcome her. After watching an episode where the ‘Squirrels’ earned their snowman badge, she had stopped crying, the tiredness had overcome her, and she went back to the cot pretty contentedly.

Round 1 to dad – with assistance from Duggee.

But, lo and behold, at 3am the child awoke again, this time wailing uncontrollably. I went and picked her up, and three times had her fall asleep in my arms, only to wake as soon as I set her down in the cot.

At this point, I realise that other parents here are probably saying either, “Welcome to my world”, or “You’re preaching to the choir.” But we have been used to her waking maybe once or going through the night not waking, so a couple of times in a night is quite rare.

Around 3:30am I tapped out. I left her room, hoping and praying that she would settle.

And of course she didn’t.

But then, before I could get out of bed, her Oma, my mother in law subbed in and had much better results than me.

Round 2 to Oma.

Round 3 kicked off two hours later. Thankfully (or not) I hadn’t fallen back asleep, so went in.

This round was much like the second one, with nothing working to settle her. So, once again, I reached for my woofy friend, thankful that for all the “lefty bias” articles and cuts to its funding, that the ABC still provided free on-demand children’s programming.

This time, it took two episodes of Hey Duggee to calm her down enough so that I could get some Panadol into her, after which she went down OK.

So for Round 3 the judges split the points between the two parents’ friends: Duggee and Panadol. And, thoroughly exhausted, I headed back to bed and did not surface again for three hours.

Moral of the story: in the middle of the night, pragmatism rules.

And in tribute to his instrumental role in my parenting journey thus far, I would like to share this ode to Duggee (with apologies to The Beatles)

Hey Duggee

You’re like a snuggly

You make a sad girl, and make her better

Remember to Duggee cuddle her into your heart

Then you can start to make it better

Does Daddy always know best?

I always thought that I was a feminist, but since having a daughter, I now feel like I need to buy a bra and burn it in a defiant show of solidarity against the man!

OK, so that may be exaggerating a little, but you get my drift.

So it has been pleasing to see women’s rights progressing in different ways. Take sports, specifically the growing professionalism of women’s sports in Australia. I have no idea what sports that my little girl will get into – I’m hoping for cricket and soccer, and no netball – but seeing many sports now with professional women’s leagues coming up makes me happy to think that my little girl will probably have that option open to her, if she is talented and wants to do it.

In short, I take the view that I don’t want to see any barriers put between my little girl and what she wants to do. I want to see her flourish, and nurture her abilities to be a contributor to society in whatever form that takes. Sure, she will have to choose wisely what to pursue and what not to, but as I see my role as her dad, it is to support her to achieve her dreams.

Which was why I was dismayed by the article that I read today by CR Wiley, subtly titled ‘How to Make Sure Your Highly Educated Daughter Doesn’t Have to Freeze Her Eggs

OK, so you got my attention, Mr Wiley.

Here’s a small excerpt

In this cacophony providing guidance to children is one of the more important roles of a father.

Clearly many fathers are letting their daughters down in this regard. What I see more and more is highly intelligent, well-educated women, who have everything that they’ve been told they should want, but who are miserable nonetheless.

The misery is usually due to their singleness and childlessness.

 BTW, the bolding isn’t mine – it was in the piece.

And on it went into how Wiley was counselling his daughter away from pursuing a college major in literature at a great university to a double-major at another college where she could also do entrepreneurship and help out in her brother’s business. Oh, and doing that would also mean that she would meet better husband and therefore father material.

OH. MY. GOSH.

In equal measures of disbelief and rage, I was getting a clear message from the author that ‘Daddy knows what’s best for his daughters, no matter what the age or decision.’

And the other strong message was not to pursue your dreams, as you’ll end up regretting not following your true calling of popping out kids.

At the end of reading it, I felt sorry for his daughter.

I felt sorry that, even though she is an adult, her father felt the need to direct her future career path.

I felt sorry that her father was making marriage and children out to be the main aims of a woman’s life.

And the worst part is that the writer, writing on an evangelical Christian blog, seems to feel that in doing all that, he’s standing up for Christian values.

I did some quick research and found that the writer has indeed written a book that calls for a return to how family structures have been in the past. It seems that there is a whole lot of revisionist history in his writing, and more than a few broad-brush statements about the “failures” of modern “liberal” society.

What I find a little more disturbing is how, in privileging marriage and kids for women, he seems to ignore that Jesus and the apostle Paul actually advocated that unmarried people shouldn’t be in a hurry to marry, or even at all. Which makes me think that for some singleness is OK, even for women, and perhaps there is too much of a focus in evangelical subculture on finding a mate and making babies.

In fact, in my own experience – which is not prescriptive – it was only when I was able to find contentment in my singleness that I was actually best placed to enter into the relationship that is now my marriage.

Perhaps my view is also being amplified by watching the recent TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale – a novel that I studied in high school literature. It is a dystopian story of a woman who is forced into state-sanctioned rape for the benefit of producing babies in a twisted theocracy called Gilead.

That is the last thing that I want for my daughter. If she marries and has children, that’s great. If she has the talent to be a sports star, or the mind of leading scientist or academic, or anything else that contributes to the flourishing of society – that’s also great.

But those are not my decisions to make – they are my daughter’s. I hope that I can provide some guidance, and that she will trust that, but ultimately I want her to make. And that means that she may make some bad choices, hopefully ones that she will learn from.

Yes, I want to have influence in my girl’s life, but at the same time perhaps, as I am not her, Daddy doesn’t always know best.

Mum, on the other hand…