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.

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