By Kelly Crawford
Last year, Northside Baptist Church in Crows Nest hosted a public event called “Time to Listen”. In the aftermath of several articles written about domestic and family violence in the evangelical church, organisers of the event recognised the need for Christians to sit and listen to the stories and the reality of domestic and family violence in our faith communities. As a follow-up to this event, Northside Baptist Church hosted “Time to Act” in May of this year.
The focus of May’s gathering was to reflect more deeply on how churches can become places of refuge for those suffering abuse and on how churches can begin to change those cultures that either allow abuse to continue unchallenged or prevent people from speaking up.
The expert panel included:
-Julia Baird: Journalist for the ABC
-Erica Hamence: Domestic and Family Violence team at Common Grace, also Associate Minister at St. Barnabas’ Broadway
-Shane Clifton: Director of Research at Alphacrucis College
-Liz Mackinaly: Chair of Mary’s House and CEO of Australian Business Volunteers
-Graham Paulson: Faith and Development Advisor at World Vision Australia
The evening started with one woman telling her story of abuse that she received from her husband. She thought it was her role as a wife to submit and obey her husband, even to the point of enduring abuse. Bruce Chan, manager of HopeStreet, addressed “red flags” for churches to look out for in relationships. He said it’s actually more helpful to know what a healthy relationship looks like. It can be better for a church to look for “absence of health” rather than “signs of abuse”.
There was also discussion around the fact that churches talking about change isn’t actually change. There is a lot of cultural change that has to take place before churches can become places where women’s voices and stories are heard and places where people can find refuge. Erica Hamence discussed the availability of the resource, “Safer”, from Common Grace. It is an online tool to help churches understand, identify, and respond to domestic and family violence.
When addressing church culture change, Shane Clifton commented that it is still a fundamental issue of power. “We are still cementing structures of male power when our relationships should be marked by sacrificial love.”
There were several key items that emerged from the panel discussion including the need for men to talk to other men. Men need to have platforms where they can be vulnerable with one another and were they can also talk about the trauma of women.
Graham Paulson highlighted that, “We bear the baggage of cultural heritage. Faith communities can foster group think and we need opportunities to rethink and reimagine. We need to re-examine our texts and we need to be courageous enough to go into unsafe places and we need stories that call us to our better selves.”
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