Domestic or family violence is a serious issue that touches all facets of society. Therefore, it is no surprise that 7.30 (ABC) and ABC Online last month focused on the high rate of domestic violence in church communities.
What was disappointing was the lack of rigour around the reporting. Statistics were unverified, information provided by other groups, including the Uniting Church, was not cited, and no interviews with church leaders (male or female) outside of the Anglican Church were included.
This has changed the focus from the issue at hand – violence in the home – to shoddy reporting. Andrew Bolt, The Australian, Media Watch and other media have condemned the ABC for “illogical, unfair and quite possibly inaccurate”(The Australian, 26/7/17) reporting.
In late May, assembly communications manager Matt Pulford was approached by the ABC regarding the Uniting Church’s protocols for preventing and responding to domestic violence. One question alluded to the direction the story was going: Have you sought to address the fact that some scriptures and teachings are interpreted as justifying male control and superiority over women – in the Church and in the broader community?
The Uniting Church believes the equality of men and women is a central principle of the Christian gospel. It does not ascribe to any doctrine of headship, as referenced by 7.30. Rather, the Church is deeply committed to ensuring men and women are supported to exercise equality of leadership within the Church and the broader community.
In the Uniting Church’s foundational document, the Basis of Union, specific emphasis is made to acknowledge the equality of gifts of both men and women in leadership roles.
Concerning leadership within the Church, the Basis of Union states: The Uniting Church recognises that responsibility for government in the Church belongs to the people of God by virtue of the gifts and tasks which God has laid upon them. The Uniting Church therefore so organises its life that locally, regionally and nationally government will be entrusted to representatives, men and women, bearing the gifts and graces with which God has endowed them for the building up of his Church.(par 5)
However, this does not provide automatic protection from violence to any vulnerable person within a family setting.
The UCA Synod of South Australia has sought to bring awareness and education to the scourge of domestic violence through its program Beyond Violence for individuals, people in placements and pastoral carers.
Vic/Tas moderator Sharon Hollis stresses that the Uniting Church firmly believes all people deserve to be safe and free from persecution and abuse.
“This commitment to safety and zero tolerance towards abusive behaviour must be enshrined in our institutions, religious or otherwise, and most certainly in the family homes of our community,” Ms Hollis said.
Ms Hollis said the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence’s report, handed down in 2016, made mention of the important role faith leaders have in educating their communities about family violence.
It also acknowledged that prevention would only be achieved when attitudes and social conditions which give rise to family violence are addressed.
The UCA’s Code of Ethics for Ministry Practise, Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders and safe church training all aim to address how its members relate to one other.
However, Crosslight regularly receives letters highlighting dysfunctional behaviour in churches. And the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse made clear that those in church communities are not exempt from committing vile acts upon one another.
South Australian moderator Sue Ellis has asked church members to join her in praying for anyone who has been, or continues to be, subjected to or affected by family or domestic violence.
“I pray that God will enlighten those living in violent situations and provide them with wisdom to see when things are not right within their relationships,” Ms Ellis said.
“I pray that ministry leaders can create safe, respectful and supportive environments so that women and men experiencing domestic violence feel safe to seek help.”
Ms Hollis asks churches and agencies throughout the synod to join an international campaign – 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence – between 25 November and 10 December.
Anyone concerned about Domestic Violence should ring 1800RESPECT