by Ruth Lindsay

Previously

In part one of this series of articles (link here), I shared a little of my own personal journey through domestic violence (DV) within a Christian marriage.

I provided information about DV and how and why it occurs, and shared some statistics about DV within the community and the church family.

In part two (link here), we looked at some of the common mistakes that are made by the church, by Christians and by people in general, in dealing with domestic violence – especially in dealing with the perpetrator and the victim.

This series of articles was not written as a means of criticising the church, but as an endeavour to make people aware that domestic violence is far more common than we realise within many Christian marriages.

I am also hoping that the information provided here will bring insight both to church leaders and Christian adults about domestic violence, as well as suggestions about how the Church can truly help its victims.

Introduction to Part 3

When I was first asked to write about domestic violence (DV) for SPAG Magazine, I thought, ‘easy,’ but nevertheless, I’ve found it a challenging, personal journey: (link to part 1 and link to part 2)

There are areas, within Australia, where domestic violence (DV) shows its ugly head frequently and loudly, while in other areas, it exists but is hidden, except when the victim or the children appear with bruises and unspoken injuries… and haunted eyes.
Sometimes the problem screams out from the front page of a local newspaper, while at other times, it shows up in the impersonal hallways of a hospital, in the form of a steady stream of shattered women and traumatised children.
Men sit silently, closed off from others, hiding in shame and the pain of their broken homes and their broken lives.
Children are hardly heard at the house at the end of that street, because their daddy will be home shortly and it’s best to stay quiet just in case he’s had a bad day at work, or the traffic was slow, or just…. because.
A few years on, and these same children now teenagers, flee the violence, and the mental, emotional and spiritual agony that’s been the only consistency in their lives for as long as they can remember. They reason with themselves that it’s got to be easier to live on the streets where at least they won’t get beaten for the wrong word, or the wrong look or for any reason at all … but they’re wrong, and before long, they discover the bitter reality of life amongst the homeless, but still, it’s better than life at home…

Coming to Grips with DV

In my research, I was interested to discover that there are two parallel universes within the Christian church in response to dealing with DV: one is found in the top layers of leadership in any Christian denomination and the other is found in the everyday local church environment.

Church Leadership

The top layer of leadership is those that are in charge of the different denominational sections of Australia including their head offices, eg Hillsong Australia, Queensland Baptist or Wesleyan Methodist Church NSW.

When I spoke to those in leadership, I found them informed, open and serious about their efforts in dealing with DV.

I found that most major denominations had safe houses and their websites provided links to DV services.

They were proactive in teaching church leadership about DV and were genuinely concerned about the mistakes that were still being made by local church leadership.

Initially, when I first made contact with many of these denominations, it was difficult to find information about who to speak to on this touchy subject. Not only were they shy to talk to me, especially by phone, but were unwilling to share information. (I will cover more about this in the final section of this article.)

Local Churches

In the local churches I noticed there were generally two responses, with the main response often (not always) being a disinterest and an apathy. They would nod their head and agree that there is a problem “out there,” but then be fairly dismissive about what to do about it.

In other local churches I found a contrast, with informed, pro-active and concerned church leaders.

Overall though, the most common claim I heard was:

“It doesn’t happen in my church.”

In many ways the local church is lagging far behind in dealing with DV, and yet the final outcome in dealing with it is often in the hands of those that are, for the large part, both apathetic and/or unmoved.

Each local church differed to others that I contacted. In my own home town the response was really good. Local church leaders were fairly open and willing to discuss this difficult subject.

Within that group, a small percentage appeared quite flustered by the thought of dealing with DV. Many seemed to believe that their local and personal knowledge of individual people and the family groups would allow them to easily recognise what was going on behind the closed doors of their congregational members.

The Hidden Problem

The reason why the church today is able to be criticised is that the basic local church has long refused to accept that the very people they know, hide many problems that we find everywhere in our society, including paedophilia, divorce, pornography and DV, just to name a few.

People will hide what they want to hide.

A good friend of mine, who worked for many years in child safety, says that you will find paedophiles where they can have access to children, and this means in churches too.

All abusers will find havens where they are safe to hide. When it comes to DV, a Christian wife suffering abuse will frequently choose to forgive and not speak up because the church itself has often encouraged the wrong and harmful behaviours of an abuser under the misconception that their actions are part of what makes a good Christian marriage.

Christian leaders can even actively teach these attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, and abusers will hide behind and use this to their advantage.

As we begin, I need to cover two subjects:

1. Latest statistics; and

2. The common claim and belief that ‘it doesn’t happen in our church.’

Image

Latest Statistics

Since writing the first article which appeared in the March to May 2018 issue of SPAG Magazine, I was able to source the latest statistics about DV in Australia.

A full copy of this report can be downloaded from the website linked here.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), in February 2018, released its first comprehensive report on family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia.

The report brings together information from more than twenty different major data sources to build a comprehensive picture about what is known of family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia.

The statistics are alarming:

  • One in six women (aged 15 or over) which equates to 1.6 million women, have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner; while for men it’s one in sixteen, ie half a million men;

  • Three in four (75%) victims of domestic violence reported the perpetrator as male, while one in four (25%) reported the perpetrator as female;

  • From 2012/13 to 2013/14, around one woman a week and one man a month were killed as a result of violence from a current or previous partner.

“Men are more likely to experience violence from strangers and in a public place; women are most likely to know the perpetrator (often their current or a previous partner) and the violence usually takes place in their home¹.”

Personally, I was relieved to find this timely report and to be able to quote statistics with accuracy and confidence, particularly for this final article in the series.

Another statistic that wasn’t available before, is the impact of DV upon children. The report acknowledges that it doesn’t adequately cover the subject, but were able to provide the following facts:

  • one in six (16%, or 1.5 million) women reported having experienced physical and/or sexual abuse before the age of 15 (as girls), and one in nine (11%, or 992,000) men reported having experienced this abuse when they were boys;

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of mothers who had children in their care when they experienced violence from their previous partner, said their children had seen or heard the violence; and

  • A large and growing number of children are placed in out-of-home care as a consequence of this abuse (55,600 children in 2015/16 alone)

As I read these statistics I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of people (men, women and children) that are now affected by abuse. It’s also impossible to look at these statistics without wondering how many Christian families are included in this group and how many victims feel alone, unheard and afraid.

Sexual assault diagram (click to enlarge)

It Doesn’t Happen in Our Church

Since writing the first two articles on this topic, I’ve held many conversations with pastors and church leaders, and the most common comment I heard was:

“We don’t need to talk about domestic violence, as we know what happens in our church. Nothing like that happens in our church.”

That remark hasn’t altered during the past ten years. I’ve heard this or similar kinds of phrases before and it never ceases to amaze and frustrate me that nothing appears to be changing.

A few months ago, I was talking to a pastor by phone and he told me that:

“There was no domestic violence in the members of his congregation.”

My initial instinct was to share information and statistics to help him to recognise that there is a problem that isn’t being addressed within the church. I concluded that I would be unlikely to change his mindset, so instead I suggested that his church would be the perfect place then to hold a meeting on DV.

I encouraged him to think about it and he said that he would get back to me.

A few days later another pastor said the same very words and during that conversation, I burst into tears, not because I was upset, but because I felt so frustrated and overwhelmed by the need to get the message out, particularly to those in the church who are refusing to face the truth.

This person assumed simply that I was crying because I still needed to heal.

Their words of denial and naivety are spoken defensively and often without giving due consideration to the very real issues within the modern day church. I’ve heard this response from church leaders, Pastors and elders, and even by women who have leadership roles within the Christian community.

Let us then consider the relevance of DV within the church So I would like to cover a few issues so that people will recognise and understand the significance of the situation within the church more clearly:

1. Past, Present and Future

When speaking about DV, I’m not only addressing present domestic violence victims, but also:

  • people who have been in previous DV relationships ;

  • those dating potential abusers; and

  • those that hide on the outskirts of the congregation so that their actions, thoughts and belief systems may not be identified by others within the church.

The media have referred to DV as the ‘Silent Epidemic’ for a reason. Not only is it an eye-catching headline, it’s the truth.

This problem within the confines of the family home, hold much shame and secrecy for all involved. To come out and say assuredly that domestic violence can’t be found in your congregation, is to ignore its existence at all, and closes off our minds and hearts to the very real suffering of those involved in a DV situation.

This is a secret and silent problem that does not show its ugly head until the victim has been pushed too far.

2. It’s Not a Reflection of You as a Pastor or Church Leader

One of the saddest incidents I’ve come across is this one – a pastor said:

“it wouldn’t be a problem in our church, I know everyone in my congregation.”

When I pointed out the secrecy of DV, he became defensive and angry. He said:

“Are you saying that I wouldn’t know?”.

I nodded in the affirmative. His eyes became slits and he seemed to be deeply offended.

I changed the subject, but by then he’d put up the shields and I knew that he was no longer receptive to what I was saying. The fact that people have problems – deep problems – isn’t an indictment on a pastor or a church.

Nowadays, the world is critical of the church, and Pastors are overwhelmed, underpaid and overworked. They’re being knocked about by all manner of problems and issues, and simply don’t have either the answers or the qualifications or knowledge to possibly be able to manage everything that comes their way, and yet they’re expected to do so. When things go wrong, the spotlight of blame is put onto the pastor. This is wrong and unfair.

People come to church to do either one of number of things: to change, to learn, to hide, or to feel good about themselves.

3. If it’s Not a Problem in Your Church, Then Your Church is the Perfect Place to Raise It

If yours is the one church in a town that really has no victims of DV, then consider holding a discussion night on DV. Invite community members and other local churches.

If you meet some resistance, then try to determine why there’s resistance, and if that can’t be resolved, then hold a meeting outside of your church.

Can you be the one that starts this conversation within your local Christian community? Can you be the one that opens the lid on this hidden secret?

If you’d like to know how your congregation feels about the subject – preach a sermon about it or hold a workshop or discussion night.

If you don’t want to be ‘tarred and feathered’ by the members within your congregation, ask someone like me to speak.

Let’s make this a conversation that cannot be ignored. Let’s talk about domestic violence and the problems it causes in our communities.

The local everyday church needs to be more proactive, because the next incident of DV may happen today within the members of your own congregation. If it does, it will likely surprise you who it involves, often because they “seemed like such a good Christian family.”

What Can We Do?

(a) Seek professional help

The first thing I must cover here is this – if you are not a qualified or trained counsellor with experience in dealing with DV, don’t attempt to deal with this issue yourself other than by providing support to those who are trained in DV situations.

Personally, I will not counsel anyone about DV. Although I’ve survived abuse and can talk passionately about the subject, I don’t believe I’m qualified to counsel someone in a DV situation.

This is likely true for anyone who has come out of a DV situation.

(b) First steps and ongoing care

Know the first steps to help and support a DV victim, and what is required as part of their ongoing needs for their journey.

  • Encourage them to get immediate help. Allow them to use the church phone to talk to a DV service or helpline. Take them to a police station or hospital, or both.

  • Take them to a place of safety. Make sure someone who is qualified to assess the situation, goes with them to collect their personal belongings. Don’t send them back to their homes alone.

  • Encourage them to take the advice of DV support workers and police in being safe and staying safe. Make sure that those who support the victim don’t in any way undermine this advice or put the victim’s safety in jeopardy.

  • Provide emotional and physical support for the victim as they walk this very difficult road. Encourage the development of a group of women to surround and support this woman during this difficult time. One person is insufficient – it needs to be a group of women. They should pray with her, cry with her, help her to stand on her own two feet and to gain confidence in herself, always supporting the advice given to her by the counsellor she is seeing. If the victim is a man, then the advice is the same but with the support from men.

Know the first steps to help and support a DV victim.

(c) Create a safe environment for the victim

If there is one vital message that I wish I could send to Christians everywhere, it’s this:

Your Christian faith and your place of gathering and worship to God is about creating a place where people can be safe; a place where people are loved and cared for by other Christians; a place where they can gather with other believers and feel the love and presence of God; a safe place.

Nowhere is this more necessary than when someone has experienced abuse at the hands of another. The ability to trust others is at a minimum and the vulnerability to other forms of abuse is high.

Confusion is a very real result of abuse, and I personally understand how open we can be to being hurt further by others.

When I think of abused women I think of how gentle Christ was in dealing with the woman at the well. At no time did He say to her, “Come, follow me,” because she’d already experienced being divorced and discarded by men.

All Jesus did was tell her where to find the love that would fill the thirst in her heart.

A church needs to be a place where people who are hurting can come to find the one and only God who can heal their broken and confused hearts and minds.

A place of safety is hard to find if the leadership of a church are not safe people themselves. Women can be very unkind to other women, men can use women for their own needs, but a love for God focuses us on Christ the Saviour, Healer and Wonderful Counsellor.

It’s only through love for Him that we can grow to develop a true love for people. People who have a true love for others are the safe people within the church.

(d) Be informed

Learn about DV by reading trustworthy information. Educate your church leaders, and not just the women, but the men too.

Gain some good knowledge:

  • what is domestic violence, and the different forms of DV;

  • learn to recognise some of the symptoms of DV eg. A wife requiring her husband’s approval before making even small decisions, or a wife’s lack of self-esteem and/or bruises etc;

  • learn the DV laws for your state including what the privacy laws are, because the perpetrator may be protected under some privacy laws from being made known by senior church leaders;

  • what Protection Orders are available and what they mean and the differences between them, and if a Protection Order is taken out on behalf of the victim, understand what it says and specifically what that means when it comes to protecting the victim.

Have a trained person come and talk to your leaders about DV. Learn about the different terms and phrases when it comes to DV such as gaslighting, Narcissistic behaviours, cycle of abuse and systematic patterns of behaviours.

Unless you are a trained expert in the field, you won’t be expected to know everything. Instead, know enough about what can happen and why. This will make you wiser in dealing with issues in each specific DV situation and open your eyes to the possible controlling behaviours of an abuser.

This information is necessary for the safety of all concerned. One Protection Order may not allow the perpetrator to come within a certain distance of the victim. It may have included in its pages, protection details for children, friends and relatives of the victim.

There may also be a need for a protection order be taken out for members of the congregation should any of them be threatened or harassed by the perpetrator.

Knowledge of this information is necessary as it will ensure that there’s no leeway for contact between the abuser and their victim within a church or counselling environment.

Some states have privacy laws that won’t allow you to disclose details of the situation to the senior elders of your church or perhaps won’t allow them to know what the perpetrator has done. This may provide the perpetrator with an opportunity to cause problems within the congregation.

Be aware of members in your congregation who might themselves be either perpetrators, victims or unsupportive of victims.

Openly talking about DV and its effects with those in your community, which can give people helpful insights into DV.

Never presume that a person isn’t a victim or a perpetrator.

Be proactive, be informed, and be open and aware. Be brave for those victims and also for the abusers, who truly need your help and the help of their church.

(e)Know those in your community who deal with DV on a daily basis

  • Talk to Police Liaison Officers;

  • Find out the statistics about DV in your area;

  • Talk to DV crisis centres and DV support people;

  • Learn if your community has DV court support workers.

  • Bring up the subject in your local ministers fraternity, and find out who’s involved in this area within the community, and what they do.

(f) Know your own denomination’s policy and procedures for dealing with DV

Every denomination should have their own policies and procedures for the local area and within your state. These are written by people who know the laws of your state.

Obtain a copy of the procedures and make sure that all your senior staff know and will follow those procedures. Be prepare to have your staff and leaders trained to deal with the issue correctly. Ensure those policies and procedures are easily available to staff to peruse and learn.

(g) Have a plan

Develop a plan of action about how your church members should respond to situations of DV. Get your church leadership involved. This will also provide a good opportunity for you to recognise individual’s personal beliefs about DV and if they may prove to be a problem.

Most church policies and procedures would have this as a component, but make it brief and easy to remember so that people will respond confidently and quickly to help people when the need arises.

(h) Understand the risks and seriousness of Domestic violence.

It’s essential that you understand the seriousness of DV within your community and the challenges that arise from it.

A vital word of caution here:

Do not, I repeat DO NOT

enter a DV situation alone.

If one of your church members or friends calls you during or after physical violence has occurred, and is in danger or could be in danger, request that they call the police. If she cannot, then you should call the police on her behalf.

Only after the police have arrived should you be there to provide the support that the victim needs at that point.

Even if you know the perpetrator well, things can go very wrong, very quickly, and you are not trained to deal with such situations.

If you unknowingly walk into a DV situation, get out quickly and call the police. Don’t stay and try to help, or you may become a victim yourself.

These situations are frightening and can be overwhelming. The effects and after-effects of physical and sexual abuse can be emotionally difficult to deal with.

DV can take the lives of women, children and men. The community may not know about the existence of DV within a family until there is a murder/ suicide that shocks a community.

You may also face extended court proceedings with congregational member needing to act as witnesses.

The effects on children, women and families is something that I cannot more clearly state as being important to the whole community.

The victim is likely to suffer depression. She may feel an urge to return to the perpetrator. There may be troubled and upset children who don’t understand why daddy and mummy are no longer together

Other consequences resulting from the breakdown in a family unit can lead to illness, sudden poverty, extreme exhaustion, loss of employment, poor self-esteem, inability to make decisions or poor decision making, hospitalisations, relocations and emotional and mental breakdowns.

What you may not have considered is that within a congregation it can cause extra problems eg. people taking sides, extended families becoming involved, lack of mercy or understanding from some members, accusations of marital interference, lies and false accusations., and so on.

Pastors have received death threats or threats of harm from perpetrators. They’ve lost congregational members, and been faced with a lack of understanding from elders and staff.

Churches can become the centre of gossip and slander within a community and, even in the least stressful DV situation, there may still lead to upset and discord within the church

Prayer and love, wisdom and understanding are going to be needed for the community of Christians and extended family and friends involved, to survive this challenging time.

(i)Be aware of misinformation

Recently I came across some pages on a social media website, that were dedicated to “revealing the truth about Domestic violence.” I became aware of one particular post which lacked truth, and sadly lacked any statistical support. This post was shared by many of its followers and there were several thousand comments.

Despite my carefully worded response in which I simply shared verifiable statistical data and didn’t use words that sounded critical, my comment was promptly deleted and my membership of this group was revoked.

Unfortunately there will always be those who believe they and they alone, know the real truth.

I’ve also found websites that stretch the truth to help their own bias.

I would encourage you to steer clear of websites and other ‘fact-givers’ who may choose to share distorted and in-correct information. Instead, seek the truth from evidential data and statistical information which can be found on governmental websites.

DV isn’t about an ‘us’ and ‘them’ or ‘men’ against ‘women’ situation. That’s not helpful. It’s not about gender, nor about race or age. We must be able to step back and with a clear mind, remain fixed only on the truth and evidence which can be proven.

The bottom line is, that as Christians, it must be about protecting the vulnerable, providing safety, comfort and support, and encouraging them in their Christian journey towards healing, and wholeness in Christ.

To do otherwise could result in loss of mercy, compassion and love.

(j) Be aware of possible failings within any church leadership

Those that work for God in ministry, in whatever capacity, should be commended for their hard work. Our pastors and church leaders should be respected and cared for.

Despite the hard work they do, sometimes church leaders fail either personally and/or with those they profess to care. No one is immune to failure.

Domestic violence is a silent crime that remains hidden until it’s exposed. The act of exposure can divide the best of churches and can result in members fleeing to the safety of another church.

This is particularly true if the abuser is in leadership within the church. Not only has the abuse being exposed, but so is the lie of the ‘perfect marriage’ which church leaders are supposed to have.

The perpetrator who’s been exposed to the censure and judgement of their once loving Christian community, also becomes a victim in the situation.

They may have to face prosecution, along with the loss of their marriage, possibly their children, their friends and Christian supports along with the respect they once knew.

Faced with such loss, they may become capable of any kind of behaviour in an attempt to regain what they’ve lost, even sometimes at the expense of the victim.

Church leaders should be encouraged to refrain from sharing information about the situation, and to nip it in the bud should church members begin to gossip. All must be mindful of the impact upon the victim, the perpetrator and the children in particular.

Move quickly to keep the abuser accountable for their actions, and of course, ensuring the safety of the victim.

This isn’t an easy situation for anyone. It will be challenging for church leaders to attempt to maintain a healthy, loving, compassionate and firm control of the situation, while at the same time remaining aware of the vulnerability of those involved.

I will cover this subject in the next part of the article a little more.

(k) Keep a list of phone numbers for staff and leaders to access

Ensure all staff members of your church have access to a list of local and national support services for DV and Crisis Care.

To make it easier for myself, I’ve stuck a list of phone numbers on my wall, which are instantly accessible should I need them.

Each church, town, suburb, city or state will have different contacts, and it’s particularly important to ensure that local contacts are easy to locate. Following are some contacts you may find useful:

If I could round up this last section it would be to say this – be aware, be safe, be kind and be knowledgeable.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CONTACTS
(AUSTRALIA ONLY
)
Emergency Police & Ambulance..000
DV helpline..1800RESPECT (1800 737 732)
DV Connect Qld: Helpline for women     1800 811 811
DV Connect Qld: Mensline..1800 600 636
Lifeline..13 11 14
Women’s Legal Service..1800 957 957
DV Connect Qld: Mensline..1800 600 636
Toowoomba & Darling Downs Qld: DVAC (Offering support, crisis response, counselling and court support)..(07) 4642 1354.. www.dvac.org.au
Other:
Pets in Crisis (Care for pets requiring accommodation due to DV situations)..1800 811 811

(l) Should we talk to young people about DV?

Yes, but in their language and at an age appropriate level. Someone with suitable training can speak to them and encourage them to find a person they feel they can trust.

It may not be a child in the church who needs the help, but someone who has confided in your child about what’s been happening in their home.

Children can learn that hurting someone isn’t ok. If there is DV in the home, they may be fearful and withdrawn.

Many children that come from a DV home environment have only ever heard harsh words and so may act out and say things without realising that others don’t feel comfortable with what they’re saying.

Children find it difficult to keep secrets, especially with someone they have come to trust, eg their Sunday school teacher.

It’s not about trying to get them to tattle about a dangerous situation, but about providing a safe place where they can share, and also about determining if they require immediate help.

Most high schools across Australia already speak about DV, so it’s appropriate that a trained counsellor could come in to speak with the youth in your church.

Controlling and intimidating behaviours can begin early in relationships. Young people need to recognise what behaviours are unhealthy and how to avoid them and also how to untangle themselves from toxic relation-ships.

Parents should be open with their children, and youth groups should be addressing the issues that all young people can face in their life. It’s better to be educated young and have open eyes to problems that may arise so they can hopefully steer clear of them.

(m) What about the abuser/perpetrator?

Previously I skimmed over this information, with the intention of providing more detail here.

A perpetrator who has just been exposed will do one of two things:

  1. deny all; or

  2. admit to his problem.

In the days following the break-down of the marriage, the abuser may switch from one claim to the other, and when this occurs, church leaders can take this as evidence that the perpetrator is likely to lie just as easily about anything else in an attempt to avoid facing the truth.

Depending upon the size of your church, its leadership and the supports that are in place, it would be extremely helpful if you could provide a way for the abuser to be held accountable for their actions, particularly since they will endeavour to avoid facing the truth or anything which may require them to change their beliefs and behaviours.

Real long-term and healthy change can only begin when the abuser recognises their behaviours and accepts and believes that they need to change. Knowing and doing something about it though, are two very different things.

I’ve shared in a previous article on this subject, about the ‘honeymoon stage’ in the cycle of violence within a DV home. Only time will tell if the perpetrator is truly wanting to change for the good, or whether it’s part of the cycle.

It’s only when the perpetrator is prepared to let go of all control, and accept that he and he alone is responsible, that the process of true change can begin.

The perpetrator also has to accept that he may have lost his marriage, wife and family. If he’s still demanding that the wife return, it’s evident that they’re not yet letting go of control.

We all know that brokenness is part of repentance and change, but it’s also part of the cycle. Unfortunately, the wife has seen this before, and has learned to respond positively to this. This may also become a problem for her, as she wants to believe he’s changed and her desire to go back at this stage can mean that the problem isn’t resolved and no real, permanent change has actually taken place.

I’ve seen men say things like:

“I’ve changed, I’m a new man. Can’t she see that I’m changed. Why isn’t she being forgiving?”

This statement in itself is very revealing – he still wants things his way, in his time and he is blaming her. Nothing has actually changed.

Only time will tell if it’s true sorrow and true change or “I’m only doing this because I got my hand caught in the cookie jar.”

This isn’t harsh, but it’s the part that most Christians find uncomfortable. We want to believe the sinner has repented and that he’s become a new creation in Christ. We know that God can bring about real change.

He sounds sincere, he’s saying the right words, perhaps he’s cried and he sounds truly genuine, but we must remind ourselves that it’s not just about turning from sin, it’s about becoming a new creation completely: a new mind and a new way of thinking, a new way of dealing with people, a new attitude towards women and a new type of letting go, even if it means that they still lose everything.

If, and I repeat IF, the marriage is ever going to be reconciled, it will be as if the relationship is starting over again. It will be too easy for him to fall back into his usual poor ways for dealing with things, and if she has not healed, she will respond exactly the same way as she did before.

For each of them, it will be like getting to know a new person, because it’s not only he that has changed, but her as well.

Reconciliation isn’t impossible, but it will only occur when there’s a genuine commitment from the perpetrator for permanent change.

There are a number of programmes available to help the abuser and contacts for Queensland (Australia) are provided in the table. Contacts for other Australian states or in other countries should be made available to all who need them within your church.

I’d suggest that you seek the assistance of trained DV counsellors to assess a perpetrator, while at the same time you continue providing support for all of those involved.

(n) The response

The wife

For me personally, the hardest part of my own separation from my former husband was this: stepping back and allowing the world to see what I’d always known was there, but had been hidden.

I kept wanting to protect the image I’d put out there for fourteen years and he was part of that image.

When the DVO was served on him, I wasn’t there, but I was so concerned about how my ex-husband would respond to the exposure of the DV in our home, that I rang a friend from my safe house and asked them to go around to him.

Even though he’d hurt me for many years, I was concerned for his well-being. You will see this with the victim. She can be holding ice over a black eye, while watching with concern as her husband is being arrested. She could have a bloodied face and yet sob her apologies for the situation that she feels she’s caused.

Over many years of DV, the violent partner brainwashes the wife into believing that every bad thing that happens is her fault, so it’s natural that she will still believe that she’s responsible for his pain and suffering.

He’s still a human being with emotions and a heart that will break, so it’s one of the hardest thing in the world for the wife to play a part of breaking someone’s heart, even though they know that this is the only way they’ll survive.

The Husband/Abuser

The perpetrator will be broken.. but also angry, vengeful and likely to be planning how they can hurt or even kill his wife. He’s heartbroken, but also he’s just lost control. He hates that he’s lost control.

He has not only lost control of his wife, but also his children. He will become desperate to regain control. This is important. It’s the most dangerous time of the separation, because behind the heartbreak he may be planning her murder … even if it’s just the death of her character and reputation.

I’ve often said over the years, that it’s not that the abuser has an anger management problem, rather they have a heart and mind problem. Only when this has been resolved will we truly see a new person, and that new person will be renewed in every way.

As I mentioned earlier, reconciliation isn’t impossible, but it will only occur due to a miracle.

Everyone I’ve spoken to about this says a something like: the very things that caused a perpetrator to be an abuser, is the same fundamental things that will stop them from change.

Conclusion

While this may come across as a stressful, painful, and terribly difficult experience for those involved, including the church and any pastoral team that’s become involved, true change is possible, though usually reconciliation is not.

While I’ve been in contact with a number of churches who were apathetic or preferred to turn a blind eye to the possibility of DV in their church, there have been some church whose response, compassion and understanding about DV have been wonderful.

I’d particularly like to extend my thanks to the Baptist Church especially the Qld Baptist and Australian Baptist Ministries which oversees their churches in the various states in Australia.

They were aware of the possibility of DV in the church family, and responded quickly to my queries. I was very impressed by their openness and knowledge and particularly the information on their webpage:

www.ajustcause.com.au/no-place-for-violence/

On their website they shared:

“In 2018, almost 210,000 women living in Australia will experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner. A number will be in our churches.

‘No Place for Violence Here’ (link) is a campaign of the Australian Baptist churches (but open to all) to raise awareness of family and domestic abuse and to build an effective response in our churches and wider community.”

This website includes:

  • A downloadable PDF file “Domestic violence is more than skin deep – Our Pastoral Response;”

  • A downloadable report on DV services in Australia;

  • A Theological Background Document on DV;

  • Materials for holding a DV workshop;

  • Materials on which to base a sermon on DV; and

  • An easy to navigate web-page available for all to peruse.

I was also very impressed with a webpage I came across while researching Hillsong Australia:

www.hillsong.com/hillsong-foundation/blog/2018/05/homes-of-peace/#.W8fN5WgzZPY

“Homes of Peace provides six houses and one full-time social worker, and follow-up support for families after they exit the program.”

Last year, 13 women and 12 children were successfully supported through Homes of Peace.”

I am fully aware that there are other churches within my local district and extended area, who have trained counsellors, that provide safe houses and support for victims of Domestic violence.

Some churches don’t want their services to be mentioned, but I believe people should know they exist and should ask around for information about available services/programs.

What Can I Do?

The advice is the same whether I’m speaking to an individual or a church. From all the church denominational leaders I contacted, they each recognised the problem of obtaining relevant training, as well as the difficulties with changing attitudes to DV which should then filter through to local churches.

Consider also that you as an individual person can also contribute:

  • Gain knowledge yourself, and be open-minded to any change in thinking, heart and spirit which God may choose to lead you through;

  • Speak to your church leaders and offer your assistance, remembering that once you start and when things get tough (which they will), and you face opposition (which you will) you’ve made a commitment to this and with God’s help and strength, you will make it through;

  • When offering help, be aware of your own heart, and ask God to reveal to you your motivation in becoming involved;

  • Ask community welfare groups about safe houses in your area. If there aren’t any, consider starting something in your town or suburb. Get a team together to consider how to obtain funding for its rent and bills (perhaps a local grant), obtaining furniture etc second-hand to furnish it; determine what’s required in a suitable rental including safety features;

  • make decisions such as how long the property will be provided to a needy person or family (one week? one month?); and organise a roster to maintain the yard and to keep the property clean; and

  • Find like-minded people with a passion for this ministry, who have varying talents whether that be house maintenance, fund-raising, community relations, public speaking, letter-writing and so on, and put together a group to meet together to regularly pray for the ministry and for those involved in DV.

Final Note

Change in a church or community or an individual starts with just a single step, and then one step at a time.

In my life, God brought women alongside me to help me learn and grow.

I have a beautiful Christian friend who nearly lost her life to her ‘Christian’ husband. I remember when I was called to her house and arrived as the paramedics were working to stabilise her so that they could rush her to hospital. I knelt beside my friend, only to realise that I was kneeling in her blood.

The scene that I walked into was extremely difficult to witness in so many ways. Out of respect to this family, this is all I will say about the incident

Then after that, I watched as a community of people gossiped and listened to the lies from her imprisoned husband just so that he could fuel more problems for her.

She stood tall, and she talked to God.

When this man, who called himself a Christian, couldn’t control her, he’d tried to take her life. When that hadn’t worked, he attempted to destroy her character and reputation.

He lost. Not because she won, but because God won.

This woman is one of the bravest women I’ve ever known. Her heart is strong and her love for God is even stronger. She has a faith that is far greater than most Christians I know. She has a calm warrior presence that is hard to describe, but is recognisable in some people.

I admire this woman and I love her, and I’m humbled to be her friend.

I’ve learned that God gives people choices, and while some will use it as an opportunity to destroy, there are those who stand firm and fast in the storm of gossip and slander that their abuser spews out at them. They remain steadfast in God, and they choose to forgive.

The free will we are given is wonderful for those who choose to use it for good purposes. There are others though, who choose to be hateful and to hurt others.

If there is one thing that I would ask you to remember about domestic violence – it is this.

God never intended that the free will He gave us should be used to hurt, maim, and entrap others through control and manipulation.

This is what abuse does – it attempts to take away the rights of others to use their own free will.

When the abuser succeeds at this, they then slowly destroy what is left of that person. It’s almost as if the abuser gains some kind of vile delight in the destruction of the very person or people they are purporting to love.

[End]

Websites for Further Information

1. Media releases:

2. Help for Victims:

3. Further reading:

Notes:
1. www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-sexual-violence-in-australia-2018/contents/table-of-contents

Biography:

Ruth Lindsay is a wife, mother of two teenage sons, author, speaker, blogger, and bible study leader who enjoys reading, eating chocolate, and coffee with friends.

Ruth is founder of “Be Alive Ministries,” an outreach to women. Her first book “He Whispers Our Name,” is an outreach for women of all ages about God’s heart for people, and His desire to have a real and authentic life-changing relationship with Him. Her second book, “Behind Closed Doors” is still being written and is aimed at helping others become free from domestic violence and abuse.

The Be Alive Ministries Facebook page, enables her to reach others from her small country town in Queensland, while her website www.ruthlindsay.com.au and blog page www.ruthlindsay.com provides a base to be able to work from home to touch the lives of many.