The latest article by Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson on domestic abuse and the church is - again - harrowing reading. This is an issue that will not simply disappear. These women should have been loved, honoured, comforted and protected by the men they married. They should have been cherished. Those are the promises of a Christian marriage.
I wrote here earlier in the year about the church's failure to respond appropriately to victims of domestic abuse. To be now reading these stories about women who were abused not just by men who claimed to be Christians - but by men who had been ordained to leadership in the Church is absolutely heartbreaking.
The church cannot continue to bury its head in the sand, and I am thankful that the Anglican Church of Australia, made a formal apology to victims of abuse at its recent General Synod - and the Anglican Diocese of Sydney which features prominently in Julia and Hayley's article also made a formal apology at its own Synod. However an apology is only a first step.
Clergy who have been found to have abused their spouse should in my opinion, in addition to appropriate legal consequences, be deposed from Holy Orders. Domestic abuse must be seen as a serious offence - not just against the law of the state, but against God. They should never again be allowed to minister in the church in any capacity.
I also have to comment on the response of some prominent church leaders. The Rev Dr Michael Jensen wrote a response to the Baird and Gleeson article which I thought was good. Michael is listening - though I was disappointed he didn't really engage with and address a key issue raised in the article - the doctrine of male headship, which was repeatedly identified by victims as contributing to their abuse. Overall though Michael's response is encouraging.
What was less encouraging for me was a response I noted by one prominent priest and academic, who posted a comment on social media noting he preferred Michael's article because 'It stops appropriately short of giving the impression the church is fundamentally and endemically evil.' This is I would argue is the kind of attitude that leads to the cover ups and ignoring of victims that has been exposed first in the Royal Commission and now in these articles on Domestic Abuse.**
There is still ingrained in some this idea that the church's reputation needs to be protected, that we should uphold it as a holy institution - even when it is being far from Holy. This must change - it must stop. When the members of the church are behaving in an evil manner - say by abusing their spouse - that needs to be declared, the church must repent of any wrong doing and only then can it seek to call itself holy.
I said it after the first article and I re-iterate it now - if you or someone you love has been the victim of abuse and found that the church was complicit in making it worse. If you came looking for help only to be rebuffed, or ignored. If you came looking for hope and were given despair. I am sorry. So very very sorry. If you need help I will listen and do everything I can to get you the support you need. You will not be ignored, you WILL be believed.
If you don't want to talk to me though, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) and talk to trained professionals who can give you advice and support, and if you are in immediate danger please call 000.
Finally, if you are a perpetrator of domestic abuse, know this - you do not have God on your side - Christian marriage demands sacrificial love and service. Marriage does not mean your wife belongs to you, she is not a piece of property. She is made in the image of God and your role as husband is to love her, cherish her, honour her and protect her. Your role is to love her as Christ loves the church. If you aren't doing that and if you want help to stop - Please call the DV Connect Men’s Line (9 am - 12 midnight, 7 days a week) on 1800 600 636
**I am not suggesting the author of that post would ever be involved in such a cover up or dismissal. However I believe the attitude expressed is similar to those who have.
Fr Daryl is an Anglican priest living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.