All Anglicans should be deeply grieved by the study released this week by the Anglican Church of Australia on domestic and family violence.
“Like my predecessor, I want to state clearly that all forms of domestic abuse are incompatible with Scripture and Christian faith,” said the new Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel. “Nothing justifies violence or coercion. Christian relationships are to be marked by love, gentleness and respect.”
The report, outlined here, indicates the prevalence of family abuse was the same or higher than in the wider Australian community. The report will be studied to determine ways to further strengthen responses to domestic abuse and family violence within church communities and a ten point commitment has been enacted by the General Synod, as well as work already undertaken in the Sydney Diocese. “There is much work to do and our shock and sadness should stir us into further action,” said Archbishop Raffel.
“It is entirely appropriate that as a national Anglican church, we should be committed to hearing from victims and taking a serious look at how churches have responded and are currently responding to survivors,” said Archdeacon Kara Hartley, speaking on behalf of the Sydney Anglican Domestic Violence Task Force.
“The results of this survey mirror our concerns about domestic violence among church communities. This led the Sydney Synod to adopt a Domestic Abuse Policy and Guidelines in 2018.”
In 2017, the then Archbishop Glenn Davies commended the work of the Sydney Diocese Domestic Violence Task Force, saying that abuse among those connected with churches, within the congregations and even in clergy families should never be the case as “it dishonours both God and his image-bearers”.
It represents a personal tragedy in each case, and an affront to God which, as Archbishop Davies said must be “responded to both with justice and pastoral sensitivity”.
“Alongside our policy, we’ve developed materials and training to highlight that all forms of domestic abuse are wrong and not tolerated in our church.” Archdeacon Hartley said. “We’ve also taken seriously the fact that domestic violence has occurred in some clergy households and have established a fund to care for clergy spouses.”
“Through Anglicare and Youthworks, we have developed the ‘Before it Starts’ campaign to educate young people from the Bible about respectful relationships, which we hope will lead to long term change in the incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse. This research reminds us that there is more to do and we continue to seek ways to ensure victims of abuse in our church are listened to, valued, respected.”
“In particular, it is disturbing that less than 12 percent of Anglicans who find themselves in a violent relationship turn to clergy or those within their church for help. This is despite the finding that clergy and lay leaders had high levels of awareness of abuse issues and that 74 percent of those who sought help within their congregation were supported.”
The issue of twisting Scripture as a cover for violence was also raised in the research.
“Some abusers distort the meaning of scripture in order to exercise control over their victims. Rightly understood, the Bible condemns all forms of domestic abuse. Therefore, using scripture as a cover for violence is a gross distortion.” the Archdeacon said. “This report reinforces a key finding of our task force, that we must give priority to biblical teaching on marriage that leaves no room for misunderstanding or abuse.”