One of the most horrible realities of living life in a broken world is knowing violence in your own home. Each person expects to have safety and security amongst their nearest and dearest. And yet, because of sin, too many people—women, children and even men—don’t enjoy safety in their homes. This has been true of families since the first family, when Cain killed Abel. But unfortunately, this remains true for too many families even now.
On this episode of the CCL podcast, we’re considering the terrible reality of domestic violence. Many have been coming to terms with the sad fact that this isn’t just an issue “out there”, but actually one that is “in here”—that is, in our churches. What is domestic abuse? How should you respond if you’re a victim? How should we care for perpetrators? And what can or should we do as onlookers?
Links referred to:
- 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732): Australian national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service
- Australian support services list on ReachOut.com
- Sydney Anglican Diocese Domestic Abuse Policy
- Podcast episode 008: Let’s change the story about domestic violence with Kara Hartley.
- Our August event: Learning to forgive with Kanishka Raffel and Philip Kern (25 August)
- Support the work of the Centre
Runtime: 44:00 min.
Chase Kuhn: One of the most horrible realities of living life in a broken world is knowing violence in your own home. Each person expects to have safety and security amongst their nearest and dearest. And yet, because of sin, too many people—women, children and even men—don’t enjoy safety in their homes. And this has been true of families since the first family, when Cain killed Abel. But unfortunately, this remains true for too many families even now.
Today on the podcast, we’re considering the terrible reality of domestic violence. Many have been coming to terms with the sad fact that this isn’t just an issue “out there”, but actually one that is “in here”—that is, in our churches. What is domestic abuse? How should you respond if you’re a victim? How should we care for perpetrators? And what can or should we do as onlookers? These are the questions we’ll seek to answer on today’s episode.
CK: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast. My name is Chase Kuhn. I’m coming to you from lockdown in Sydney, Australia, at Moore College, and my guest today on the podcast is Kara Hartley, who is Archdeacon in Sydney diocese here in Sydney where I’m serving. And she especially focuses on women’s ministry and ministry to women in the diocese, which I’m so grateful for. And today on the podcast, Kara and I are going to be talking about this most terrible subject of domestic violence.
Before we talk about that subject, Kara, welcome.
Kara Hartley: Hey Chase! Nice to be here.
CK: Nice to be with you virtually as well.
CK: Yes! Again. Again. Kara, you’ve been on before with us to talk about domestic violence a few years ago, and you’ve spoken a few different times, and this is partly owing to your leadership role, but also your involvement in domestic violence taskforce within the diocese. Can you just tell us a little bit about that work?
KH: Sure. Thanks, Chase. Yes, a number of years ago, the Sydney diocese established a domestic violence task force, and in 2018, the fruit of that task force was a policy for the diocese on responding to domestic abuse, as well as some good practice guidelines. And that’s been in place since the end of 2018. And then I’ve been involved in what’s called a monitoring committee—just seeing how the work of that task force and the work of that policy is being lived out in the diocese, how it’s shaping our work—our training. So that’s kind of where I’ve been sitting with this for a while now.
CK: Yeah, and most recently, there’s been reports revealed about domestic violence within the church, and sadly, this hasn’t come as a surprise, but it has been quite alarming for many people that, in fact, we do have domestic violence present within our churches, and in many instances, both men and women have been suffering violence—
CK: —in their homes. How has that been for you as this report has been released? Has this come as any surprise to you, or has this been, really, a revelation of things you thought were coming?
KH: I guess it’s not a surprise. It’s distressing, it’s—
KH: —horrible to think that this continues to be an issue. We’re working really hard to ensure that our training and our resourcing of churches is as good as it can be, and we’re working really hard to keep—this is why I think a conversation like this is continuing to be important, because we’re working really hard to help people understand what domestic abuse is, and by education and training and talking and conversations, just means that hopefully, we’ll see less instances of abuse in our church as we gain in understanding and seek to ensure that that behaviour just isn’t part of our community.
CK: Yeah. That’s very helpful. I mean, as God’s people, we have a high calling on our lives, and we know of a better way that we can live in gospel hope and freedom. And this means to make sure that there isn’t violence and abuse in our midst, and that’s important for us.
CK: And I guess you’ve already flagged this: I’m so glad that we’re having this conversation, as difficult of one as it is, because we want Christians, wherever they are, to be aware of the kinds of things that feature in homes, and in fact, people that are listening here may have violence in their homes—abuse of some sort now, or they may know of people that do, or they may have had a history of this in their home. And so, our hope for the conversation is that it will bring comfort, some wisdom about what can and can’t be done, or should or shouldn’t be done, and ways that we might keep moving forward in this matter as a community. So.
You wanted to say before, I mean, you’re not a trained psychologist of any sort in this area.
KH: No. No, I’m not. I’m not a trained social worker. So I’m not an expert in that kind of clinical sense, and I just wanted that to be really clear. Where I’m coming from is somebody who’s been involved in thinking about this issue and talking with victims, thinking about it from a pastoral perspective—local church perspective—and just trying to get as much wisdom as I can and help others have wisdom in this matter, knowing it’s complex, knowing that no one case is the same, and so we need some general principles, but hopefully they can be worked out in a way that’s of benefit, particularly to victims, but also to perpetrators. And together, as a church community, we can seek to do that in a way that honours the Lord.
CK: Yeah, thanks, Kara, and I’m grateful to have you on. I mentioned this to you before, but in some ways, I know that there are certainly trained experts around—some that we know—but one of the things I’ve appreciated about you is the wisdom that you have had pastorally, and the advice that you can offer to people that also feel, maybe, that they’re not trained professionals, but need to give a response in some way. I’ve known of a number of instances of domestic abuse throughout my lifetime, and the times I’ve felt so ill-equipped for that, because I wasn’t an expert. Just having some guidance would really have helped me and I’m hoping this will be useful for some people.
Maybe we can begin by just answering the question, “What is domestic violence or domestic abuse?” And “What are the kinds of signs of these problems?” I mean, some people that are victims may not be sure that what they’re experiencing—
CK: —is that, and might be afraid of classifying that because of how it escalates things. Or people watching might be afraid of the same things.
KH: Yeah, I mean, we’ve got a definition in our policy, which is a pretty standard definition of what abuse is—that it’s abuse that’s not limited to just physical abuse, which is often what we think of when we think of domestic violence or domestic abuse. It can be emotional or verbal or social or economic or spiritual abuse, to name some of them. But essentially at the heart of abuse, it’s about control. It’s a patterned behaviour of intimidation, of isolation, of control over another person, and so, I guess that’s what distinguishes it. And this is where, I think, a lot of us feel conflicted. What’s just a not great marriage versus what’s an abusive relationship? And it’s the control factor that somebody’s actually seeking to exercise some form of control over another, which really distinguishes that. So, yeah.
CK: Yeah, that control can play itself out in a whole host of abusive behaviours.
KH: That’s right. So that emotional abuse can—and we can talk about that a bit more—but that idea of social abuse—that isolating somebody from other relationships and controlling who they see and what they do. And economic abuse: controlling their money and what finances are available to them. So the abuser has a real—again, that word—control over another person that affects them just so dramatically.
CK: Yeah. Yeah, it’s very scary stuff. Now, I mean, this often goes so unnoticed in communities. I mean, you might see warning signs, and we could talk about those. But part of the reasons why it goes unnoticed is ’cause there’s often grooming associated with external parties. Can you speak to that?
KH: Yeah, I mean, a term that often goes with abuse is the idea of “behind closed doors”. And there’s a reason that’s actually true is because abuse can be so hidden, and actually really hard to identify—particularly if it’s not physical abuse. I mean, bruises are easy to see. But the emotional or psychological or social abuse is much harder to identify. And I think some of the signs—I mean, it might be you observe a change in someone’s behaviour: they suddenly withdraw significantly from other relationships. Perhaps you see a couple at church and—let’s use husband and wife: a husband never lets the wife be on her own anywhere around the church property. In all her conversations, he’s always there with her. It might be that you’re out for coffee with somebody: I know a circumstance where women have been out for coffee with one another and one of those women never has any money, and she talks about not being allowed to have money. And you think, “Really? You can’t have $5 for a coffee?” I mean, that’s an outrageous price anyway. And it’s those kind of warning signs.
But the grooming is really significant in church. I think we want to be generous with one another at church, don’t we: we want to think of one another generously. And so we see somebody who looks like a good guy, who seems to be involved, and sure, he’s got his awkwardness, but we don’t want to think too badly of him. And so it would never occur to us that he’d be the kind of guy—and in fact, he establishes relationships with us to ensure that we think of him well, so we would never join dots to assume he would be an abuser.
KH: But that’s so hard, isn’t it, in church life, where we actually want good relationships with one another, we want to think generously of one another, we want to be inclusive—
KH: —we don’t want to be suspicious about everybody who suddenly wants to be my friend.
CK: Yes. I remember a particular close relationship to my family growing up, where there was abuse in the home, and the abuser—the man—in the relationship, it wasn’t a physical abuse situation, but he was so lovely towards outsiders. Everybody thought the world of him. And the woman that was suffering in this was quite reclusive and withdrawn. And so, when it came for the relationship as it broke down, there was a lot of finger-pointing in the wrong direction and no thought about what could have actually been happening behind closed doors because of the presentation publicly—the jovial nature of—
CK: —this man’s personality—that no one would have ever assumed that there was something wicked, and it was terrible. And that was almost a double hit for the woman, because—
CK: —not only had she been suffering, but then she had been accused, even, in the dissolution of the marriage of terrible things, and [there] was real pain.
KH: That’s right. And part of that grooming will be when it does come time as the marriage breaks down, because he’s such a great guy, he can portray her as being the hysterical one—the one overreacting. And the mates around him or the people around him, because he has groomed them, of course, you know, they know sometimes their wives get a bit upset about things—a bit irrational—that must be what’s going on. Right? And we project and we assume—
KH: —and you’re right: that double suffering that she then has: it’s dreadful. But it happens.
CK: Yeah, absolutely. So how can we better take notice of this in our churches? I mean, how do we do it without accusation or constant suspicion? How do we do it with sensitivity? I mean, it’s a very difficult thing to do.
KH: Yeah, it is. I think one of the things I’ve been really grappling with in the last little while is our ability to listen and listen well in church. I feel like we’re losing that somewhat, and lockdowns and other things don’t help that, really, do they, and we know that domestic abuse has increased throughout COVID. But that general and genuine curiosity about another person, which causes us to listen well, develops trust, and so when somebody speaks to us, then, about what their life is like—what their marriage is like—we hear things differently if we’re genuinely curious and interested, and not just telling stories. Does that make sense? So—
CK: Yeah, it does. For sure.
KH: —I think that’s one of the issues—is I can’t walk around my church and look at every marriage and try and analyse it as they sit there in a pew or whatever. That’s just unproductive. But when I’m speaking particularly—let’s say I’m speaking to other women, if I have a real curiosity and a real genuine interest in them, I will hear their answers to my questions, I will ask follow-up questions, and it might be that it develops a trust that allows them to say that one little thing that if I’m listening carefully, I can then go, “Oh. What do you mean he didn’t allow you to do that?” Or “What do you mean that it’s always your fault and you shouldn’t have done that to make him angry? What does that mean? Tell me more about that.” I think that allows us just to hear each other—
CK: I agree.
CK: Yeah, I agree.
CK: I mean, not just in this space of thinking about domestic abuse, but, I mean, would that we become better listeners full stop in church. I mean, if we actually—
CK: —that is one of the best ways we can care for people is just learn to—
CK: —actually listen and listening—
CK: —isn’t passive, exactly; it’s actually very active activity that I’m not just hearing—
KH: Oh yeah.
CK: —what you’re telling me, but I’m actually following up and engaging you and showing real care and concern for what you’re telling me, and going further and probing things that you’re telling me, because I care.
CK: And you’re right: on this in particular, if we hear something difficult, I find, we often just brush it aside and think, “Ooh, it’s probably not my business. I better not ask anymore.”
CK: Whereas actually, no, there is something about community and caring for one another in a tough space too. Let’s talk about this. I mean, I want to think about, really, three different categories of people, maybe. We could think about victims, we could think about perpetrators, and we could think about those that are third parties—that are onlookers, if you will. But in abuse situations, let’s talk about victims first. I mean, why is that victims often find it difficult to come forward?
KH: Oh, I think there’s a myriad of reasons: fear, uncertainty, fear, the ramifications. “What if I’m not believed?” You know, “He is this good guy. He’s been in eldership in the church, you know.” Or not even that: “He’s just a really lovely guy. What if I’m not believed? What will this mean about how I’m perceived in the community? What will I do if they take the side of my husband? Where will I go if I need to leave the marriage and what will I do about the kids?” That’s huge, right? Security—housing security and life security. “What if my husband spins a story and convinces everybody that I’m the problem?” And we’ve talked about that before.
And I think as you picked up a bit earlier, a lot of victims don’t actually recognise that they’re being abused. They just think they’re in a bad marriage. Or we’re told marriage is really hard and, yes, they’re finding it hard, but that’s probably normal. Or it must be their fault, because their spouse has been telling them that it’s their fault. So I think they’re all the reasons why they don’t come forward. But partly the lack of recognition of what they’re experiencing is actually abuse.
KH: That is a definite reason.
CK: Yeah. I’ve seen a number of things. I mean, I’ve seen people that want to give the benefit of the doubt to their abuser: “Oh, this is the cause for why they’re acting this way. They had a tough childhood.” Or “They’ve really struggled with these mental health issues”. Or “They’ve come from these other bad relationships that are making them this way now, and if I just love them better this way, then it’ll change”. It’s very tough stuff, and so they keep it private.
I’ve seen, as well, in my ministry where years and years ago on another continent, there was a girl being abused by her mother. She was a teenager and I had reported it multiple times to the authorities as I was required to. But she constantly denied it to the authorities because of fear of being separated from her siblings—that they’d be taken into custody and not be cared for together. So there’s a lot of fear of the ramifications, as you said.
CK: If this goes this way, then what? And even though we saw physical bruises, there was no desire for action on the victim.
KH: Yeah. The psychology of it—and again, this is where I’m not an expert, but what I’ve read and understood from victims is sometimes it’s better the devil you know. Like, you’re in that situation, you’ve learned how to manage through that cycle of abuse that often gets spoken about. You’ve worked out your strategies, you’ve worked out how to do life in that circumstance. To then call it out and let it go down a path that might involve separation, leaving the home, police, etcetera, there’s a world of unknown there. And sometimes that could be even scarier than what you’re experiencing.
KH: And for us, it’s hard to understand that, isn’t it. It’s really hard to understand it.
CK: Oh yeah! You’re not in that—
KH: You know?
CK: —situation. It’s difficult—
CK: —for you to know what it’s like. Yeah.
KH: Yeah. Yeah.
CK: So what should or shouldn’t they do? I mean, there are always times when people feel like they might reach breaking point. Or if you’re an onlooker, you see a victim suffering things, you think, “Oh, surely this time. That’s enough.”
CK: What should or shouldn’t they do? I mean, how can they get help and what is a wise way forward for those that are victims, or maybe unwise ways forward?
KH: Yeah. I mean, in some ways, I’m reluctant to tell a victim what they should or shouldn’t do, because one of their experiences is somebody telling them all the time what they can and can’t do. So we have to be very careful at that point, and know that every circumstance is different, and this is one of the complexities, isn’t it, about it.
I want to ensure that a victim has the opportunity to work out their own situation in their own time and on their own terms, but with the support of others when they’re ready to receive that. I think they shouldn’t feel that they have to endure it, though. And that’s one of our key messages in churches is you do not have to endure abuse. God is not calling you to endure it. The Bible is not calling you to endure it. You do not have to endure it. And if you feel able to, then you can leave that situation.
So giving permission. They should know that God doesn’t condemn them if they choose to leave the home to seek safety. I think they should know that abuse is not—as I said, not something God condones within marriage, and they don’t have to submit to it. So things like that. But what they should do, I would love to encourage them to seek safety, to seek help, to seek care from the police—those kinds of things if they’re in physical danger particularly.
KH: But we need to help them work it out on their own terms, I think.
CK: Yeah. And when they’re making decisions about this, I mean, some people are thinking, “I should stay, because we can work this out”. How do we encourage victims? When they are trapped in cycle of abuse, and abuse tends to be quite cyclical? How do we encourage them? I mean, is there a spectrum of what should be worked amongst or—?
KH: Yeah, I think this is really key: the working it out, I think—because domestic abuse is patterned behaviour, the pattern will not change by just saying, “Let’s try some marriage counselling”. This is actually a patterned behaviour within one of the spouses—let’s say the man.
KH: And he needs to recognise his abuse and what it is, and the sin that it is before any kind of change will come into that marriage. And so, I get why a wife would want to say, “I’ll just say and hopefully—” She’s made vows. She wants to honour those vows.
CK: Yeah. Yeah.
KH: She takes them seriously. She probably does love her husband. So [I] totally understand that she wants to work it out. But tragically, we discover that this patterned behaviour actually needs a bigger intervention and it needs some kind of real recognition of what it is before any change can come.
CK: And how should the victim think about bringing the matter to the attention of their abuser?
CK: You know, that’s—
CK: —the trouble, I guess, is if you’re hoping that your spouse, whether you’re a man or a woman suffering abuse, or even if you’re a child or a grown child and you’re hoping that your parents would recognise these things, how does the abuser come to recognise these things? And I guess we’re going to talk about this in a few moments. But we could talk about it from the side of the victim now.
KH: Again, this is the complexity, isn’t it. I suspect, from what I hear from victims is they will have alerted their spouse to the damage that they are doing to both—if they’re aware what they’re suffering is abuse, they’ll be saying to their spouse, “You’re hurting me. You’re killing our marriage. You’re hurting our children” or whatever it might be. But again, patterned behaviour: the abuser themselves needs to come to that understanding, not being just told. And I think ultimately, the victim may not be able to get through to the abuser, and really, the only course of action [is] to seek safety—to leave the home. And that’s when, again, the abuser might alert the community that they’re, in fact, the victim, and this is where it gets all so complex—
KH: —and the conversation goes ’round in circles a little bit, doesn’t it.
CK: Yeah. Well, it’s where listening becomes so important too.
KH: That’s right.
CK: —I guess we’ll talk about this in a minute, but just how important it is to listen to the victims—to believe them, it’s really—
CK: Our next live event is extremely relevant to today’s conversation. We’ll be continuing in our series on community—this time, looking at “Learning to forgive”. The most liberating truth of the Christian life is that our sins have been forgiven. But one of the most difficult challenges of the Christian life is forgiving others as we have been forgiven. Does forgiving mean forgetting? And if we forgive, must we still trust? What about those who haven’t repented of sin? At this event, Kanishka Raffel, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, and Philip Kern, the Head of New Testament here at Moore College, will lead us through what the Bible teaches about forgiveness and how we might learn to forgive those who’ve sinned against us. I really hope that you will plan to join us on August 25th—either in person or on livestream.
One change to this event is that we won’t be having a question and answer session on the evening in the same way, but instead, we’ll be receiving questions in advance. So we’re encouraging you to register early to gain access to the Sli.do information and to begin to submit and vote up questions that you’d like answered.
For more information and to register, please go to our website: ccl.moore.edu.au. And even better, encourage your church to join us for this event through our church subscription. Either way, I hope that you’ll join us on August 25 th.
Now let’s get back to our program.
CK: In terms of just helping victims think through these things, I mean, you’ve already touched on so much here, Kara, but there’s often guilt, there’s often fear. Strange that there’s guilt in this for them, but there’s guilt about what they may have contributed to bring this about—
CK: —fear of what could keep coming or will result if they step up and challenge this, or leave the situation.
CK: And of course, there’s always that complexity of “How am I supposed to not just forgive? I mean, that’s what I’m called to do—is forgive.” How do we think about this in terms of applying the gospel to a victim’s situation?
KH: Oh, that’s a great question. I think the guilt thing is so strong, isn’t it, because the victims will sometimes blame themselves for the failure of their marriage. And that’s because that’s a narrative their abuser has been telling them for sometimes years, right. So of course they will walk away thinking, “It’s my fault”. But the gospel reminds us of what sin is, I think, and tells us what they’ve endured is not because of their failure, but because of the sinful behaviour of somebody else. And so that can bring some relief. The fear is so true, but, again, the gospel tells a victim that there is a true and perfect love found in Jesus, and that love is a comfort and has acceptance and doesn’t bring accusation in a way an abuser will constantly—the gospel tells us, “You’re forgiven and there’s no more accusation”. And an abuser will continue to accuse every day. But isn’t it fantastic that the gospel says, “No; sin is dealt with—”
KH: “You’re forgiven.”
KH: I mean, that’s so wonderful. And their own forgiveness of their abuser, this is a process that I think we need to be very careful in doing as a church, don’t we. Forgiveness is possible, and calling someone to forgive an abuser is right, but it isn’t a quick and simple process. It has to be done very cautiously and slowly. The trauma is so deep and just to say, “Oh, you need to forgive them” just seems so trite at points.
CK: Yes. And it’s also not about—we’re going to be thinking about forgiveness in August, and we’ve got the archbishop coming to speak to us about that, as well as Philip Kern, my colleague. But, I mean, forgiveness is not necessarily for someone that’s been abused trusting again or even relating in old ways again. That’s not necessarily what forgiveness is. And so it’s a very tricky matter to be navigated very carefully, and hopefully in the care of wise Christian fellowship.
Yeah, and I guess this is where community can really step in and help victims—is that when things go to shambles, not being ones that are standing in accusation as well, but actually in a gospel sense, really offering to them grace and love and support, and embrace and provision, even, perhaps to get through and weather that very difficult season. And I’ve watched that happen, actually, wonderfully in a few different communities. So.
KH: Yeah, that’s right. The community has a great role to play in actually saying to somebody, “This is the gospel lived out. Practical, genuine care; prayer for that person; they have the opportunity to live out that love and acceptance that we find in the gospel in a really —
KH: —powerful way that the victim hasn’t experienced in a marriage for a very long time, usually.
CK: Well, thinking, then, about how we think about perpetrators in this, I mean, we could often damn them straight away, which, I mean, in one sense, there is a desire for justice and all sorts of things that come out—especially if we’ve known the victims and seen how horrific these things can be. How do we think about perpetrators and what would repentance look like for a perpetrator?
KH: Yeah. I think repentance, in some ways, for perpetrators of domestic abuse and anyone, really, is the same, in that, to repent is to do that 180º turn: you stop behaving as you were. Okay. But this needs to be demonstrated over time, I think, the abuse, as we’ve talked about that patterned behaviour. An abuser—a clever person—can look very much on the outside like they’re, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yep. I won’t do it again. I won’t”—that’s their patterned behaviour, actually. So it needs to be demonstrated over time, their repentance. And I said this before, the abuser actually acknowledging what they have done is sinful and it is sinful behaviour. And so we need a demonstrated change in attitude and behaviour, and also, I think, and you just touched on this, that their repentance may not lead to a reconciliation of the marriage in the way that it was. It may not be possible to do that. And that’s sometimes the consequences, isn’t it, of sin—
KH: —that our sinful behaviour, as we repent, it might be that their behaviour actually has strayed into criminal behaviour, and they may have to suffer the consequences of that through the courts. So repentance doesn’t necessarily lead to a restoration of the situation as it was.
CK: Yes, and even—I wouldn’t say a feigned repentance, but ways that we might repent in order to—
CK: —achieve that end—to make demands again over the victim is another way of almost trying to cajole—“But you see I’ve repented—”
CK: —“so you must now do these things”. Real repentance recognises “I have deeply offended and done something terrible and, in fact, in this life now, I might have to live with those consequences, because of how horrible my actions were”.
KH: That’s right. An abuser has to recognise and own the fact that they have sinned. Like we all do when we repent of things. But yes, you’re absolutely right: they can use this notion of repentance as a controlling weapon. But actually true repentance will be acknowledgement of sin, first and foremost.
CK: Yeah. And while forgiveness from God, then, extends purity to us in one sense—we really have been forgiven—
CK: —the eternal consequence of our sin, we often still have to live with temporal consequences—
CK: —of our sin. But what kind of hope can we encourage perpetrators with in the gospel? I mean, let’s say somebody really comes to recognise how horrible they’ve been living and whatever kinds of causation they may cite for how they’ve been behaving, they recognise it was really thin. What hope can we extend to somebody in the gospel in that situation?
KH: Well I think that’s the hope that’s extended to all sinners in the gospel, isn’t it. I mean, the verse that popped into my mind in thinking about this is 1 John 1:8-9, which “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV). So that message of hope applies to anyone who repents—truly repents—of their sin. And that’s a wonderful thing. But again, that doesn’t wipe out the consequences that that sinful behaviour may have caused. But it puts us in a right relationship with God, which is the most important thing, and enables at least that person to go on in life mindful of their sin and, actually, hopefully, causes them to consider efforts to address patterned behaviour, to seek the help that they really need to ensure that this kind of behaviour doesn’t rear its ugly head again in their life.
CK: Yes. And to seek the wellbeing of their victim, which may actually mean them keeping away.
KH: That’s right. That’s right.
CK: And what’s interesting, Kara, I’m just pulling some threads together from some things you’ve said here, it seems like there’s fear on both sides—that the victim is the afraid of the consequences of moving away from this and all the unknowns there, and the perpetrator is almost seeking control out of fear in one sense as well, and in both situations, the vulnerability is letting go and actually finding themselves with nothing.
CK: And yet, in the gospel, everything. And that’s the real security for any Christian is that come what may—come life, come death, come suffering, come plenty—actually, what we have in Christ is enough. And that’s actually real security.
KH: That’s right. And I think we don’t talk about that enough in our general church life, I suspect. And I suspect we don’t develop that thinking enough in our own general life as a Christian community, as Christian gatherings. And so, because we don’t have that, when we’re asking somebody to leave the relationship or to give up or to own a sin or to face consequences, that foundation of the gospel being enough may not be as robust as it ought to be, I wonder.
CK: I think you’re right.
KH: Yeah. That’s just a thought.
CK: Yeah. And we won’t explore this much now, but I mean there are so many other ways we justify other securities in our lives as Christians. And so, we think it’s the normal thing to pursue a home to own or a good education or financial wellbeing, or whatever else, and when you put these relationships in that mix of marriage or kids or—all of that is actually part of the same complex of things that we’re building in for security in our life here, which actually [are] potential dangers for us finding our security in and our satisfaction in Jesus.
KH: Yeah. And then the other complexity in all of this as well is when a victim, let’s say, does leave the home—does leave the marriage—for safety and for wellbeing, as a community of believers, it’s going to cost us to care for that person.
KH: We actually have to find space in our own lives to provide the housing, provide the food on the table—
KH: —ensure the kids are getting—maybe help with costs of counselling—
KH: —and care for the victim. It’s actually going to cost us as a community. And I worry that sometimes I’m not willing, we’re not willing, to find that space and pay that cost.
CK: Because of our preference for comfort, yeah.
KH: Yeah! And it’s actually the most loving thing we can do—a really loving thing we can do. But, yeah, it’s going to cost me. And am I prepared to do that?
CK: Yeah. Well, moving into our final category, then, I mean, that’s really about are we prepared to do that? How do we think about it as church members? So if I’m not the victim, I’m not the perpetrator, but I encounter someone that I can see as a victim and maybe I know the perpetrator as well, what should or shouldn’t I do as an onlooker? I mean, how much responsibility do I have when this has been brought to my attention?
KH: Yeah. I suspect there’s—if you think of church life as onion rings, there’s those who are going to be super close to the victim: maybe it’s a Bible study group, maybe it’s a prayer partner or somebody. And then there’s those who are a little bit more in the next ring and then out we go. If you’re on the really outer ring, one of the things I think not to do is to suddenly try and become this person’s best friend and help her, because they’ve already had people in their life trying to control them; your actions, as genuine and as lovely as they might be, might be seen as another sense of somebody coming in to rescue. A victim actually needs to live this journey out on their own terms, and one of the frustrations for us might be to let them do that—that we actually listen, we believe them, but we may not be able to do anything else at that moment. It’s going to be a long journey, and that’s really important.
I think also not taking matters into your own hands in terms of confrontation with perpetrators. So a victim discloses to you that their husband, for example, has been abusing them. To suddenly confront him at church the next week is not going to be a helpful thing to do, as much as we might want to. It actually might put her in more danger in the coming days. So there’s things we can do—listen, believe, assess if it’s safe for them to return home, go to the police with them if they need to make a report, seek to work out what they want you to do. But there’s things we shouldn’t do as well, like confronting the abuser.
CK: Yeah. It’s really important to respect them in their desires, and you can’t force their hand, can you, to get the help. And when they ask for help, you can offer help, but it has to be help that they want to receive, and when they want it and how they want it, I think, is really important.
KH: And that might frustrate us.
CK: Oh yeah!
KH: Yeah, I know. I think the research at the moment is telling us it takes about eight attempts before somebody finally will leave an abusive marriage.
KH: I know, right? So—and that could be over the course of years.
KH: So it’s going to be a slow process, and respect is really important. They haven’t been shown respect by their abusive spouse in a very long time. They need to be shown respect by us in the way that they want to manage this situation, as frustrating as that can be for us.
CK: Yeah, yeah. So we can keep listening to victims, believing them, praying for them—
CK: —supporting them in whatever ways—
CK: —that they’re wanting to receive or asking for. How about perpetrators? I mean, this is one of the toughest things. When you find out that somebody’s perpetrating abuse, how do you face them? If we’re not going to confront them, how do you face them?
KH: Yeah, I think this is really really difficult, and I think it depends on where the situation is up to and how the victim wants it known among the church. It might be that the minister is the only one who will speak to that perpetrator. You know, I don’t think a posse of blokes heading over to speak to him is necessarily helpful. Be ready for the abuser to spin a narrative. I think that’s one of the other things is that maybe the victim’s given you permission to speak to the abuser and suddenly you do, but oh, seems that actually there’s all these other things going on. So not being naïve and being ready to hear a particular spin by the abuser’s important as well.
KH: But I think ultimately it comes down to, as well, speaking the truth in love. Like, the truth is we know that you’re an abuser. We believe what your spouse is telling us—when it comes to that actual point of calling the sin out.
CK: Of it being known and not you—
CK: —confronting them. Yeah.
CK: Yeah, yeah.
KH: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Speaking the truth at that point and calling the person to repentance. But in the in-between time, it’s very very difficult. How not to let on that you know in case that endangers the victim. And I think, again, this is where you need to be guided by the victim—what they’re happy for you to do, how they want you to relate to that person. Yeah. But it’s very very difficult.
CK: Yeah. Yeah. This is tough stuff. It’s always so complex, and because we’re not in the middle of it, we don’t know what will be most helpful, but what we can do as a community is continue to hold out the gospel hope to everyone, and remember that all of us are in deep need of God’s grace.
CK: And we have found that grace in Christ. Yeah.
CK: We should say that if we find out that it’s a child being abused—sexually or physically—there are urgent actions that need to take place of just reporting that straight away.
KH: Absolutely! Yeah, that’s right. For church workers, of course, there’s mandatory reporting obligations on them. But absolutely: if we discover any abusive behaviour—particular physical or sexual abuse of a child—we report that to church leaders. That’s so important. That’s criminal behaviour that needs police intervention. Absolutely.
And can I just say too, Chase, as we think through this, one of the complexities is that no marriage is the same.
KH: Every single marriage is different, because every single person is different. And so, navigating this, that’s why it’s so important, I think, to listen to the victim, because their situation will be different to that other victim that you might encounter.
CK: Yeah. Which is why we don’t have a ready-made answer for an out-of-the-box response to any situation. But actually, we’re trying to cultivate wisdom for what is helpful or not helpful.
KH: Yeah, that’s right.
CK: That’s very helpful, Kara. Yeah. Anything final you want to say about how we engage as community together?
KH: I guess one of the things we haven’t spoken about is just the general upfront teaching about relating to one another. Domestic abuse doesn’t have to be just dealt with in the passages about marriage, right. When we talk about what it means to live with one another, we can give all sorts of examples of what that looks like in healthy Christian community—from friendships to marriages to all sorts of ways. So I think it’s being plain in our churches about what is acceptable and what is not—what acceptable behaviour is and what it isn’t—particularly in marriages, but just generally towards one another.
KH: And what we tolerate and what we don’t, and what God’s word endorses and what it doesn’t. And all of those things. So we’re just clear with one another.
CK: Absolutely! Yeah, I mean, the first major sin outside the garden is a terribly violent act of a brother against a brother.
CK: And then we just see that spiral out of control throughout history to where we get all kinds of commands and rebukes, not just inside the home, but to one another of the kinds of language you use and anger and envy and malice and slander and all kinds of things that actually could be categorised as quite abusive, or even manipulative uses of power in our relationships that seek to control others. And it’s all driven by this terrible terrible sin within us and the fears that we lash out with in our relationships that I think are just so horrible.
CK: But again, the good news is that God has made a way for us to have real peace and hope.
KH: That’s right. And that’s where we keep coming, don’t we, back to the foot of the cross to find our comfort, find our hope, find our forgiveness, and it’s the only place to go, at the end of the day—
KH: —because we are so fractured and broken and living with the effects of a sinful world. And so we have to keep daily coming back to the foot of that cross.
CK: Yeah. Well, Kara, thank you so much for sharing with us today all of your wisdom, and we’ll be praying for people as we end this episode—
CK: —those that have known abuse that are maybe in terrible situations now or maybe caring for those in abusive relationships, we’ll be praying for wisdom and for God’s care, and if you need any help, please do speak to somebody about it. And you’re more than welcome to email the Centre for Christian Living and we can help get you into touch with the right resources. Thanks Kara!
KH: Thanks Chase!
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