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A properly Christian response to Julia Baird’s article on domestic violence

When I was a little girl and I did something wrong, my instinct was always to justify on the basis that I was provoked, or one of my sisters did something worse…. “But she…” or “But what about her?” My mum would ask me, “Who are we talking about here Tam? Whose behaviour are you responsible for?” The answers of course were, “Me,” and “Mine.” This exchange occurred so often it has become something of a running family joke these days, but it was formational for me in learning to take responsibility for my actions.

This came to mind today because I read Andrew Bolt’s response to Julia Baird’s report of the role of Christian churches in enabling and concealing domestic violence. Here’s my summary: “Julia said Christians have a domestic violence problem. But what about Aboriginals? And Muslims?”

See the blame shifting? Bolt points to others whose problem is apparently greater, in order to take the heat from the Christian community.

The irony here is that Bolt’s words, meant to defend Christianity, are sub-Christian. Now, as far as I know Bolt’s not a Christian, so you wouldn’t expect him either to be conversant with Christian theology, or to act in a Christlike way. But to point the finger at others when an issue or a sin is brought to light is the opposite of a Christian reaction.

Why? Because the work of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin.  When wrongdoing is brought to light, we ought not despise it. On the contrary, we acknowledge it as the work of the Holy Spirit. If we excuse it, cover it up, shift the blame for it, or point to someone else, we are actually obscuring the work of God the Holy Spirit. And according to 1 John 1, that not only makes liars out of us, but out of God himself.

But Christians are people who want to keep in step with the Spirit, to live in the light that makes everything visible, the light given by Christ. That light not only compels us to expose sin, but also drives us towards love of one another: you cannot claim to be in the light if you do not love your sister who has been a victim of domestic violence.  If we take 1 John 2:9 seriously, our reaction to Julia Baird’s piece, and especially towards women who share their experiences of domestic violence, is nothing less than an indication of whether we belong to God, or are still in darkness.

So let me instead suggest how Christians ought to respond to Baird’s report.

Firstly, let us praise the Holy Spirit for doing His work, for exposing sin and leading us into truth, through this report. Let us thank Baird for her role in that.

Second, let us examine ourselves and our church structures, that we might confess to one another and to God where we have obscured the Holy Spirit’s work in the past, or have failed to love one another. Let us be honest about this with the wider society watching on, so they can see how serious we believe sin is, and how great our confidence of forgiveness is because of the one who advocates for us, and on whose account we have been forgiven.

Third, let us cease sinning, because we have the life of God in us.

Fourthly, let us do the work of making all things new alongside our Master, renovating churches and their structures.

Because of the work of Jesus on the cross, we are free to face our sin, be it personal or structural. And in His resurrection power, we can go about bringing light where there was darkness, rescue where there is oppression, healing where people have been hurt, and flourishing where people have not been afforded their God-given dignity.

 

Image credit: Rocco Fazzari

Categories: Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

18 replies

  1. What an articulate and Christ like response .bless you
    I think of all the women I have known who have had to leave their church because Domestic violence was ignored and often just not realized I guess .
    I myself recall a conversation with a pastors wife 27 years ago where she told me to obey my husband and that they had never seen him be violent .i still hear her voice in my head and it breaks my heart each time . I told her to my amazement “have u ever asked us to a meal or afternoon tea .have u ever been around my husband other than at church 1 hour a week .she hung upafter saying ” well I guess not ” .she was a kind lady and well meaning ,but that day I lost my church family and my 6 children lost their church family .so sad

  2. Hey Tamie, thanks for sharing your perspective on this. I think I agree with nearly everything you’ve said. Domestic Violence is a horrible and tragic sin. Something I am sure that we all wish never existed. To be fair to Andrew Bolt though, he was responding to Julia Baird’s accusation that evangelical protestant men who attend church “sporadically” are the most likely to commit violence against their wives. He point was that this is just not statistically correct. It is actually Aboriginal men, whose partners are up to 35 times more likely to experience violence. What’s more, Islam itself explicitly justifies such an approach.

    Julia Baird’s own presentation of the data though is seriously misleading. She says that evangelical protestant men who attend church “regularly” are only “slightly less likely” to abuse their spouses. I guess that means that they are the second or possibly the third greatest perpetrators of D.V. However, once again the statistics (from her own source!) state that they are the LEAST likely to do so. Truth is important, especially in discussing an issue as serious as this one.

    1. Hi Mark, Bolt’s article concludes by putting the emphasis on Christians being less likely to abuse, but we ought not celebrate our supposed superiority, but mourn our sin. If Christians are truly in pursuit of truth, we will not spend our time arguing who is worse, but get on with rooting out the sin in our own community.

      1. Hi Tamie. I completely agree with you. We must never excuse sin and we should always expose it to the light. The whole thrust of Julia’s article though is that evangelical Christians who attend church sporadically are the “worst” perpetrators of D.V and this is explicitly linked to their holding to what the Bible teaches. Those who do attend are only “slightly less likely.” What’s more, church leaders who are “complementarion” (gender equality and role differentiation) are according to her complicit in “enabling and concealing” D.V. That puts people like me on par morally with those who have covered up and abetted those guilty of child sexual abuse. That’s a pretty nasty, and unfounded, accusation to make don’t you think? Especially when the reality is that men who attend Protestant evangelical churches are the LEAST likely to commit violence against their spouses! Tragically, because of sin, this will never be completely eradicated until the new creation but as a pastor I devoted my life to making church a place where people flourish. In the meantime though the solution is found in the very place and teaching that Julia says is actually the problem…

      2. I totally agree that dv in the church is an issue that needs to be dealt with with wisdom and love. I am totally all for accepting the problem so that we can change it. I do see we as a church clearly need to grow in wisdom and love in this area and work harder to ensure scripture is not misapplied…..

        But that does NOT mean I will stand by while Julia Baird makes an extreme unsubstantiated generalisation about ‘sporadic evangelical church goers being more likely to assault their wives than any other group.’ Bolt just shows she has no evidence to prove her excessive claim. He should be applauded for checking facts. He
        does not know the whole story as he has not spoken to real life victims but his job is just to fact check her research. Truth always matters as well as humility, taking responsibility for real sin and repentence from it.

        I think you suggesting our response to Julia Baird’s article demonstrates whether are true believers or not is a bit extreme considering Julia did make unsubstantiated overgeneralisations as well as point out a terrible sin we need to deal with. 100% agree…on let’s feal with the problem. 100% won’t agree it as big as Julia says until I see evidenceand yes 100% I am a christian.

    1. Hi Tamie. No, not defensive at all – it’s just that the emoji icon I’ve been allocated on your page makes me look grumpy :-). Blessings on you and your ministry sister!

      1. Hi Mark, I’ve appreciated what you’ve said here. I agree a lot with Tamie, but would add to our responses that we should evaluate whether they are true. It seems unfair to suggest that someone who says they ‘completely agree’ with what has been said, yet want to add an evaluation of the report itself, is ‘defensive’. I don’t want to sound harsh to you Tamie, but that seems to be a way to silence dissent without looking at the issues being raised by others. Again, while I agree with everything you said in the article Tamie, it seems to assume that the report is completely true and accurate. I don’t think it is – yet of course in response we should do what you suggest regardless. (I plan to include the issue in a sermon tomorrow, [I’m a bible college student] which I wouldn’t have normally thought of otherwise. And it has opened my eyes more to the issue, for which I am thankful). Again, great response to the report, but I don’t think it was a fair response to Mark.

      2. Hi Jesse, thanks for your words. I take it you are elsewhere putting equal, and hopefully more, words and energy into defence of domestic violence victims as you are into accusing me of being unfair to Mark. :)

      3. And to clarify, the reason I haven’t responded to the charge that I have been unfair to Mark is because, in light of the magnitude and horror of the domestic violence and handling of it that we are seeing exposed, I would rather put my energy into advocacy and change for the victims, than defending myself.

    1. How about “DV is an issue we always need to be working to eliminate, along with all other areas of sin. We are not perfect, and need to constantly reflect on our response to other’s suffering where we have wronged them.
      Also, a woman on the ABC slanderously misrepresented the beliefs and actions of Christ’s body, and integrity in the media is important.”

  3. I often describe myself as a ‘Reluctantly convinced Christian’. Convinced, because so much good has come from the Christian message – when properly applied. Reluctant, because so many Christians talk so much rubbish. An example of rubbish, one that that saddens and angers me, is when domestic abuse is ‘justified’ by cherry picking scriptural texts. St Paul’s writings are often implicated, and even good un-abused Christian women go along with the story of St Pauls misogyny.

    St Paul was anything but a misogynist. His writings refer again and again to the equal status of men and women, his greetings and farewells are filled with admiration for women. When you consider the mores of the times in which he was writing he should be regarded as a founder of feminism.

    The reference from Ephesians 5.21 ‘Wives, submit to your husbands’, is behind much of the ‘justification’ for men abusing their wives. This is abuse of scripture, and absolutely at loggerheads with verse 25, where St Paul writes ‘Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it’. Christ was accused, abused, beaten, flogged, tormented and crucified for the Church, not the other way round.

    In a ‘democracy’ of two there will either be a majority of two or an even split. Couples who decide for themselves that they will take St Paul at his word will, of course, often find there is an even split, and further discussion will not resolve an argument. Then, by St Paul’s creed, the husband should step away from the argument and make a decision out of love. Often that decision will be to accede to his wife’s view. ‘Darling, I really don’t agree, but OK, we will do this your way’.

    What St Paul wrote was a contract: the second part of the contract, the husband’s part, is the clincher, but usually overlooked. Church leaders would do well to elaborate on this part of the contract when addressing their congregations.

    I have little hope that what I have written will be of much comfort to women who are caught up in this situation. One at least of the women interviewed in the 7.30 report appeared to have a psychopathic husband, and the only way out of such a situation is to get out of the relationship. Easier said than done. But this is where the churches need to be responsive to need: marriage is not necessarily evidence that God has joined a couple, and there is no room for inflexible rules around divorce. Good Christian support to assist a woman to end such a relationship may often be the only appropriate response.

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