Recent initiatives in the Diocese of Sydney
We can’t ignore the fact that rotten things go on in Christian households too. Kara introduces the ways Sydney Diocese has recently sought to improve its practices of education and response to the scourge of domestic abuse. Kara is the Archdeacon for Women in the Diocese of Sydney.
In 2014 domestic violence became a national conversation after the death of Luke Batty at the hands of his father. Luke’s mother Rosie was named Australian of the Year in 2015 and became a strong voice for the victims of domestic abuse. Since that time greater attention and resources have been directed to raising awareness of this significant problem in our community.
Yet for the Christian church it is not just a problem ‘out there’. Tragically, it is also a problem within our own community and a problem we have often been too slow to acknowledge. At times, due, perhaps, to naivety or misplaced generosity, we’ve downplayed, dismissed or dealt poorly with claims of domestic abuse from those within our congregations. Yet domestic abuse in its various forms—physical, emotional, and, yes, even spiritual—does exist in the Christian community. It causes untold pain and anguish; primarily for its victims, but also for the church as a whole. It is shocking and painful to discover a member of our fellowship, perhaps even a leader, is a perpetrator of domestic abuse. It is distressing to know a spouse has been suffering—often silently—the trauma and ordeal of an abuse victim. It is an evil that does not belong in any marriage, especially one where the couple profess Jesus as Lord.
In 2015 the Sydney Diocesan Synod established the Domestic Violence Taskforce with the aim of developing a Diocesan response to domestic violence. The work included surveying other dioceses (nationally and internationally) and church groups to see what resources they had compiled. Importantly, the testimony of victims shaped the response, as they shared their experience of disclosing abuse to a church leader. The work of the taskforce was completed in 2018 as the Synod passed the ‘Responding to Domestic Abuse: Policy’ as a policy of the Diocese and the Good Practice Guidelines were adopted for use in the churches.
In essence the policy both educates and informs. The Good Practice Guidelines provide clarity for best practice in caring for and supporting victims of domestic abuse. A key resource is the flow chart setting out the steps to follow when someone discloses domestic abuse. Other resources include important telephone numbers and websites, as well as templates for parish policies, and safety and exit plans. It is a comprehensive document aimed at equipping those involved in assisting people in domestic abuse situations. One significant outcome has been further development in educating clergy and those in training. Both Moore College and the Diocesan Ministry Development department teach modules on recognising and dealing with domestic abuse in churches.
Among the appendices is a guide to the use and misuse of Scripture with regard to domestic abuse. It has been claimed through the media and within church circles that certain views held on marriage and leadership give rise to the existence of domestic abuse. To ensure clarity about what the Bible does and doesn’t say, a short explanation is given for six key passages such as Ephesians 5 and Genesis 2. The former Archbishop Peter Jensen and current Archbishop Glenn Davies have each made clear statements condemning the use of Scripture to perpetrate violence within a marriage. Archbishop Jensen did this in 2012. This appendix is important for both perpetrators and victims, helping each know and understand God’s intention for marriage and correcting any thought otherwise.
An area where the Diocese has taken a strong and leading stand is in regards to clergy and ministry families. The shocking truth is those in ministry are not immune from this evil. In an effort to ensure ministry spouses are supported when instances of domestic abuse are uncovered a fund has been established. A one-off payment can be made to assist with any financial hardship experienced by the victim and any children if they need to separate from their spouse due to the abuse.
While the taskforce’s job is finished, the work of education and awareness continues. The Safe Ministry Committee in conjunction with Anglicare will now produce posters, and provide ongoing education and direction for churches. The Anglicare Family and Domestic Violence Adviser continues to help rectors navigate this complex area. Overall it is hoped through the creation of this policy and the subsequent rise in awareness and education we will not just be responding to domestic abuse but also contribute to its prevention.