While the first resource for victims of abuse should be the police and specialist women’s services, alerting a church community can be an invaluable resource in helping victims and families heal.
Communities of faith can create opportunities for multiple interruptions of men’s abusive attitudes, values or actions.
We believe that those who use abuse and violence are capable of changing their violence supportive attitudes, values and actions.
Anyone who uses violence and abuse against their loved ones will require information and support to:
- Choose to change
- Sustain this change over time.
Individuals, families, churches and communities can become agents of change by acting to interrupt violence.
Modelling equality and respect at church
Domestic and family violence is caused by a misuse of power in intimate relationships. Other issues - like alcohol, anger, family history, mental illness - are often misinterpreted as causes of domestic and family violence. While these issues can often be factors at play, they are typically not the direct cause. 1 The majority of domestic and family violence takes place in a context of coercive control and in response to threats to men’s dominance over women. Understanding power and control as the source of violence in relationships is the biggest step towards creating safe environments.
Jesus-like leaders use their position to ensure that power is used fairly within relationships and institutions. That is why we need to see churches and church leaders elevating and amplifying the needs, priorities and voices of women.
Promoting gender equality and respectful relationships within churches also has benefits extending far beyond relationships. We believe this approach strengthens communities and demonstrates what it means to love unconditionally.
How do we challenge gender inequality in churches?
Here is a basic framework for improving the standing of women in your faith community:
- Recognise you have blind spots
- Adjust your language and practices (as individuals and as organisations) to be gender inclusive
- Be aware of the male-centred structures in your setting
- Find ways to advocate for emerging women leaders
- Change who does the behind-the-scenes work – encourage women to do church building maintenance and financial management.
Psychologist Kylie Pidgeon suggests the following practical strategies to help your church work towards modelling mutual equality and respect: 2
- Provide equal encouragement and opportunity to women who are gifted in preaching to develop their gift as much as men, even in faith communities where the women are only permitted to preach to female audiences.
- Develop a public procedure for the ideas and concerns of women to be prioritised on the church agenda.
- Train and appoint multiple female pastoral carers.
- In larger churches, appoint multiple female (and male) staff who are specifically trained in the dynamics of family violence and how to respond well.
- Provide financial grants for women to attend conferences in order to hear women preaching (as men can hear men preaching without cost).
- Give deep thought to the inclusivity of all people within the life, direction and leadership of the church.
A few other suggestions:
- Equally consider men for roles such as morning teas, cleaning and event coordination.
- Be specifically mindful and inclusive of those on the margins within the church. Consider those with disabilities, divorced or unmarried members and those who identify as LGBTI.
Explore this further
- Here are three more ways equality can counteract abuse.
- Explore some other ways male leaders can help support female leadership in churches.