Family violence is a violation of human rights and, in many cases, has serious legal implications in law.1 Unfortunately, this kind of violence happens in Christian families too.
As journalist Julia Baird writes in her 2015 series of newspaper columns about family violence and the church:
“One woman wrote to tell me she stayed with a violent man for 15 years because her pastor told her that as her husband, he was her leader. Another was punched and dragged about by her hair by a husband who gave her a Bible with verses on submission highlighted in it… Another woman told me her minister advised her that her husband might stop hitting her if she had more sex with him. There were more. I will not reveal their names – their stories are theirs to tell, the trauma for many too recent.” 2
However, some Christians are of the view that domestic violence is not prevalent in the church.3
This view is absolutely untrue.
The evidence of abuse in churches
There is very little Australian research on the nature and prevalence of domestic abuse in church communities, and experts have noted that there is a strong need for comprehensive, independent Australian data regarding domestic violence within churches.
Nevertheless, there is still clear evidence it exists inside church communities.
Three Australian surveys and one relevant analysis found the following:
- At least one in five men who abuse their Christian wives go to church regularly.
- Clergy are regularly dealing with domestic violence.
- Abuse seems to occur to the same degree inside the church as outside.
- There is little to suggest any protective effect of church attendance on perpetration of domestic violence.
Most significantly, many women and clergy wives have courageously told their stories of abuse, rape and violence from men quoting Scripture - and of leaders and other Christians who have enabled this behaviour to continue. We believe that these stories are just the tip of the iceberg.
Why we need more research
It is likely that there are many more stories not being told by survivors.
When victims speak out about abuse within church communities they are often silenced, undermined and the abuse minimised.
This is why Common Grace supports the call for more statistical evidence to help understand the prevalence and the predictors of abuse. Research is needed to examine the prevalence of domestic violence and the appropriateness of responses across faith settings, and to evaluate the effects of any policies and practices implemented in response.
We hope this will help to ensure that the courageous voices of survivors sharing their stories will be listened to and believed.
- Current definitions in family violence legislation, Australian Law Reform Commission
- Doctrine of headship a distortion of the gospel message of mutual love and respect, Julia Baird, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 February 2015
- Asking Christians to do better by domestic violence victims is not an attack on Christianity, Steven Tracy, ABC News, 28 July 2017