Across the Australian church there is a recognition that churches need to be better equipped to respond to the challenge of supporting those experiencing domestic and family violence.
We have collected the current positions, public statements, protocols and resources of the different mainstream denominations in Australia. They are listed below, and have been largely compiled by ABC News.1
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In 2017, the General Anglican Synod apologised to all victims and survivors of domestic abuse in their midst, confessing "with deep shame" it occurs in their churches.2
The Anglican Diocese of Sydney
The Sydney Anglican Diocese issued a formal apology at their Synod in October 2017:
“This Synod grieves with victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and prays for their healing and recovery. We give thanks to God for those women and men, clergy and lay people, who have faithfully supported, cared for and protected such victims in our churches and communities. We grieve that God’s good gift of marriage can be distorted and dishonoured through the sin of perpetrators. We pray for their repentance and restoration to faithful living under Christ. We also deeply regret that domestic abuse has occurred among those who attend our churches, and even among some in leadership. We apologise for those times our teaching and pastoral care have failed adequately to support victims and call perpetrators to account.”
At the same time, the Synod adopted a Provisional Policy (in expectation of full adoption in 2018 after feedback) and Good Practice Guidelines and additional Appendices as resources.
The Diocese has a Taskforce on Domestic Violence which has been operating since 2015. Training on domestic violence has been provided to all clergy and lay workers in 2017 and is explicitly offered to new clergy through Moore Theological College. The Taskforce, led by Canon Sandy Grant, have been outspoken defenders of domestic violence - condemning the abuse of scripture to justify male dominance, control and abuse of women.
The Diocese’s social welfare arm, Anglicare, has also appointed a Domestic Violence Adviser, part of whose job is to provide advice to clergy and lay ministers in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney especially for domestic abuse in a church-related setting.
The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne provides resources to churches on domestic and family violence, along with advocating for preventative approaches to domestic and family violence which foreground a "Biblical commitment to gender equality, respectful gender relations and freedom from violence".
The Melbourne Diocese has produced a number of domestic violence policy and strategy documents in recent years that acknowledge its prevalence in Christian communities and pledge to eradicate it — particularly by promoting gender equality. "Change is possible but it is dependent on a Biblical commitment to gender equality, respectful gender relations and freedom from violence, without which we are unlikely to achieve sustained reduction in violence against women," a statement on the Diocesan website says.
For the past five years it has been working to deliver voluntary active bystander training in parishes, run by external consultancy Think Prevent (who told ABC News that 72 — or 36 per cent — of parishes had completed active bystander training). However, the Diocese plans to "embed this training" in its professional standards so that it is compulsory for all clergy and parish staff. The Diocese said it is also conscious of modelling gender equality and "supports the ordination of women to three orders of ministry". Assistant Bishop Genieve Blackwell told ABC News: "We see that gender inequality is a key driver [of domestic violence] ... so we're tapping into all of that." The Bishop said the Diocese has plans to implement a Gender Equality Strategy, which will include relevant training for church community leaders — though she declined to provide further details or say when this will be rolled out.
The Anglican Diocese of Tasmania
At its June 2015 Synod, the Tasmanian Diocese passed a motion to acknowledge the prevalence of domestic violence within the Christian community; condemn it unequivocally; and commit to working to change community attitudes to promote respectful relationships. The Synod also urged the Bishop to raise awareness of domestic violence and ensure Anglican parishes and organisations were well-equipped to respond to it through implementing protocols and standards: Bishop Richard Condie told ABC News these objectives have been "achieved". Specific training provided at the annual Clergy Conference in 2015 sought to help participants understand the patterns of domestic abuse and respond appropriately, including by seeking support from local experts. 8 A selection of resources — including the widely-used Domestic Violence Handbook for Clergy and Pastoral Workers — are available on the Diocesan website. These specifically advise clergy to "look at biblical texts that may in the past have been used to justify abuse" and "encourage practices that support non-violence, equality and respect for women and girls".
The Anglican Diocese of Adelaide
The Adelaide Diocese cited as its official protocol the Domestic Violence Handbook for Clergy and Pastoral Workers. It runs regular training on several levels: all clergy and lay workers are required to undertake the 'Ensuring Safer Church Communities' program (a one-day training workshop focused on safety for the vulnerable); Clergy receive further training in Stage 1 of ministry formation (pre-ordination), and more advanced training in Stage 2 (post-ordination), usually including training with a sexual and domestic violence focus with Harrow Place, or similar agencies. Assistant Bishop Tim Harris told ABC News that this training seeks to address the potential for abuse of power and authority, increase accountability and transparency, and highlight Christians' "tendency" to assume the best of other people.
The Anglican Diocese of the Northern Territory
A spokesperson told ABC News: "We take this matter very seriously and have recently undertaken a clergy education day on domestic and family violence ... The Diocese continues to improve its policies and procedures regarding all matters of Safe Ministry, including dealing with matters relating to Domestic Violence, mandatory reporting and the Family Safety Framework System."
The Anglican Diocese of Perth
A spokesperson for the Perth Diocese told ABC News that it "stands against domestic violence" but that it did not have a specific policy for addressing it.
The Anglican Diocese of Southern Queensland in Brisbane
A spokesperson for the Diocese told ABC News: "Please be aware that the Anglican Church Southern Queensland strongly opposes domestic violence and is in partnership with other Queensland churches in doing so under the banner of Queensland Churches Together" — whose efforts are reported in more detail below. The spokesperson also said that "In June the Dean of Brisbane Dr Peter Catt delivered a sermon in St John's Cathedral — a copy of which was supplied — that labelled 'male headship' "a scourge".
The Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn
In 2017, the Goulburn Diocese issued a statement condemning domestic violence and highlighting their safe ministry training and Code of Good practice.
- Father Daryl McCullough from the Anglican Diocese of Bathurst, NSW
The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne
The Archdiocese has worked closely with its social welfare arm, Catholic Social Services Victoria, to develop its response to domestic violence. In November 2016 the Bishops of Victoria issued a statement to assist all Catholics in preventing and responding to domestic violence, which specifically addresses the issue of scriptural misinterpretation to justify abuse. This was followed up with a resource kit for parishes outlining the dynamics of domestic violence and appropriate responses. Denis Fitzgerald, the CEO of Catholic Social Services Victoria, told ABC News it is also currently developing training programs for clergy and pastoral staff (to be rolled out later this year) that will include awareness education, support and referral options, and how to respond.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide
An Archdiocesan spokesperson told ABC News it does not run specific domestic violence training for parish staff, and does not have a formal protocol for responding to domestic violence. However, in its compulsory 'Safe Environments for All' training (which establishes standards for child protection), it promotes the Domestic Violence Handbook for Clergy and Pastoral Workers (developed by the Joint Churches Domestic Violence Prevention Program). "Some clergy, religious and lay have attended training directly related to the handbook," the spokesperson said. The spokesperson also pointed to the Catholic Church's numerous social welfare agencies, which run frontline services and programs for domestic violence victims and perpetrators.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane
The Archdiocese declined to respond to specific questions from ABC News regarding its ongoing response to domestic violence, but in a statement from Archbishop Mark Coleridge said: "It would be wrong to search the Bible to support abusive behaviour in any form, for instance to say, 'The Bible says my wife should be submissive to me' ... As an Archdiocese we decided to do whatever it takes — as a Church with all of our resources and energies — to do something about the social malaise of domestic violence." In May 2016 the Archdiocese launched a campaign — called Rewrite the Story — designed to raise awareness of domestic violence in the Catholic community (the centrepiece of this campaign is a website). This campaign was relaunched in May 2017, and was promoted via the Archdiocese's newspaper, The Catholic Leader. An Archdiocesan spokesperson told ABC News: "If talking does help to break down the code of silence or outdated cultural norms that previously kept victims feeling powerless, ashamed or guilty then that will be beneficial." It also pointed to frontline work being done by the Church's social welfare agency, Centacare.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Perth
The Catholic Archdiocese of Perth told ABC News it "does not have any protocols regarding domestic violence, other than supporting our agencies which support and assist victims within the community". An Archdiocesan spokesperson said: "The Church sees domestic violence as an important community issue. Its response has been and remains, to provide and support professional organisations which work on the ground, which in turn provide practical and direct care to those in need." Church agencies and organisations named include The Shopfront, MercyCare, St Vincent De Paul and Centacare.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn
A spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn told ABC News it did not have any protocols for responding to domestic violence, and had not run any specific domestic violence training, nor conducted research into domestic violence in the community.
The Catholic Archdioceses of Sydney, Darwin and Hobart did not respond to repeated requests.
The Presbyterian Church of NSW
The State Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 2015 issued a statement in which it condemned domestic violence and urged ministers, church leaders and church members to be alert to its signs. The statement, a copy of which was supplied to ABC News, also specifically addressed the abuse of scripture to justify violence: "Any attempt to use the Bible's teaching as a pretext for abuse is a distortion of its message. The Bible's teaching that a wife should submit to her husband is not a basis for a husband to force submission or to seek to control his wife or to dominate her or cause her to fear. Acts of domestic violence and abuse are heinous sins." Dr John McClean, the Vice Principal of Christ College (the training college of the NSW Presbyterian Church) told ABC News that all ministers, elders and ministry leaders are required to undertake its regular Breaking the Silence training, which includes modules on domestic violence (recognising the signs, responding appropriately).
The Presbyterian Church of Victoria
A statement and report were adopted by the State Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in October 2017 as follows:
The Presbyterian Church of Victoria is firmly opposed to all forms of domestic and family violence. Husbands are specifically told “Love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph.5:25) and are warned, to love their “wives and not be harsh with them” and to live with them "in an understanding way” (Col. 3:17; 1 Pet. 3:7). Therefore, any attempt to twist the biblical teaching to tacitly sanction domestic violence or abuse is a gross perversion of the Bible’s teaching. Domestic and family violence is repugnant to God and an anathema to the biblical model of sacrificial love and service.
- Reverend Nathan Campbell from Creek Road Southbank, Queensland
A spokesperson for the Uniting Church told ABC News that all people serving in Uniting Church ministry positions must complete its Code of Ethics and Safe Church training programs (which contain domestic violence modules) and are required to attend regular refreshers as part of their ongoing professional supervision. "The Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice states that all pastoral relationships in our Church should be characterised by the love, care and compassion that was embodied in the life of Jesus Christ," the spokesperson said. "Any form of violence is totally against Jesus' teachings and [is] incompatible with God's mission." The spokesperson also told ABC News that, from its inception in 1977, "the Uniting Church has welcomed women into ministry" and "does not ascribe to any doctrine of headship". "At present our President-elect, four out of six Moderators (state leaders), the General Secretary of the National Assembly and Synod of Queensland are all women. All four female Moderators and the General Secretary of the Queensland Synod are ordained women."
Uniting Church South Australia
The Uniting Church Synod of South Australia ran the 'Beyond Violence' campaign that aims to raise awareness of, and educate Church communities about, the dynamics of domestic violence; provide guidance for pastoral workers on how to respond to victims and perpetrators; and highlight the importance of respectful, gender-equal relationships as a protective factor against family violence. (The campaign also promotes the widely-used Domestic Violence Handbook for Clergy and Pastoral Workers.)
Uniting Church of Victoria and Tasmania
The Uniting Church of Victoria and Tasmania has called on their churches "to acknowledge and lament with sorrow and humility" our failure to fully acknowledge the existence of domestic violence within the church, while committing to review their own protocols for responding to domestic violence.
NSW & ACT Baptists
In November 2017, the Australian Baptist Movement launched No Place for Violence Here, a national campaign to address domestic and family violence. The campaign is facilitated by A Just Cause and campaign materials were developed in partnership with BaptistCare NSW & ACT and the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT’s Public Engagement Group.
The campaign aims to equip church leaders and church attendees to respond to domestic and family violence and shape church cultures that mitigate against violence. It also encourages churches to share the grace and love of God in their communities in acts of care for women and children fleeing domestic violence and to call on governments to provide the community resources that are needed.
There is a suite of materials available including:
- Posters and contact cards for education and awareness raising about the different types of domestic and family violence
- Background material on domestic and family violence in Australia.
- A Pastoral response booklet that educates on how to recognise different forms of domestic and family violence, respond appropriately and refer to the right resources
- A free training video
- Worship resources
- A workshop for congregations
- A church culture audit tool
- Advocacy resources.
In addition, the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT are finalising a Pastoral Response Protocol that will be included as part of its Safe Spaces training and will be made available publicly and to all of its affiliated churches.
The Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand
At its 2015 General Synod, the Lutheran Church passed a resolution reaffirming its "condemnation of all forms of violence in the family" and authorising its General Church Council to "commit resources for a church-wide campaign to address the prevalence of Family Violence amongst us". The Lutheran Church is "aiming to grow a culture of zero tolerance for domestic violence" and of "respectful behaviour generally". To achieve this, it is developing a domestic violence education and awareness campaign called 'Hidden Hurts, Healing Hurts', which it has launched in November 2017. The campaign website, www.preventDFV.lca.org.au, (which will house resources and information on domestic violence services) will be reinforced with training for "various" church groups, particularly church workers and congregational leaders. A task group is also examining scriptural texts that may have been wrongfully used to support male domination and the continuing subordination of women. The task group is to report back to the 2018 General Synod of the Church.
Australian Christian Churches
Australian Christian Churches (formerly Assemblies of God)
A spokesperson for Australian Christian Churches told ABC News that "in order to receive a ministerial credential, it is a mandatory requirement for pastors to complete the Safer Churches training program" which focuses mostly on child protection but also includes modules on domestic violence. The ACC also promotes to pastors its "Position Statement" on domestic violence, which was developed "as a tool ... that provides them with background, theology and procedures to respond". The statement, a copy of which was supplied to ABC News, includes brief information on the different forms of domestic violence and emphasises the need for pastors to prioritise "the personal safety of individuals and families" when dealing with domestic violence. "Forgiveness", the document says, "should never be suggested as an appropriate response when it is likely to result in a person remaining in an unsafe or oppressive environment". The ACC spokesperson also told ABC News it is collaborating with "professionals in the field" and "looking for ways to explore how the Church can assist in the areas of prevention and education".
A spokesperson for Hillsong Church told ABC News it aims to "identify, and provide support for people affected by [family and intimate partner violence]" and was actively engaged in researching and consulting with experts on how to best respond to the issue. The spokesperson said one of the functions of its Safe Church department, which was launched in 2016, is "handling concerns and disclosures of abuse, including domestic and family violence, as it relates to children and young people and mandatory reporting." The office is also responsible for providing training on child safety. The Hillsong 2016 Annual Report, a copy of which was supplied to ABC News, notes that a domestic violence training course, run by a clinical psychologist, was provided to pastoral care teams last year. The report also highlights Hillsong's efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence in the community and support those affected by it (for example, it ran a 'men's event' to raise awareness and fundraise for its 'Homes of Peace' emergency housing and support program for victims of domestic violence, which was also launched last year). The spokesperson said: "We have a lot more to learn — and see that we are a small piece in a much bigger picture — but will do what we can and hopefully help influence other churches to learn, develop great networks and respond appropriately — so people really can have the life they deserve."
Greek Orthodox Church
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese did not address specific questions from ABC News about whether it had an official protocol for responding to domestic violence, or whether it had sought to tackle the issue of scriptural abuse. However, Archdiocesan spokesperson Philip Kariatlis, the Academic Director at St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College, told ABC News the Greek Orthodox Church "absolutely condemns and forbids domestic violence". Mr Kariatlis said the Church "provides continuous training / information sessions throughout Australia via its parishes and its Theological College for all its clergy, parishioners and public at large teaching the love of Christ and the true meaning of the Scriptures with respect to being in a loving, equal and respectful relationship" (he did not respond to further questions about the nature and frequency of this training). He added: "The original unadulterated Greek text of the Scriptures, which is the only text the Church recognises, in no way infers or justifies male control or superiority of males over women either in the Church or the wider community."
Churches of Christ
Churches of Christ in Victoria and Tasmania
The 2015 Churches of Christ AGM passed a Resolution and Action Steps in response to domestic violence.
- Australian church leaders call for urgent response to domestic violence, Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson, ABC News, 27 July 2017
- Anglican Church offers formal apology to victims of domestic violence, Hayley Gleeson, ABC News, 7 September 2017