All the brothers of the Hear Believe Act Project are arranging brothers or have been. They freely acknowledge that they have made mistakes in dealing with reports of abuse in the past. Our criticism, such that it is, is tempered by that knowledge. There is today, however, no excuse for ignorance and having a good grasp of the intersection of the teachings of our Lord and domestic abuse must be a high priority for all arranging brothers.
The Hear Believe Act Project have been told by many victims and survivors that they had reported the abuse to their arranging brothers. It seem rarely were equipped to help. Mostly victims believe they were revictimised, that the ecclesia did not believe the victim’s claims and they were more focused on supporting the abuser.
We have been told that more than one ecclesia asked or forced the victim to rescind the intervention orders which the Police and Courts considered warranted to keep the victim safe and often her children.
But it is not just arranging brothers that need to look closely at their actions in past cases. Whole ecclesias - almost all the brothers and sisters, often including the victim's family members have turned against victims, called them liars, mentally unwell, or disruptive and neglected them and their children or sent them packing to a distant ecclesia or interstate. Worse, whether in response to their treatment or just in desperation there was no one to help, we know of many victims and abusers have left the ecclesia. Such is a sad indictment on us all.
While we are mentioning this, we have seen that in almost every case there are some determined to help and support in the face of many who don’t, and we thank God and seek His Blessing upon them for their often quiet and generally unknown caring for Christ’s little ones. Also we are told of some ecclesias that are doing it well - we really want to hear these stories - if you know of them please tell us. We have been told of one ecclesia that has been instrumental in having a brother trained as a counsellor and supporting this provision of help to the Brotherhood - this is a wonderful capability to support. Also the Christadelphian counsellors who make themselves available in a number of Australian states are providing a great support to victims and abusers and we love them for their labours in Christ's service.
Teaching how we ought to respond to reports of domestic abuse is however, the saddest part of this project’s work. It is sad not because we are not becoming better disciples of our Lord when we do. The saddest part is that we have to focus on reports of abuse that are too frequent rather than being successful in preventing abuse.
At the Hear Believe Act Project we will increasing be talking about prevention. In our discussion paper we talk about raising it in pre-marriage classes. You might think a pre-marriage class is the wrong time to raise such a subject with a happy couple. We have concluded it is an important time to do it - it is a time when an abusers initial clumsy abuse behaviours can be rebuffed and perhaps becoming a habit can be avoided. It is a time when there is a lot less invested in the marriage - perhaps basically the deposit for a marriage venue. Surely it is better to put the marriage on hold or cancel it because a prospective bride is empowered to report abuse pre-marriage than to see her consigned to years if not a lifetime of pain and fear.
But prevention needs changing culture and changing culture needs leadership. It needs leaders willing to challenge cultures of entitlement, misuse of power, control of others, disrespect of women - in Australia we often see this bound up in ‘macho’ cultures of hunting and fishing (for instance) as much as in inappropriate attitudes toward service in the ecclesia. We don't mean that it is only arranging brothers who are responsible for changing culture. If our ecclesias work as the Ecclesial Guide recommends serving brothers including arranging brothers are making decisions on behalf of the ecclesia. Also, they are appointed by the ecclesia. The ecclesia should really take an interest in the decisions the arranging brothers make and the way that domestic abuse cases are treated should be a decision made by the arranging brothers and the ecclesia together. We don’t mean we all need to be involved in how an individual case is handled - far from it, and we make recommendations about that in the Discussion Paper. But we do mean setting the general principles and processes we will use if a report is made.
Further, leadership in our ecclesias is exercised scripturally by all the teachers of the ecclesia and they need to be ready to speak out against ugly cultures and attitudes as well as against domestic abuse itself. There are many positive aspects to an ecclesia full of healthy marriages and an ecclesia that cares for the oppressed - the windows and the fatherless. Incorporating domestic abuse into our consciousness whenever we are discussing these subjects and exhorting on these subjects is surely beneficial to changing cultures, sending clear messages that victims will be heard, and that abusers will be held accountable.
Like it or not, abuse is a male-dominated behaviour and leadership by the older brothers in setting good role models, and in being willing to be open with young brothers about these problems, ensuring that everyone is willing to speak out against anyone denigrating women even in ‘jest’ would surely go a long way to prevention.
Whatever our role in the ecclesia, we all have a role to play in elevating the conversation, making it a positive, edifying and uplifting one and including everyone in that conversation including the young. Changing 50 and 60 year olds is a lot harder and if our newest crop of couples begin the same way the failing marriages of today began, we can expect them to finish in the same way too. There is hope, so may we all be found working to hold high the teaching of our Lord, to speak as loudly against oppression as he did and to care for and support the needy whoever they are.
If our arranging brothers aren't aware of the Hear Believe Act Project tell them about it, and encourage them to engage and show leadership - in this way the body is supporting itself as Christ would have it and the whole body of Christ can look out for that part which is suffering.
If this article raises concerns you have about domestic violence in your own life or those around you can call 1800RESPECT (If in Australia) or similar services in other countries. There is also a list of support services on this website including Christadelphian Support Services.