Domestic Violence in the ecclesia
We often get asked about the prevalence of domestic violence in the Christadelphian community. In the same way as the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) has found in a series of articles on domestic violence in the church - that there are no statistics to really help answer this question..., there is really no way of knowing the real prevalence in the Christadelphian community.
We can say clearly (anecdotally) that it does occur. It occurs in conservative families and ecclesias as well as in liberal families and ecclesias. It occurs in Australia just like it occurs in the UK and the USA, for instance. Just as the ABC articles suggest that domestic violence occurs in the families of church clergy, so it is our experience that Christadelphian brothers with responsibilities in their ecclesias and reputations for leadership within the community are not immune from using control, manipulation and violence within their marriages and families. We know this because of the cases that brothers and sisters raise with us.
As to prevalence, our instinct or gut feel is that it is as common in Christadelphian families as it is in the community at large.
When we are asked about prevalence, often the point of clarification that follows is whether this is physical or emotional violence. This is probably also in line with the broader social values where physical violence is often viewed as more harmful than emotional and psychological violence. There is an overwhelming body of evidence that psychological violence is equally as damaging to people upon whom it is inflected. Increasingly society is recognising this, and in some countries the laws are criminalising psychological violence (and not only after breaches of intervention orders).
The headlines of the most recent ABC article are worthy of thinking about in the context of the Christadelphian community. The first headline is "Abuse of clergy wives covered up and ignored". The situation quoted:
"...after committing their lives to supporting their husband's ministry, each had been forced to leave after decades of emotional, financial and sexual abuse which had left them depressed, fearful and, for some, suicidal"
reflects the experience of many cases in the Christadelphian community we hear about. It also reflects the situation of many sisters who have chosen not to leave but still are depressed, fearful and, for some, suicidal. Unfortunately the experience of the women quoted in the article when seeking help mirrors the experience of our sisters when they seek help, all too often. Before we quote the article about the experience of these women, we will hasten to add that this is not always the case, and that many ecclesias are effectively supporting sisters who are struggling with the effects of domestic violence.
"All had mixed experiences with the church after disclosing their abuse: some clergy had supported them and pleaded their cases, while others ignored them.
All had disappointing or bruising experiences with a senior church leader when they asked for help."
This is why education about domestic violence in our community is so vital. This is why it is important we think about how we will respond to cases of domestic before they occur. This is why ecclesias can think about what domestic violence is and how it violates Christ's teaching by endorsing a position paper (like the paper from the Australian Association of Christadelphian Ecclesias) or writing a policy (like the Cumberland Ecclesia policy).
May our consideration of this subject and our willingness to give of ourselves to care for the oppressed and the fatherless and widows (our highest calling) be found to the praise of our Lord who was sent "to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners".