In an emergency...
In an emergency, call the Police.
At least for most developed countries, and for many developing countries, calling the Police or other authorities is what we should do in an emergency. If life is at risk, or if there is a threat of a criminal action we should do this in a heart-beat.
Paul in Romans 13 tells us that the law of the land and Government authorities are put there by God - this would include the Police and other agencies that work with them, for instance, child protection, family courts, social work, hospitals and government-funded domestic violence services. Further Paul calls on us to be subject to them (v1) as they are God's servants for our good.
When the law of the land establishes regimes for the protection of certain classes of people and the control and sometimes the punishment of other classes, those laws are put there for our good, and if we are an evil-doer, for our punishment. This is a strongly worded statement of the Apostle that we cannot escape.
We have no authority in the light of Paul's words to circumvent the authorities as they implement the laws which God has put there for our good. We are in no position to double-guess the Our Father's purpose in those laws unless complying with them would clearly break His Laws.
It is that serious - we would be circumventing the laws God put there for our good if we don't call the police over matters of criminality. The consequences of our failure to call could be that the authorities were unable to build a true picture of the extent of criminal behaviours. This may mean that the authorities were unable to prosecute criminals or that because the authorities had not attended to a problem because they were unaware of it's extent, people were affected and perhaps even died at the hands of those criminals. It is not a light matter.
In situations of domestic violence, it can easily and quickly become our responsibility to call the police. It may be that we have heard distraught calls from a neighbour demanding our attention. As our Lord would have us, we should be helping that person in distress, and making the police aware of what appears to be a criminal act and a person needing help.
Of course it is no different if that neighbour is also a Christadelphian who has made the same plea in our hearing. It may have been made in the early hours of the morning at our front door, or through a distraught phone call, for instance. Unfortunately it is the obligation of our Lord's calling to relieve oppression, especially for widows and children, that we are called on to put ourselves out because of these consequences of human behaviour. We shouldn't assume that we know the true nature of a victim's assailant, or minimise what is happening because the alleged assailant calls themselves a brother or sister of Christ.
Further we should not undertake interventions or heroic actions for which we are not qualified. It should be evident from the loss of life in our society through domestic violence that the consequences of getting it wrong can be terrible. We do have an obligation to respond with pastoral care but we should leave the respond to the acute situation to those with professional competence in this area.
The corollaries of following this teaching are interesting. For instance, in Australia, the Police will evaluate risk. They will communicate this risk to people who may not realise the risks that they are facing and the potential escalation. This can help motivate people to take actions to ensure their own safety and that of their children. Another corollary of following this teaching is that the provisions of the law to put in place protective arrangements for people threatened or suffering domestic violence are activated. The Police generally can do this on an interim basis, and will follow up with the Courts to give their protective orders more long term effect. These orders may include requiring that a person using abusive behaviours moves out of the family home or other domestic arrangement. Further they may be required to not approach people who feel threatened by them or to attend places of residence, work or worship that they regularly attend. This can simplify decision making by the ecclesia, in particular:
- the ecclesia does not appear to take sides. The ecclesia needs to comply with the orders too.
- the ecclesia does not need to decide who attends the meeting and who does not. Instead the ecclesia needs to make arrangements for the spiritual well-being and support of the person who is not to approach the place of worship. This might mean making arrangements for private meetings in their home, or making arrangements with other nearby ecclesias.
- the ecclesia does not need to tip-toe around the daisies. The Police or authorities or both have concerns about the safety of one of the ecclesia's members. It is for the person who is using abusive behaviours to recognise the nature of their behaviours and get professional and pastoral support.
In short, we should call the Police (or other suitable authorities) any time there are threats to life, threats of self-harm or you have been a witness to physical violence or its affects. This is for the protection of the people involved, and even extended networks of people. This would seem to be important regardless of the preferences of all the people involved.
Further, we should call the Police at the request of someone who discloses that they are on the receiving end of abusive behaviours in a domestic setting. If they don't want us to call the Police and there is no continuing direct threat, we should respect their preferences: they may understand their safety and the safety of their children and extended family and friends better than us. Nonetheless, we should tell them we are willing to support them going to the Police if an emergency arises or if they decide to in the future.
In Australia, there may be requirements on some people who are mandated notifiers to report domestic violence that amounts to child abuse in some states.
The ecclesia should support the Police in doing their work, and provide pastoral support to people involved without risking their safety or our own by discussing the situation more broadly, or with perpetrators.
Thinking through these matters ahead of time is worthwhile for ecclesias to enable them to be well-prepared and ready to follow our Lord by relieving oppression as he would.