On Monday this week, people around the world celebrated International Women’s Day. This is an annual day to celebrate the diverse contribution and achievements that women make to our society, family, and workplaces. Across our Baptist movement, I want to affirm and recognise the enormous contribution women make in all levels of leadership. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated the ordination of three women who are already significant pastoral leaders in their spheres of influence, and I celebrate the many women across our BUV who are helping see churches and communities flourish through their leadership. There is much to be thankful for when we think of International Women’s Day…in our March issue of Together, we celebrate several stories of women in our Union who have overcome challenges in their journey to leadership roles in the church or organisation in which they serve.
But International Women’s Day is also a day when we are encouraged to reflect on issues such as gender equality, women’s rights and the safety of women in our society.
Just recently we have heard much in the media about the sexual assault of a female ex-staffer and the workplace culture in Parliament House, Canberra. It seems that even in the very place that is crafting our national laws, women, in fact powerful women such as MP’s and their staff, are not safe. Sadly, this provides little confidence to many women experiencing sexual harassment or women living under the shadows of family violence.
Despite domestic violence laws, public awareness and access to legal protections, statistics show us that Australian men are killing their women partners and ex-partners at the rate of one a week. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns it has been reported that family violence has increased throughout the world. Here in Victoria where we experienced the harshest lockdown in our nation, police are reporting significant increases of family violence compared to the year before the pandemic.
As a society we need to do better. As Christians leaders and as churches, we need to advocate for women’s safety and find ways to protect women and children in danger of family violence. In May 2016, in response to the need to better equip churches to become safe communities, dealing appropriately with the complex issues associated with family violence, the Baptist Union of Victoria Assembly released a Resolution. This Resolution urged Baptist Churches to ‘shine a light on the issue of family violence,’ and commit to training and education programs for teachers and preachers, the broader congregation and for perpetrators of family violence.
In 2017, Baptist leaders from all around Australia met with federal parliamentarians to advocate for a safer and more inclusive society for women, and the need for reform in the family law system to protect family violence survivors and their children. Later that year, the National Council of Australian Baptist Ministries released a Statement on Domestic and Family Violence. It acknowledged the Church’s historical failure to recognise violence and to protect those who have suffered. The statement also served as an apology to those who have had their pain and suffering ignored. It made a commitment to increase the Church’s awareness of domestic and family violence, to change culture within the Church, to provide greater support services and to maintain advocacy around the issue.
As followers of Jesus we are called to bring peace, welcome the stranger, love at all times and care for those who are oppressed and vulnerable. In these past few years we have been made more aware of family and domestic violence. But the question I want to ask is, have our churches become safer places for victims of family violence? Are we doing all we can to protect people, in particular women who come to us seeking help or refuge? Remember, family violence is not just physical abuse but also emotional and financial abuse, sexual violence, coercive control or emotional and psychological abusive behaviour from a person in a family or an intimate partner. This can include abusers restricting movement or isolating victims from friends or family. It can make a victim feel afraid for their own safety or wellbeing, and for that of other family members.
My prayer for us as churches and leaders is that we will promote healthy families, we will work to help restore relationships and promote reconciliation and forgiveness, but importantly, we will not put anyone in harm’s way as we seek to do these things. Jesus always protects the vulnerable and exposes evil. We want to follow his example and model for equal, loving, and mutual human relationships. But sadly, there have been many times when we, as the church, have not done this but rather have let women and children down, sometimes putting them at risk through disbelief, by minimising the victim’s experience, by staying silent or even by encouraging victims to stay in an unsafe situation. We must do better.
There is plenty of material online about family violence, support services and other resources. Our BUV website has some information you can access: https://www.buv.com.au/resources/social-issues-and-advocacy/family-violence/ and I would also recommend Common Grace as a helpful online resource for churches: https://www.commongrace.org.au/domestic_violence. I’d also encourage you as a church to get in touch with what services are available in your local council area.
Lastly, would you join me in prayer:
Loving God, we thank you that you bring light to the darkness of this world. We pray that you would bring understanding, knowledge, and acceptance of the truth and expose what lurks in the dark and bring it into the light.
We cry out to you. We cry out that these statistics of family violence might change. We cry out to you that those who are victims of violence would cease to be so. We pray that violence in all its forms would cease.
We pray that you would give our society courage to face this epidemic with all that we have – to make changes where they need to be made. Please provide support agencies with the resources they need to provide for the rights of victims. Most importantly, we ask that we, your people, would be the hands, feet, and voices for change. Give us the courage to stand up and help change a culture that permits, ignores, downplays or excuses violence against women and children throughout the world.
We pray these things in Jesus Name,
Rev Daniel Bullock
Director of Mission and Ministries