Whether this is your first time at MBM or you are a long standing member, today’s talk may be very hard to hear if you have experienced Domestic Family Violence either as an adult, or seen or heard it as a child. This talk may trigger painful emotions for you. If that happens for you, our two counselors, Kim and Gill, along with Lynette or myself, are on hand. We will be available to talk after each service and in the weeks that follow. If you need to walk out during the talk, we fully understand. Gill will be in the foyer if you wish to talk to her. The sermon will be recorded if you have to leave. Our goal is to make MBM as safe community.
When I talk about Domestic and Family Violence today, I mean any behaviour that occurs in a domestic or dating relationship, which is violent, threatening, coercive, or controlling, and causes a person to fear for their own or someone else’s safety. It is usually manifested as part of a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour.
In 2016 in Australia there were 264,028 Police call-outs for DFV related incidents, and this is just the tip of the ice-berg. Less than 50 % of DFV incidents are reported to police. Recently on the news we heard that John Edwards had tragically shot his own son Jack, aged 15, and his daughter Jennifer, aged 13, to punish his ex-wife over a custody battle (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2006; Birdsey & Snowball, 2013; Grech & Burgess, 2011).
For a long time the focus was on stranger danger. We now know that the greater danger can be from those inside the family home and among intimate partners. The Royal Commission into Child Abuse has shown us that there is serious sin inside churches, not just the world. The reality is that Domestic Family Violence does happen and has happened in every church, including MBM. Its happens within Christian families, and in Christian dating relationships at MBM. Our approach in the past at MBM has been inconsistent and not comprehensive. There has been no clear policy. Mistakes have been made. People have suffered. There are women in particular we have failed over the years. And as your senior pastor I must own full responsibility. For that I am deeply sorry.
Today we take important step to make MBM a safe church. To shine a light on this problem, we are launching the MBM Interim Policy on DFV.
For us to create a safe community at MBM we must understand some key biblical principles. It begins with God who is just, holy, and righteous. Our creator and saviour requires us to love him by loving all people without exception. We must be crystal clear that our God has created all men and all women in his image. Genesis 1:27:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (NIV)
Every human bears the likeness of God. Without exception, male or female, young or old, from every race and class, all are stamped with God’s eternal value. Only humans are given the privilege to represent God on this earth. Therefore any assault on a human being is an assault against God (Genesis 9:6). It is not just physical assault that vandalizes God image bearers. James 3:9-10:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (NIV)
One moment we sing, “O Lord our Lord how majestic is your name.” The next we tell our loved ones to shut up! Every human is precious in his sight, protected by his justice. In contrast our culture and our nature keeps treating people as things to be used, abused, bought, and sold. And God has placed all image bearers in families to be loved, nurtured, and protected.
After the fall the exact opposite happened. The first act of violence in the Bible was an act of Domestic Family Violence, where Cain killed his own brother Abel. Cain should have realized he was his brother’s keeper, as we all are. As sin spread and intensified, God issued the judgment of the flood on all humans. And the one specific sin identified for the cause of the flood is violence towards humans. Every person has a right to be safe and feel safe. And this is no less true for every person in the body of Christ, who are renewed in the image of Christ and are co-heirs of Christ. If that truth is not clear, we cannot build a community that is safe. And it is everyone`s responsibility to make our church a safe community.
We know that the misuse of power is the great threat to the safety of our families and communities. God is not blind to this potential for abuse in families. Colossians 3:19:
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. (NIV)
God is clear that men and women are equal yet power imbalance remains, which is open to abuse. 1 Peter 3:7:
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (NIV)
God is also aware that fathers in particular can abuse their power as parents. Colossians 3:21:
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (NIV)
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (NIV)
Domestic Family Violence springs from the works of the flesh. It is diametrically opposite to the pattern of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (NIV)
When God`s word is ignored, we have abuse within the home, within the church, and within intimate relationships. Many of you know personally about such abuse. For others it is still unclear.
So up on the screen are a list of only some examples of what DFV is. You will be given a fuller list is on your sheet when you leave the service. Please read it for your sake and for the sake of others so that we can all learn to play our part in creating a safe community.
Physical abuse is the most well known. This can include, but is not limited to: direct assault on the body (including pushing, spitting,) locking the victim in or out of the house, forcing the victim to take drugs, withholding medical care, or engaging in sleep deprivation There is never an excuse for such behavior. Even if your spouse commits adultery, even then you do not have permission to be violent or threaten violence. It is both a sin before God and crime against the state. Let me be very clear that there is no excuse whether the perpetrator is male or female. Let me be equally clear that the majority of abuse is by males because males have access to more power to abuse. Women are at least 3 times more likely to experience violence from an intimate partner, and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives. For some of you men your instinct at this point may be to say “I don’t commit violence, so why are we are men being blamed all the time?”
What little data we have does say that conservative protestant men who attend church regularly are found to be the least likely group to engage in domestic violence while those who attend infrequently are the most likely.
Brothers, resist the urge to be defensive. If your home is safe well done, but it’s not just about you! It’s about how we can all learn to protect others in our MBM community and beyond. DFV has been allowed to take place because too many of us men and women have explained away what we see and turned a blind eye. The big lesson to learn today and the one I’ve been far too slow to learn is that Domestic Family Violence is not just physical violence.
Let me tell you the experience of one woman at church. Her first husband engaged in reckless drunk driving with her and her baby boy in the car. He withheld money and food. He degraded her, and demanded unrealistic expectations such as in housekeeping. He engaged in physical abuse. He isolated her from family and friends, and convinced her she was crazy. All of this was used to gain power and control. She is now both a victim and a survivor of abuse. But from that tragic story we can hear there are many forms of abuse.
Sexual assault is any sexual behaviour without another person’s consent that causes humiliation, pain, fear, or intimidation. It includes rape, incest, and unwanted kissing or touching. It includes behaviour that does not involve actual touching. Forcing someone to watch pornography or masturbation is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse includes taking photos or distributing them without the subject’s consent. It involves sexual criticizing or using sexually degrading insults. Sexual assault is against the law of God and the law of this land, and is a serious crime. Rape is still rape even if it happens in marriage or an intimate relationship. There is no excuse for non consensual sex with any person. The bible is clear that mutual consent is the standard for decision-making in things like sexual activity within marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:5:
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent (NIV)\
Across their lifetime, one in two women (53%, or 5 million) has experienced sexual harassment.
Emotional abuse can include, but is not limited to: blaming the victim for all problems in the relationship; constantly comparing the victim with others to undermine self-esteem and self-worth; undermining confidence by damaging self-esteem through humiliation, ridicule, and shaming; threats to harm oneself, pets, children, or other family members.
Verbal abuse can include, but is not limited to: swearing and continual humiliation, either in private or in public; verbal attacks following clear themes that focus on intelligence, sexuality, body image and capacity as a parent or partner; putting someone down.
Can any one explain to me why we are allowed to watch Gordon Ramsay on TV as he viciously tears apart his staff in the kitchen, and then pay him millions for that abuse. I remember one woman who told me she had been beaten black and blue by her de facto, and then said, “But Ray its the words that killed me.”
Approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
Psychological abuse can include, but is not limited to: driving dangerously; destruction of property; making threats regarding custody of any children; asserting that the police and justice system will not assist, support, or believe the victim; threatening to ‘out’ the person’s sexuality.
Social abuse can include, but is not limited to: restricting use of the car or telephone or internet; forbidding or physically preventing the victim from going out and meeting people.
Financial abuse can include, but is not limited to: complete control of all money; restricting access to bank accounts; providing only an inadequate ‘allowance’; not allowing someone to seek or have a job; coercing to sign documents, take out loans or make false declarations. When Jesus said the two shall become one that included finances. The wage earner in the marriage does not have any more right to the income than their spouse.
Harassment and stalking can include, but is not limited to: monitoring someone’s movements; following and watching; telephone and online harassment; being intimidating; coming into your own residence without permission; sending harassing text messages or getting someone else to do it.
Spiritual abuse can include, but is not limited to: perpetrators misuse of bible passages about headship to justify the abuse of power and control in the relationship; misusing the principle of generosity to justify controlling the victim’s access to money; misusing the principle of faithfulness in marriage to justify limiting the victim’s social life; misusing the call to rebuke one another to justify verbal abuse; misusing sexuality to justify rape and sexual assault; misusing unity to justify silencing the victim; misusing forgiveness to minimize the effects of violence.
Spiritual abuse dehumanizes our spouses, destroys our children’s faith. and dishonours God by causing people to hate his holy word on marriage. To the important question, “Does the bible teaching on headship provoke domestic abuse?”, let me quote David Rahtz who counseled in the western suburbs for over 20 years, including people from MBM.
Christian men who are already insecure, are more likely to use a theology of headship as a rationale for control/abuse; it is more likely an excuse for bad behaviour than the cause. Changing/rejecting theology doesn’t get rid of their need for power and control, which leads to forcing submission to make them feel better about themselves. The hardest men to work with in counseling are the ones who rely on their theology but are emotionally disconnected from themselves. We have met men who use headship as a weapon; they may be highly biblically literate, but emotionally disconnected or unaware of their wife’s needs. Christian men who are serious about discipleship are more likely to be focused on servant leadership, and to accept feedback about their blind spots from pastors or counselors.
We defend the truth not only in word but how we live it out. At MBM we have people from 70 cultures from around the world. We each were born into a culture and a family that taught that certain behaviors are acceptable. Today we have heard that such behavior is never acceptable before God.
As a Church leadership and church family we are committed to bring the sin of DFV from secrecy, shame, and fear into the light. Our great God wants to bring justice, healing, repentance, and grace. So we all need to learn the 3 Rs: to recognize the signs of abuse, respond wisely, and refer appropriately.
Here is a word to the victims and survivors of abuse. It’s not your fault! No matter what the abusers say, don’t believe them. It’s not your fault. You have been sinned against. Please speak up. We will listen and we will believe you. If necessary, we will go to the police with you. Please don’t keep silent. We understand its very hard to break the code of silence. It’s the right thing to do for your children’s sake, for your sake, for God’s sake, and can I say for the sake of the abuser you may love. We at MBM have not always dealt in a consistent way in the past on all forms of abuse but we will in the future. Our policy is aimed to protect you and we stand with you. There is no excuse for any form of abuse, but that doesn’t mean there is no grace.
Here is a word to perpetrators. There is true grace awaiting every abuser who genuinely repents. But there is no grace for those who make excuses. Repentance is not just an apology with tears. The abuse must stop. True repentance must include owning your abuse without any excuse and the damage it has caused to the victims. It’s seen in willingly wearing all the consequences of your behavior. Stop demanding your loved ones cover your shame. In short, stop worrying what others think and start worry about what God thinks. Jesus is the answer for everyone here today.
To victims and survivors of abuse, our Lord personally knows abuse first hand. He both weeps with you and was angry at the sins committed against you. Please know there is hope! Jesus stands with you and so will we. We understand you may not want to talk today. But we have put phone numbers and emails on the website, posters, and flyer in your hand.
To perpetrators, Jesus stands as judge requiring full confession and repentance. To those who do not repent, you will not inherit the kingdom of God. But with true repentance Jesus stands as a Savior offering mercy and forgiveness. Those phone numbers are for you to call as well and start the journey of repentance.
To all of us at MBM, Jesus is jealous for his bride the church of God. We are called to love and not harm. We all have responsibility to our brothers, sisters, our children, and our elderly, to speak up when we notice things. For when we abandon Jesus’ brothers and sisters who are victims of abuse, we abandon Jesus himself. If you think something is going on, speak up!
Let me invite Lynette Cain:
Lynette, you’ve been working with us this year to help MBM become a safer place for all people, but especially in the area of DFV. What makes you so committed to this?
Lynette how do I know if the issues we have in our marriage or our dating relationship are just unhealthy or whether it’s abusive?
Lynette, we thought it would be helpful to bust two myths that are common when it comes to DFV. Could you first speak to the question of why doesn’t the victim just leave?
Another myth is that if DFV is just between spouses, then the kids will be ok. What would you say to that?
How can we as a church family, best support victims of DFV?