Tuesday, August 01, 2017

CP 280 The hide! Asking Christians to do better...

CP 280 The hide! Asking Christians to do better…
The other day I came across a headline on the ABC News website which really caught my eye. It was this: “Asking Christians to do better by domestic violence victims is not an attack on Christianity.” It was an opinion piece penned by Dr Steven Tracy, who is professor of theology and ethics at Phoenix Seminary, and founder of Mending the Soul Ministries. Dr Tracy was reflecting on the savage response directed at two journalists, Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson, who had themselves written an essay entitled, “’Submit to your husbands’: Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God.” One of their assertions was that many women did not experience the Church as a sanctuary. Having read Dr Tracy’s article, I felt a strong nudge in my spirit to add my tuppence worth.
Now there are a few things I know about the Christian Church all over the world at this time of history. One is that the Christian Churches have been caught up, often for centuries, in the glory and honour that goes with being enmeshed in the power structures of our various cultures. Now that these privileged positions are being aggressively challenged on many fronts, as institutional power and status appears to be slipping away, there is both pain and humiliation. Not only that. There are also potent temptations to fear and panic, let alone victimhood and aggression. And because we have for so long identified ourselves as key institutions in secular society, we have a traumatic identity crisis on our hands.
A second observation is that far more often than we would like to admit, Christians, and the institutions they represent, have given their enemies, and their friends, plenty of justifiable reasons for public condemnation.
Third, the Apostle Paul was right when he nailed the truth that husbands have a particular vulnerability to harshness. He wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19)
There is a fourth obvious thing which needs to be faced. Christians, both Evangelical and Catholic, are prone to be outraged when someone questions their biblical assumptions or pastoral understandings. We are so, so sensitive to criticism. Which brings me to my urge to write about that headline. When I read it and digested it, three circumstances rose up in my memory with some force.
1.      As a school kid, being acutely aware of situations where the Parish Priest insisted that Mrs X must return to her marital home regardless of how she was treated by her often drunken husband. The marriage vow had to be upheld regardless of the shame, humiliation and brutality. Part of the shame was that the honour of the Church was at stake! At the time, as a loyal church member, I agreed with the priest.

2.      During my training as a Pastor of the Lutheran Church one of my mentors made me aware of a couple who worshipped every Sunday, yet the husband beat his wife almost daily. There was no thought of intervention because the dominating thought was that, above all, the marriage must be preserved. The Pastor’s only comment, which has stayed lodged in my spirit, was this: “Imagine what it might have been like if he had not been a Christian.”

3.      I was made aware, as a younger Pastor, of a scenario where a dominating husband regularly hit his wife, and on occasion even took to cracking his whip near her ears if she was in any way non-compliant. In that particular case, neighbours who were aware had assured her of support if she wanted to get out. I blessed both her and the neighbours in their resolve and endeavour. She finally escaped 25 years later! Yes, that’s right, 25 years later. It took her that long to find the freedom to get out. Partly that was due to the hold he had over her, but it was also the fear that she would be doing the wrong thing and therefore bring shame on the family and the church.
Those are my three anecdotes. There are many more. Nowadays, in situations of domestic violence, I have little hesitation in telling an assaulted person that there is no requirement to stay. I know that it’s rarely easy to get out, but if necessary I will help. What I want to highlight now, though, is that the Churches have to acknowledge that we were absolutely part of the problem these women had. It’s so easy to be doctrinally right and morally wrong. We needed to lift our game and we still do. We have come a long way. We have a way to go. If we are to love as Jesus loved, then we will have his compassion, and we will be safe people and our churches will be safe places.

Fred

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