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Russel Brand's baptism: should we believe it?

This weekend, Russel Brand was baptised in the Thames. It’s also been less than a year after Channel 4’s Disptaches documentary brought to light allegations of rape and sexual assault against Brand, which he has strongly denied. So many are asking: is Russel Brand’s conversion to Christianity genuine? Has this baptism really washed away his past wrongdoing?

Of course, no one but God knows what’s happening in someone’s heart. And it’s true that as Christians, we believe that no one is too far gone to turn back to God and find forgiveness. But conversion to Christianity requires just that: a turning around, a repenting. For anyone to truly put their faith in Jesus, they must acknowledge the wrong things they have done and face up to them; baptism doesn’t mean bypassing justice. Brand has described it as ‘an opportunity to leave the past behind’, but baptism shouldn’t mean escaping the consequences of past actions. In fact, if someone has genuinely confessed their sins and come to faith in Christ, a sign of this would be that they accept the fair consequences for what they’ve done.

Baptism doesn’t mean bypassing justice.

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Forgiveness and domestic abuse

As a charity that supports survivors of domestic abuse, this idea comes up almost daily at Restored. For survivors, it’s a familiar question: “he says he’s changed, so do I need to forgive him?”. This is perhaps even more pertinent for Christian survivors of domestic abuse, who are taught that we should always be willing to forgive and seek reconciliation with the worst of our enemies - and even more so with our intimate partners.

But just as Brand’s alleged victims are under no obligation to forget what they experienced or stop pursuing fair consequences, neither should survivors of domestic abuse. Even Christian ones. Although it’s true that forgiveness is central to the Christian faith, we must always remember that it doesn’t mean excusing wrong behaviour. As we’ve explored before, justice and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive. Equally, forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation. Even if an abuser appears to repent of their actions and change their ways, the relationship doesn’t need to be restored.

A survivor-centred mindset

Where abuse has taken place, our first responsibility is always to protect those at risk of harm: the safety of survivors should be our top priority at all times. This isn’t always easy to navigate, particularly if both parties are members of our church community; we have a pastoral responsibility to care for both people, so how can we choose one over the other? But remember, forgiveness doesn’t mean avoiding consequences. If an abuser wishes to continue being part of a church community, the best way forward is to help them integrate into another local church. If they really have repented, they themselves should see that this is the right thing to do.

We should also be mindful that abusers may try to use ‘conversion’ and ‘forgiveness’ as ways to exert further control over their partner or ex-partner and influence the community around them for their benefit. If you continue to support a perpetrator, maintain accountability and ensure that they are taking responsibility for what they have done (you can find more on this in our Church Guide). Listen to the survivor and encourage them to seek support from specialist domestic abuse services so you don’t have to support them alone. Walk with them as they pursue justice, especially if this involves the court system, which can be gruelling.

Forgiveness is central to the Christian faith, but it doesn’t mean excusing wrong behaviour.

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So - “they’ve changed, shouldn’t we forgive?”. Well, yes - letting go of negative emotions towards those who have hurt us is a healthy way to move forward. But it takes time, and doesn’t need to mean reconciliation. Genuine repentance means facing up to our wrongdoing and being willing to face the consequences, and as Christians we should value justice just as highly as we do forgiveness.

The Church Guide

We've produced this comprehensive resource to help you understand and respond to domestic abuse when in occurs in your congregation or community.

The Church Guide