Not In My Church by Mandy Marshall
‘I think many, like me, do not tell when they are experiencing abuse. I felt ashamed and I didn’t want people to know’ Female survivor of domestic abuse, Cumbria.
‘Surely not in my church?’ is a comment that we have heard at Restored when discussing that domestic abuse happens in churches too. For some churchgoers it is hard to believe that the people in their church could possibly be abusive to anyone, let alone someone they may know. It seems unthinkable, and yet it is a lived reality for many women who go to church.
It was that disbelief, coupled with a lack of academic evidence, that Restored commissioned research from Coventry University and the University of Leicester on the levels of domestic abuse amongst churchgoers across Cumbria. Why Cumbria? Well, Churches Together in Cumbria had been doing some excellent work with the, then local, service provider to deliver ten training days across the region in churches on domestic abuse. They were keen to know whether this had made an impact on how churches addressed the issue.
Ground breaking Research
In March this year the ground breaking research, the first of its kind in the UK, was published. It revealed that one in four churchgoers (women and men) were suffering domestic abuse in their current relationships which rose to 42.2% when previous relationships were considered. Furthermore the research found that only 2 in 7 churchgoers considered their church to be adequately equipped to respond to domestic abuse. 56.7% of abuse involved Christian perpetrators. We are faced with the reality that our churches are places were those that chose to abuse sit amongst us.
Our Church Too?
These stats and figures may shock us. They may cause disbelief. You may think ‘oh well that wouldn’t happen in my area’ but the reality that one in four women in the UK will suffer abuse in her lifetime, should cause us to stop and reflect. Could this really happen here?Is it happening here? When you think of your own church and the number of women in your church, divide it by four, how many women could possibly have been or being abused? It’s good to be aware that this could be a possibility in your church.
At Restored we raise awareness of what domestic abuse is and what that looks like. We find that many do not understand that domestic abuse has its roots in the abuse of power and control over another person. It is not to do with anger, redundancy or alcohol (although these can act as enablers). Domestic abuse is a choice. Whilst, physical and sexual violence are the more well known forms of abuse - abuse is using whatever is in the abusers power to manipulate the other person to bring them under their control. This can be verbal threats, intimidation, bullying, verbal abuse, playing psychological mind games, using finances to control the person, using children as a means of abuse or control, threatening to do things to make the other person submit and, in the Christian context, misusing scripture as the ultimate means of control.
Christmas can be a key time when abuse intensifies or starts. It may be shocking to discuss this at a time of Advent and the coming King being anticipated and celebrated. Jesus is our hope and our salvation. We want all people to know the love and freedom that Christ brings to our lives. The freedom from bondage and slavery, the freedom from abuse. We also want those who are choosing to abuse to stop and recognise that the love and freedom that Christ brings is available to them too. It requires recognising the wrong done, being repentant, making restitution for the wrong done (including facing justice) and gaining redemption from Christ our redeemer and King. Freedom in Christ is possible but only once we have faced the consequences that our own attitudes and behaviours have caused. The advent season brings us that hope of a new life and a new future.
What can we do?
So what can you do? Your church do? There are simple actions that you can take. The first is to make yourself aware of what domestic abuse is and what that looks like. Could you identify signs of abuse? Download our free church pack here and take a look. Does your church put up posters in the toilets to access help and support? Could your church support the local refuge for women? Do you know who the local service provider is for domestic abuse? Could you or your church give to Restored on a regular basis to enable us to continue the vital work we do?
This advent, as we celebrate the coming King, let us be mindful that there remains hope for all.
Love and peace to you and those whom you love this Christmas time.