The Julia Baird article and susequent discussions about Domestic Violence and how they can manifest in Christian relationships and poorly dealth with in Christian circles has been a distressing but welcome thing. It shows how the Bible can be twisted and misunderstood and so it helps us think more carefully how we explain and apply the Bible. It also shows how people can be listened to poorly and given extremely bad advice. And these failures can have disastrous effects.
A difficulty I have in reading about these things is that I can’t easily see myself or my church communities in the descriptions. I am told that it happens and that churches are often doing a bad job in this area… but I sometimes struggle to see how it ends up happening and how churches do a bad job in a way that I can easily relate to and improve on.
This is where I have found it super helpful to hear the ways in which friends, family and church leaders get things wrong. It is really enlightening and troubling to hear what they thought they were doing and why they got things so wrong, even when they meant well. Then I see how I could make the exact same mistakes. As long as I think church leaders “Out There” are heartless sexists who are somehow eager to promote domestic violence, I won’t know if there’s anything I can do better. Becuase if I sincerely seek to be compassionate, respectful of women and if I am eager to stop domestic violence. It remains a problem for someone else Out There, not for me.
But I have found it eye-opening to hear what kinds of misunderstandings can lead even very well-intentioned family, friends and church leaders to give terrible advice and accidentally protect abusers and make victims feel unsupported, trapped and even blamed.
Some of the things I am learning:
- It is so important to understand how charming and persuasive abusers can appear to those outside of the privacy of the family home. There might be other tell-tale signs of the possibility of abuse, but they are subtle unless we know what to look for.
- The abuse can make the victim unsure of themselves, and so we might not perceive them to be reliable. In fact the abusive partner may even do things to enhance this perception.
- The victim might have doubts about whether or not they are being abused, and worried about whether they’ll be believed, and so they might actually downlplay the severity of the problem.
- A vicitm of abuse is often isolated by their partner, and so the kind of continuity of contact that we normally rely on to build trust and facilitate support and counselling might be lacking. We might need to be more proactive than we are used to being.
- The way we teach in putblic and talk and counsel in informal settings can easily be misheard. Things we might mean in a ‘softer’ way, may have a ‘harder’ meaning within the rhetoric of abuse.
In part this underscores the fact that we need to hear many different types of stories: both the stories of victims and the stories of those who have failed to support victims and are honestly repenting and seeking to do better.