Light, Darkness & Domestic Violence

On Tuesday, the ABC shared an in-depth article by Julia Baird with Hayley Gleeson on domestic violence within the church. In particular, it highlighted how complementarian teachings on male headship and female submission have been twisted by abusers to justify their abuse, and how the church has failed to take abused women seriously and has frequently contributed to their harm by pressuring them to stay. The matter has been discussed on ABC Radio National, and on the TV in the current affairs show 7:30, previously known as the 7:30 Report, on The Drum and undoubtedly elsewhere in the media.

Responding to the Article: Responsibility or Blame?

While many Christians have responded with compassion, repentance and a call for change, predictably, there have been others who have reacted defensively or gone on the attack in return. In the first category, some posts that are well worth reading include: from New Anglicanism here, from St Eutychus here and here, and Tamie Davis here. Notable in the second category is the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton, whose accusations and denials on Twitter (see below for some examples) have demonstrated no understanding of the sin he is protecting and excusing. Lyle is playing the kind of blame game that has been with humanity since Adam and Eve were naked and ashamed. Adam and Eve’s response when God asked them “who told you that you were naked?” was to compound the sin of disobeying God with the sin of trying to handball responsibility to others. Lyle and others (oddly including self-described agnostics Mark Latham and Andrew Bolt) who have reacted similarly are re-enacting this ancient sin of blame handball.


Importantly, I have not heard a single domestic violence survivor disputing Julia Baird’s report. On the contrary, survivors and those who work with them or research this subject are welcoming this report and hoping it will be a catalyst for change. Most of those who are disputing it have made their lack of qualification to challenge the report clear, with statements like, “Why don’t they look at the Muslims?” (they have – they published that report last week) or “I’ve never heard of this happening, so it can’t be true” (you might not know a child sex abuse victim either, but that is true, too, as the Royal Commission has proved).

A Smear Campaign?

Let’s get this straight – Julia Baird and others involved in this report are not smearing the church’s name. The only people who have smeared the church’s name are those within the church who have done wrong – not just those Christian men who have abused their wives, but also those who have covered up abuse and failed to help the victim. Why fear having your wrongdoing brought to light in front of other people, when you should reserve that fear (in the old-fashioned and fullest sense of the word) for God who sees all your sins? You can hide from some of the people for some of the time, but you cannot hide your wrongs from God.

On Jesus’ Side

All Christians should aim to live according to Jesus’ teachings – this is not optional! His priorities should be your priorities. Hint: “protecting the powerful and the religious elite” and “image management” were not high on His list! At the start of Jesus’ ministry, he stood up in the local synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah. He chose to read a passage (Isa 61:1-2, Luke 4:14-21) which Christians see as not just a random bit of Scripture, but as mission statement describing what Jesus’ ministry on earth would be about:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Let me be clear. If you are oppressing another person, you are creating a cage to imprison the oppressed, and you are not on the same side as Jesus here.   If you are enabling, excusing or covering up for the oppressor, you are holding the key to the door of that cage and you are not on the same side as Jesus here. (Hint: You want to be on the same side as Jesus!)

Truth, Light and Darkness

Telling the truth – as Julia Baird has done this week – is not a sin. Abusing someone is a sin. Covering up abuse is a sin. And yes – failing to protect, listen to or help the abused person is a sin. I find 1 John 1 valuable here:

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

Light a Candle in the Darkness

Domestic violence is a darkness within a family. The way we have responded to it is a darkness in the church. Julia Baird’s article is one of many lights which have shone on that darkness over the years. Don’t blow out the candle! Rejoice that a light has shone (and weep at what the light has found). Add your own light and encourage others to bring their light, so that together we can drive out the darkness. Nobody ever purified themselves or their church from sin by pretending it wasn’t happening or wasn’t a problem. Let’s accept the fact that this sin is among us – maybe it’s even a respected member of your church, or your friend or your pastor who is committing it – and seek to be purified from its scourge.

Don’t be worried that when the light shines, the unbelieving Australian public can see our sins. Worry instead that even in the darkness, God sees them. And let’s get our house in order so that no matter how great a spotlight is shone into every corner, the watching world will see that we have repented of our sin, that we have recaptured what it is to live as followers of the One who sets the oppressed free, and that we now live in love because He first loved us.

If you are experiencing domestic violence/abuse, please know that you are not alone and there is support and help out there. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, but also seek professional help. Here are some places you can find help:

1800 Respect national helpline:             1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line:                               1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service:                           1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line):                 131 114
Relationships Australia:                       1300 364 277

Further resources –

Daisy app – Daisy is a free app developed by Medibank Private and 1800RESPECT which “connects women around Australia to services providing support for the victims of sexual assault, family violence and domestic violence. Family members and friends can also use Daisy to gather information and support women’s decision making.”

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12 thoughts on “Light, Darkness & Domestic Violence

  1. Thankyou so much for this articulate and well considered response. Last night as I read the likes of Mark Latham and Lyle’s responses I was sick to my stomach and thought I could not cope with reading any more on this topic. I decided that for the sake of my work and my own well- being I would no longer engage with the debate. It’s hard to regulate and monitor your personal anger and disgust when you are at the coalface with those who have suffered so much. You have shone fresh light into the darkness and given fresh hope that the cries of so many will be at last heard and appropriately responded too.


  2. Great article as a Registered Psychologist I have worked with many Christian women experiencing domestic violence over 20 plus years. unfortunately on most, though not all experience a significant lack of support and lack of understanding. My experience has seen what the report is suggesting. I am greateful that this issue is coming to the light rather than the experiences of these women and those who are supporting them kept in the dark – voiceless. Thank you to those who are speaking up !


    1. Thank you Robyn. I have found there have been two main categories of responses to this article – (1) Thank you – this reflects my personal experience or that of people I know or work with, and (2) How dare you or you’re so wrong, from people (mostly men) who demonstrate ignorance of the topic. Those in the second category need to be silent and learn before they speak – just like the woman is told to do in 1 Timothy 2!


  3. This is fabulous!! Nailed it, Bronwen. I especially love your point that the only ones smearing Christianity are the people who abuse and claim the name of Jesus or the people who hide the truth and defend the abusers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In my experience Lyle has absolutely no credibility at all when it comes to acknowledging, let alone addressing, bullying and abuse in the church. A few years ago, as a leader in an independent church, I started experiencing bullying and abusive behaviour at the hands of a fellow elder and his wife. I raised my concerns several times and things started to become very nasty. Despite refusing to actually talk to me, Lyle Shelton was perfectly happy to pronounce that this elder was God’s choice as leader. He insisted that I should either submit to this man’s “Godly” leadership or resign from leadership myself.

    Lyle’s tweet above implies that husbands who demand submission from their wives are denying the teaching of the church. I’d love to ask him how that situation differs from his demand that I submit to bullying from my fellow leader! As I said, there is a huge credibility gap there as far as I’m concerned.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What puzzles me is, whilst there would be instances of wife to husband abuse, there aren’t/isn’t the systematic abuse as women experience, e.g..
    – are men told by church leaders to just endure the abuse even year after year, because they are somehow to blame…
    – are clobbered with biblical verses by the abuser which are simply being used to justify/give credence to the basis of the abuse…


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