page tells the stories of some people who have experienced the
intersection of family violence and the church. After each story there
is a reflection of what insights the stories might reveal about
the particular congregation and its attitudes, and how those attitudes
might affect other situations.
None of this is intended to be judgmental in any way. And, as always,
we are protecting the identity of people by using false names and
keeping details fairly general.
we went to our local markets to sell prams and other recycled baby
gear. We do this most months as a way of meeting people and also
serving the community by providing essential products that are not
readily available in our town.
the course of the morning I struck up a conversation with a lady who
wanted to find out about our church. She went on to share that she was
attending a church in a nearby town, but as a single mother she felt
under a lot of guilt put on her by people in the church.
asked what was our church's attitude towards single mothers. I told her
that we felt that there was no point trying to guilt people for what's
happened in the past. We have some single mothers in our congregation
and we love them the same way we love every other member of the church.
What's done is done and God forgives people for their past and so it's
wrong for us to try and hold that against people now.
went on to tell me that if she hadn't left her husband she would be
dead by now.
ended up by asking could she come and talk these things through some
time. I said "Of course, that's what we do."
Claris, it turns out, fled with her children, from a violent
relationship. The people in the church see a single mother and have
made assumptions about her situation. They assume she has been immoral
and project their judgment onto her.
There is a value system in many churches which values
marriage so highly that anyone who has a bad experience of marriage and
seems to threaten the ideal of marriage may be treated as second class
citizens. This particular church seems to be condemning Claris
for not fitting the mould.
is a bigger issue though. If there are other women in that congregation
who are in violent relationships, they may conclude that they too will
be condemned if they try to escape the relationship. Worse, if
there are men in the congregation who are committing acts of violence, they
may conclude that they have the support of the church for their
actions, and even of God.
has been unable to find christian people who will support her and help
her move on. In many ways the church is now continuing the violence of
the husband by keeping her emotions trapped.
one occasion the religious leaders brought to Jesus a woman caught in
the act of adultery. They knew Jesus taught grace but the law said she
should be stoned to death. They wanted to trick Him into either
advocating breaking the religious law or into contradicting His own
teaching. Jesus in effect said, "Yes she is guilty and according to the
law she should die. But only those who have never sinned themselves are
qualified to carry out the sentence." Nobody was qualified. (See John
is a young christian woman who is very easily manipulated by other
people. She fell into a relationship with a man who promised her much
but gave very little. She doesn't talk much about the relationship. He
took her away to a big city, far from her parents and friends. On at
least one occasion he raped her. She became pregnant, and returned home
to live with her parents.
now has a lovely little girl. They both live with Linda's parents who
have been supportive of her. The responsibility of being a mother has
brought new maturity and self-confidence to Linda.
and her daughter come to church some times, when both of them are well
enough. We have tried to be encouraging towards Linda and offer
whatever support we can.
time ago the partner came and demanded access visits to the daughter.
Because of his history of violence, these visits were under the
supervision of some church members and were conducted within the church
building. While we were always courteous towards him, we were under no
illusions about the possibilities that he could harm the baby. After a
few visits, and much threatening through lawyers, he left town and
hasn't been seen since.
Linda was a long distance away while she was in the violent
relationship, we were unable to offer support to her at the time. Since
she has returned we have given her practical support and ideas about
how to relate to her daughter. We hope that our unconditional
acceptance is a factor in enabling her to recover from a disastrous
relationship and that we can help her to be the best mother for her
daughter that she can be.