Break the silence - you are not alone
Domestic abuse comes in many different forms, and sadly seems to be as prevalent as ever. Let's be aware, writes Baptist minister John Cheek
I once worked for the second largest government department in Britain. My desk could be found in the second largest building in Essex. As a new recruit I sat opposite my training officer, Christine (not her real name). Christine was tall, attractive, middle-aged and had clearly 'lived a bit'. She wasn't the sort of person that you would want to mess with. I got the feeling that she could handle anyone who chose to come up against her, either physically or verbally.
It was therefore somewhat surprising when a few of us learned that she was planning on moving out of the house that she had shared with the man that she lived with, for several years and that she was having to do so, 'covertly'.
The man, also middle-aged and often aggressive, had been subjecting her to regular episodes of 'unreasonable behaviour'. It had come to a head at a family barbeque to which they had been invited, where her partner had punched another man, a friend of the hosts, simply "for looking at him in a certain way".
Christine began planning her 'escape' from the relationship afterwards, discreetly moving some of her things to her sister's home, claiming that there was more space for them there, before the final day came where, with him out at work, she took a day's Leave, moved out with the help of her family and left behind a note. What was almost as shocking as his behaviour, was that Christine was the least person whom you'd expect to be a victim of domestic abuse. "Yet it happened to me. It can happen to anyone."
Everyone can have an argument or disagreement with their partner, family members or others close to them, and while this is invariably upsetting, it happens. However, if an incident, or pattern of incidents, involves violence or bullying or threats and intimidation, or any of the other harmful behaviours highlighted later in the article, then it's domestic abuse. Crossing Point, based in Liverpool, "a Christian response to domestic abuse", was founded by the late Irene Taylor, a Christian nurse at one of the city's hospitals, who treated many victims of domestic violence and became concerned that the issue was far more widespread than she first thought - and that domestic abuse wasn't just confined to physical violence, as bad as that was.
These are concerns that nowadays, are certainly shared by increasing numbers of Baptists around the country. A look at the Baptists Together website shows that, among Safeguarding policies and resources, there are a number of documents and pages relating to domestic abuse. The Baptists Together Guide to Understanding Domestic Abuse states, "Churches have a unique opportunity to offer support to those affected by domestic abuse. It is not just the minister's role or for those in church leadership - it is the responsibility of the church community as a whole."
Historically, domestic abuse was rarely mentioned in churches of any denomination. It was even less-likely to be the subject for any teaching or guidance from the pulpit. As the Baptists Together guide expresses, "Sadly, churches have not always responded well to incidents of abuse when people found the courage to ask for help. This has been partly due to a lack of understanding about domestic abuse and its impact, and partly due to the misguided use of the Bible to justify and perpetuate abuse, particularly against women."
From experience, Crossing Point fears that many church leaders (of all denominations) are reluctant to acknowledge that the problem exists even in society, let alone in churches. It offers guidance and training to leaders to look at the issue afresh.
In normal circumstances, Crossing Point has previously been invited to Merseyside schools to give presentations in assemblies and lessons. The responses it observes from pupils suggest that, sadly, domestic abuse appears to be as prevalent as ever. A global pandemic and lockdowns have only exacerbated that which was already there. The old stereotype of a husband beating his wife is the tip of the iceberg. It can be woman-on-man; uncle-upon-niece. Domestic abuse is no respecter of persons. It is the "hidden secret", taken into church, or the workplace. We don't know what the person who lives opposite us is going through. If you're reading this and realising that this is your experience, remember: you are not alone.
Let's break the silence, abuse is not just physical violence or sexual abuse. Neglect is a very common form, usually when the victim is a child or a vulnerable adult. Financial abuse is theft by another name and a crime leaving the victim not only cheated out of money that was rightfully theirs, but often leaves them saddled with heavy debts that should be otherwise in the name of the abuser. Forced-marriage, incest and female genital mutilation are also forms of domestic abuse, often justified for religious or cultural reasons, against victims.
Perhaps an overlooked and invisible form is emotional and psychological abuse. The use of power and control, mind games and personal criticism, slowly erodes the confidence of the victim, therefore destroying their self-esteem and self-worth and creating a dependency upon the abuser for all areas of life. If we claim to believe in a just God, and follow the Jesus who claims to be the truth, as well as the way and the life, should we consequently take a stand against such crimes? The first step is to acknowledge that it can and does exist. Is it happening in your home? Within your wider family? At your church? Is it happening to you?
In the beginning, "God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So God created humankind in his image."
Note that God doesn't say that human beings should be allowed dominion over one another. The scripture doesn't say that any human nationality, skin-colour or sex has dominion over another. On the contrary, we are meant to live in harmony with one another, in the image of God in relationship within the Godhead. Anything less violates this sacred image, as well as violating human beings in his likeness and died for, by Jesus. Are we prepared to walk on by and allow it to continue? Break the silence: let's talk about this issue, at least.
If you are a victim, remember, you are not alone.
Before March 2020, on average two women each week were killed in a domestic context. Crossing Point provides a free, confidential service to victims, using independent domestic violence advisers, along with trained volunteers. They can be reached at thecrossingpoint.co.uk or tel: 07731 878076. All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence. If you are a victim, please do not leave these details lying around at home.
If you wish to know more about Baptist Union policy and resources, please visit the Safeguarding section of the Baptists Together website.
John Cheek is the minister of New Brighton Baptist Church. Originally from Southend-on-Sea, he also broadcasts regularly on Flame Christian and Community Radio in the north-west. For nearly four years he has produced and co-presented a regular series about domestic abuse called Walking On Eggshells.
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