“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, a
time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NIV
Posting about singleness is always interesting. If I’m having a moment of sadness about it, people always want to tell me the good things about singleness that I’ve just “forgotten”. If I’m happy about it, they want to remind me that it’s tough for some people, so I shouldn’t “forget” that either. Sometimes, if I’m having a tough time, they tell me that marriage can be hard too, so I should be happy. Maybe if I was married and posted about it being hard, some people would say, “well my marriage is good, so yours can be too, perk up.”
It’s infuriating actually, not just interesting. Instead of just listening to what I’m saying, in that moment, it’s dismissed, devalued or undermined by those responses. Sometimes I’m happy about being single, sometimes I’m sad, both are true. Whether from a desire to see me happy, or from a defensive discomfort, other people trying to move me on is frustrating and painful. And it’s not very wise.
One of the big messages of Ecclesiastes is that the wise person responds well to what time it is. If it’s time to mourn, you mourn, if it’s time to sow, you sow. Like the other Wisdom literature, Ecclesiastes embraces the rhythmic, cyclical, dependent aspects of human existence and encourages the wise person to do likewise. Like the old chorus says, “I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I’ll laugh with you…”
Now imagine I’m one of the many Australian victims of Domestic and Family Violence who’ve had contact with the church, either in a minimal way or as a frequent, embedded member. Imagine I cope with the impact of DFV in my life every day, the expensive therapy bills, the ongoing physical impact, the difficulty trusting people, perhaps the inability to keep a stable job, or just being one of those weird people who don’t have Christmas with my family?
Then imagine there’s been a report, by one of our best news agencies, that indicates that the church hasn’t always been great at helping DFV survivors. Which doesn’t surprise the victims, and doesn’t really surprise the general public because not only have there been years worth of investigations into how churches have covered up the horrific crime of child sexual abuse, but unless the general public has it’s head in the sand, it’s undeniable that our whole society has a problem with DFV. Even our garbage trucks have advertising campaigns on them about it. It’s a problem. So it’s a problem in the church too. And some people exploit some Bible verses to justify it. Big surprise.
And I feel it, I’m part of it. I’ve been abused and the church, a big part of my life, has done nothing about it. Maybe continues to do nothing about it.
How do you think I feel about people attacking the journalism and saying the issues are overblown? How do you think I feel about people saying “it’s not all bad news! We do good things too!” I probably feel like a single person saying their finding it tough at the moment and being told to perk up. Except a lot worse. The insult of dismissal is added to the injury of silence, inaction, and sometimes, perpetuation of abuse.
Maybe the critiques have some truth to them. Some people have objected to the use of American research – considering the fact that half the point of the investigation was that we don’t have enough stats and research about this in Australia seems to me to make a nonsense of this objection. But maybe that’s an issue worth debating. And maybe Christians are singled out in a particular way (which considering that Jesus said that’s exactly what would happen, why be surprised or outraged at that?), and maybe there are lots of good stories that should also be told.
But what time is it?
Did someone mention sackcloth and ashes? Well, I wish they did… Some people have been abused, and then ignored. Some people have been abused and then helped. Do we actually think one cancels out the other? Well, I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t.
This is a time to mourn. A time to weep with those weeping. A time to apologise and repent. And a time to let the survivors tell us what’s needed, not to tell them.
If I was thinking about coming forward about my domestic issues (great, the onus is on me to come forward instead of expecting pro0active intervention (it’s one, I know that’s so far off it’s practically a pipe dream)), what can I now expect will happen?
“We don’t condone it. But there’s not really as much of a problem as people say and there’s this one person I know of where things went quite well.”
Can’t you just hear me? Listen? For a moment? In this moment? This is a time to mourn, isn’t it?
Am I saying we should never defend ourselves? No. There’s a time for that. I just don’t think it’s now.
But what about the urgency of the news cycle? The bad impression!
Is that the real priority at the moment? Or is this moment about saying, “I’m sorry.” Is this moment about saying, “what have we done?” Or, probably more relevant at the moment, “what have we not done?” As Julia Baird herself has said, no theologian is ever going to say the Bible condones DFV, and we’ve said that. We’ve done that. But we still have a problem. So maybe there are things we’re not doing?
I’ve tried over the last week to be empathetic to my brothers and sisters who are feeling like this is an ABC-axe-grinding moment, or some other kind of attack. But it’s hard to keep holding my tongue. The issues are so much bigger and so much more important to me than one journalist or one news article. I don’t actually give a toss about that at all.
I want the many people who are hurting to hear that we’re sorry. I want the many people who are hurting to see their leaders talking about that on Facebook and on their blogs, not rushing to critique the report first, or saying “there’s also good news” first. The first response should be to mourn. And that involves more than just saying, “mm, that’s sad, and we don’t condone that.” Maybe we could hold a service of repentance and contrition? At a cathedral say? At least a moment of acknowledgement? Allow survivors to speak?
Ultimately I want to see change. I want survivors listened to, systems improved, relationships improved. I want this to turn into a good news story, not because we critique what’s written til it’s changed, but because all there is to write is that our churches are leading the way in positive institutional responses to DFV.