Historical abuse

This blog is the second in a three-part series about responding to revelations of abuse in the church. Please see the first post first. This is an invitation to move on from shock to a heartbroken, truth-filled and more useful response.

Another reason some of us aren’t shocked or surprised at every fresh revelation of abuse in the church, or supported by the church, or perpetrated by church leaders, is an awareness of the history of abuse and the church, in our families as well as in our institutions.

Both sides of my family are still church goers, and of course, once you go back a couple of generations, back to Christendom, almost all of our families were. And yet, my family, and my friends families, and many others, have stories like this in them:

– Oh yes, great-grandfather. He kept great-grandma pregnant for 20 years. She lost 12 babies. Grandma said it was because he hated her.

– He used to hit them, whenever he was angry. But no one thought anything of it then.

– She always used to lock her in a cupboard during the holidays because she was “such a bother”. She always looked forward to going back to school.

– Oh, everyone knew not to leave that Elder alone with the children, even though he’d always insist on taking them off for a ramble at church picnics. But he was still an Elder when my mum was a child, years later.

– The pastor knew he was beating them, so he used to preach extra sermons about submission. When she finally left, the church wouldn’t grant a divorce and she was shunned. Eventually she moved towns.

There are those of us who live right now in families where cycles of abuse go back through generations of church goers. In church communities where by commission or omission that abuse was encouraged, or abuse even perpetrated by church leaders.

And so, when a revelation comes that a minister has been abusive, or that a church has turned a blind eye to abuse in its midst, we are not surprised, because it is the story we already live.

We’re also not surprised because we know the history of the church outside our personal family stories. For example, even though many of us have listened to Christian leaders decrying feminism (for eg), most of us are glad that women now have the ability to own property, vote and have jobs, as all of these things make it more difficult for people to trap them in abusive relationships because they have no financial independence. This sadly still happens, but at least it’s been made more difficult than when women were property. There were Christians among the Suffragettes but many Christian leaders who at the time (as well as now) say that God objects to women voting, and also fought tooth and nail against divorce rights for women leaving abusive marriages as well. Christians have often stood against every step that has brought men and women toward equity and equality in our society. Why would we think that has changed?

Those of us who are unsurprised also know the history of the way the church has treated its followers as well. From the more recent revelations of Royal Commissions in Australia (you’ve seen the statistics right? Again, do you think this only happens in other people’s churches?!), to historical abuses like using the threat of hell to gain money for indulgences. Apparently a lot of you think the church has changed, or maybe that your church has, but do you honestly think you’re immune from these possibilities? I heard just recently of a (“good bible based”) church that encouraged its members to go into debt to support a new church building. Giving an implication that only the truly sincere will take this risk for Jesus? The church has burned witches, led inquisitions, acquired land by force, and benefitted from the worst parts of colonialism. And yet many of you seem to think that story miraculously stopped at some point, apparently quite recently?

The track record of the church on abuse is terrible. And combined with the realities mentioned in my first post, it leaves me surprised that anyone can honestly be surprised any more when yet another leader is rightly convicted of sexual abuse, or when I hear that another church has responded poorly to a spousal abuse, or that another has covered up the crimes of a leader and moved them on. History tells me this is expected.

And so does a lot of the theology I hear, but that’s for part three.

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When the silence is broken.

So here’s the thing. For every new revelation of abuse within the church, there are those of us who are not surprised. Saddened yes. Heartbroken even. But not in the least surprised.

Maybe it’s because we’re the real Calvinists, even though we’re usually the kind of people Neo-Calvinists think are off the straight and narrow. We’re the ones who believe in total depravity. Usually because we’ve experienced it. We’re the ones who’s lesson has been “it could be anyone”, and it’s a heavy burden.

But it means we’re not surprised.

And sometimes, your surprise hurts. It’s a reminder that no one has listened to us. It’s a reminder that our lives exist in a different universe to yours apparently.

So, in this three post series, I’m going to try to explain why we aren’t shocked. And ask some questions about how that might finally change.

The first post is about real church reviews. The second is about historical abuse. And the third one is more directly about theology, although of course, every part of this conversation touches on it.

So, first, the real church reviews.

I’m on several Facebook groups where people ask for church recommendations. Maybe their friends are moving to a new area, or they know someone who has become a Christian and want to know where they should go.

And because evangelical circles in Australia are small and ossified, I can almost predict which churches will be recommended. They’ll be recommended as “solid” or “bible based”. Sometimes as “welcoming” or “good for new Christians”.

But because evangelical circles are small, the weird among us usually know each other too. And the ex-vangelicals. And the victims.

So, often, this process of reading recommendations is painful for me. Because the head pastor of that “bible based” church told my friend to go back to her verbally, physically and emotionally abuse husband because “it’s what God commands”. Or because the head pastor of that church which is “good for new Christians” has chewed through so many assistant ministers that people will call people any person who they think might apply for a job with them to warn them. Or because that “great ministry” has employed someone who was moved on from their last ministry because of spiritual abuse and has tried to sue people who’ve made it publicly known. Or because that “great church” is full of people who’s response to another friends deep depression was as useful as Job’s friends, so that friend has given up church altogether now, with not even one follow up call from the church she was at for five years. But they teach the bible, goodness yes they do. Much better than that other terrible church down the road.

I’m not just talking about “my friend didn’t like that church because there were no people his own age”. I’m talking about “my friend told that pastor he was suicidal and the pastor told him to read Lamentations.” I’m talking about “that church has defined Christian maturity as attendance at their events and serving in a minimum of two specific tasks from a list and very clearly don’t see anything troubling about that.”

I’m talking about abuse from leaders (of other leaders or of church members). I’m talking about leaders who facilitate others in abuse. I’m talking about leaders who neglect the basic tenets of pastoral care, and I’m talking about leaders who’s fear-driven, Pharisaical theology burns up and spits out the little children.

And I get these reviews of your churches from the people who’ve left. The people you’ve stopped listening to. Many of them have even told you why they’re leaving and have had their problems minimised, criticised or ignored.

Have you asked them why they’ve left? Do you know them?

Or, more troublingly, why do *I* know about the reasons they’ve, but only because I *do* know the right people? Why don’t we talk about this? Why does it keep taking commissions and inquiries and investigations to unearth what some of us already know?

Do you know what your church’s real review is? How would someone in an abusive marriage rate your church? How would someone suffering under child abuse rate you? How would your ex- Assistant Minister rate you if his future jobs weren’t on the line? The answers to those questions are vital to the effectiveness of your church and its health in bearing witness to the suffering of Christ.

If your first response is “oh, we’d probably be fine! I’ve never heard of anything like that happening here” then think again. And if your first response is “well, we have some disgruntled ex-members, but they’re obviously wrong”, then you probably have even more reason to pause for thought.

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The Mundanity of Suicidality – or, why one RUOK day is never enough (even though I recognise the value of awareness raising and hope you all check out the resources available).

For those of us for whom depressive thought patterns started early on in life, it can be tricky to understand what’s normal for most people. Part of me figured that probably not everyone went through phases of suicidal thoughts (of varying degrees), but on the other hand, they’d been part of my life for so long, I figured they must be normal. Maybe everyone goes through phases like this but no one really talks about it. 

The older I got, the more I began to understand that it’s not a common thing for everyone, nor (of course) does it look the same for those of followed by this particular black dog. 

It’s still difficult to talk about though, because of course, it’s a fraught topic for many people. My family included. It was my cousin Marc’s birthday just the other day, and as his mum, my Aunt, reminded us on facebook, he made it to 27 before he ended his life. The various health struggles of people in my family make it easy for me to feel guilty at the thought of adding to the stress by talking about how I’m going. 

And it’s the same with friends too. Everyone has stuff going on, some related to this issue specifically, and I don’t want to add to their sadness and angst. So, another reason not to talk. 

But something else I’ve found I have in common with other people who can be troubled in this way is that it’s so bloody normal to us, it feels overly-dramatic to talk about it. We’ve experienced the worry people can respond with, and we don’t want to make that worse for them, and feel that if we mentioned just how often this can pop up, they’d freak out completely. For some people, intrusive thoughts of suicide area part of their every day. It’s bloody exhausting, but doesn’t claim the shock of the unusual. 

Or for some us, it’s not the frequency but the way it pops into our heads, so matter-of-fact. “You could go to dinner with your friends, or you could kill yourself” our minds say, and we worry that no one will quite understand what we mean when we say we have suicidal thoughts, that they’re just not always particularly dramatic. Not all of us are Javert standing on the bridge singing melodramatically about stars. For some of us, some of the time, it’s just much more mundane than that. 

For example, I’m at a bit of a cross-roads type moment in my life. I know from past experience that these scenarios are triggering for me in various ways, including an upswing in the number of times my brain suggests to me that maybe I should just kill myself. I might look around my apartment at all my junk and think about how to pack it all up, and my brain says, very matter-of-factly, “instead of the hassle of continuing this charade of an existence which brings yourself and others pleasure, why not pack all this shit up, give the useful bits to the people who’ll need them, take the cat to your friends place, pre-book the Salvos to come pick up the furniture no one will want and the rest of your shit, and then take a long walk into Blackwattle Bay without scuba gear”. 

You’ve got to admit, it wouldn’t leave many loose ends, material-wise anyway, and would probably be the tidiest my apartment has ever been. 

But this is the problem you see, this is reasonably normal to me, especially at times like this. I know all the arguments to have with myself about why not to do that, and if I have a big cry about how lonely, pointless and depressing I feel, that usually helps too and I can move on from it. Until the next time the thought comes unbidden to my head. 

But I know that for some people, some of my friends, my family, thoughts of suicide are so rare for them (or have never happened apparently!) that they’ll feel like this means action stations. But it honestly doesn’t. 

It means I’m more tired than usual (I’m constantly battling myself after all, so tasks take me longer, or I run out of energy for them altogether), more glum than usual (my brain keeps telling me all the reasons I have to view my existence as fruitless/useless/harmful/going to get worse), and will probably make more excuses than usual for not coming to occasions at which people will want to make small talk (because it’s not polite when someone says, “so how’re you, what’s going on?”to say, “I’m terrible, thanks, and you?”) but I’m not at point where I need to be watched or sedated. 

That’s why it can be hard to talk about. I don’t know what normal looks like for you, but I know what it looks like for me. Sometimes it looks like this, and to me, that’s pretty mundane, serious as the idea is. So I’m sorry if I’m not great at explaining that to you, sorry for all the loved ones who wish their depressed loved one would just talk about it. It’s hard. It’s hard to know how to, it’s hard to know when to (you try slipping it into your average conversation!) and mostly we don’t want to make you sad. A hug will help (for some, ask permission first, for some of us, physical touch without warning is invasive and stressful), a lot of things might help. But if it’s a regular part of someone’s day, one hug isn’t gonna make it go away, and we need you to be ready for that if you’re going to offer help at all. 

Dealing with this could get pretty mundane. 

If you too commonly experience intrusive thoughts of suicide, please consider talking to your GP and getting hooked up with a psychologist. The government will only help you pay for a tiny part of the help you’re going to need, but there are other resources for help available. And please also know that many many people throughout history have struggled with this, and have still given and received love. They’ve still written symphonies, theses, recipes and birthday cards, made great contributions to humanity whether seen or unseen, and have had the opportunity to learn about life in a way not everyone gets to. It’s not a fun ride, but it’s our ride, and we *can* cope with it. 

(Apparently the blog looks better with pictures and this is my favourite picture of mundanity that I’ve taken and therefore doesn’t break copyright.)

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How to deal with all the persecution. 

One of the super-fun things about being a Christian who’s not going to vote “no” in the Australia-wide postal plebiscite regarding same-sex marriage is being a pariah among other Christians. Apparently my political theology means I’m not a “bible believer” or am “weak” because I’m “keeping in step with the world and not the Lord”. 

I find it especially ironic because the main reason most people I know have used to argue for why I should vote “no” is because apparently our religious rights are at stake, which puts all Christians at risk of being regarded pariahs. As someone who’s experienced marginalisation and a taste of ‘persecution’ within Christianity, I’m familiar with our own abilities to disturb, disrupt and distress, and I know how painful it can be to experience. So I understand why people are scared. 

I understand why they’re worried about how they’re going to get and keep a job when everyone knows what they believe, because as a woman who believes it’s biblically acceptable for women to preach to mixed congregations, I’ve faced that difficulty myself already. 

I understand why they’re worried about whether or not family members will keep talking to and accepting them, because when you have family who react in an exclusionary rather than an inclusionary way, it’s a real risk. I’ve experienced that as a Christian from other Christians too. 

But you know who else has had thorough experience of persecution? The LGBTQI community. They’ve already experienced everything Christians are currently afraid of happening to them. 

When closeted, they’ve been in endless conversations where people have spoken of them and their community with ignorance, misunderstanding, mocking and hate. 

When ‘out’, they’ve been jailed, chemically castrated, murdered, isolated and mobbed. 

They’ve been wrongly accused of everything from paedophilia to being the reason for natural disasters. 

When they’ve struggled with sickness, they’ve been ignored and mocked, told they’re just receiving the natural consequences of their actions. 

Imagine that happening to you. 

To every Christian who’s afraid, to every Christian who sees a future where we’ll be meeting in graveyards again, back underground, walking the fine line between being our real selves and keeping our families safe, realise that this is what every LGBTQI person experiences and has experienced. They’ve been underground, on the sidelines, criminalised and devalued. They’ve been where you fear to be and where we’ve been before. Please understand that “both sides” of this debate actually want the same thing. Freedom, recognition, the right to be themselves. 

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What’s the time?

“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. 

Joanna Hayes

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Why is domestic violence under-reported in churches? For Rectors thinking about domestic violence (and others who want to eavesdrop)…

Having seen a report on the Sydney Anglican Diocese’ investigations into reporting of domestic violence to Rectors, I’ve been thinking about the problems that contribute to under-reporting and probably therefore under-dealing-with (so to speak) domestic violence, with helping the victims and the perpetrators. If we want to deal with the problem, we’ve got to find it, so the under-reporting is concerning. Obviously the reasons for under-reporting are complex, buuuuuut, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to blame Rectors. What can I say, I’m petty and you’re so handy to blame! For starters, you’re all men, which makes it impossible not to convey a boys club image*, let alone the hurdles there might be for victims abused by males in power to talk to a male in power. Also, a lot of you are highly educated, well-paid white people, who seem to have it all together, with your smiling families lined up next to the paddocks of endless Taragos at Evangelical gatherings. I could go on, BUT, a lot of you know that already, and I know enough of you (and of the hardships of ministry) to understand that actually mostly you care about people, and particularly, understand that being in parish means pastoral responsibility.  You want to be part of the solution, to a problem that may feel a little new to you, so, I’m going to share some thoughts about three of the other causes of under-reporting, and maybe they’ll provide some useful food for thought, for Rectors and others. 

1. A lot of victims of domestic violence love their abusers. For a child to betray their parent by saying “dad hits mum” or “mum screams at us all the time” takes not only immense courage, but a break with all the social conditioning they’ve received in their life so far. What is a family? It’s the group of people you’re born into, you share blood, they’re your whole world as a kid. And mum and dad? Well, they’re basically God. Everything you need comes from them, or is supposed to, and you learn even how to smile from their repeated smiling at you as a child. This often means, if a child has felt that enough is enough, they may want only to hint at the problem, so they don’t have to ‘dob’ their parent in, but that you might figure out what’s going on. In which case, you may think, “well yes, all mums shout from time to time!” Rather than understanding the child has totally underplayed the real situation. 

This can be the same for partners. They chose this person as a spouse after all, they love them. Telling someone else that their parner’s behaviou is no longer acceptable also feels like a costly betrayal. Maybe it will get better? Maybe they deserved the treatment they received? These and other lies will circle round and round, ad maybe they’re simply afraid people will think it was their choice that got them into this mess, so no one should have to help them out of it. And they fear the consequences for their loved one. I love him, life’s been rough for him, he’s really stressed at the moment, I don’t want this to ruin his life forever just because I tell someone or get the police involved. I love her, she just doesn’t understand the impact of her behaviour. I’ll try to protect the kids from it, but I don’t want to make it worse by telling someone. 

Both partners and children can feel like they and their abusers are in an unbreakable contract, that the situation must remain secret because the consequences are so distressing. Would you like to accuse you’re nearest and dearest of horrible acts to the spiritual leader of your faith community? 

2. The consequences are unpredictable. The worry of the unknown answer to “what would happen or change if I told someone” is a reasonable worry because we don’t know! Will children be removed from parents? Will someone provide housing for family members who need to leave? Will everyone end up knowing all about the situation? What’s actually going to change in the long run? 

People who are exposed to abuse for a long period of time, thus accumulating trauma, develop various coping mechanisms for dealing with the complexity of life-in-trauma. For some, this means strategising, planning, thinking through every possible outcome before choosing to act or speak. After all, they’ve been living in a volatile situation. Who knows what might happen? That uncertainty is terrifying. At least the abuse is predictable. 

Finally, 3. They just don’t know they’re being abused. For people who’ve had a history of abuse in their family, who, for example, were raised in an abusive environment as a child themselves, and have perhaps carried those patterns into adult life, now replaying their previous roles, this is all they’ve known. They might be used to emotional persecution, harsh words, raised hands, and think it’s normal. For them, it is normal. But it’s not ok. It might be that coming into Christian community leads to a slow awakening that maybe not everything in their family is ‘typical’, it might simply be that their Christian community who has witnessed the generational abuse either knowingly or unknowingly without doing anything about it, has started speaking about what sort of relationships parents and partners and children should have, and the picture they paint is quite different to what they’ve always experienced at home. But for many, especially in families and communities where all or certain aspects of domestic violence have been common, normal and unchallenged, they’re not going to report violent behaviour because they think no one expects or has the right to expect anything else. 

Who did you think about when I described that category? Possibly “members of our Indigenous communities” or “people in low socio-economic demographics”. Domestic violence, even multi-generational domestic violence, is as indiscriminate as depression. No matter what ethnic background, economic status, level of education, domestic violence could be part of a family’s story. Children are hit in wealthy homes and poor ones. Women of all backgrounds are sexually abused. Great-Grandad always beat the boys black and blue, so did Grandpa and now so does Bill. It’s the discipline he was taught. It’s normal. 

It’s always hard in a short space not to seem glib… I mostly hope that from these few thoughts people understand that it’s really hard to say “my husband is violent with me” or, “my mum is verbally abusive” so when we talk about how to get noticing the problem more so we can get helping, that there’s difficulties inherent to the problem of domestic violence itself that makes it hard to report on. 

Perhaps things that make our response more predictable may help. I know of one church whose leaders have been known to tackle the problem in the past, help find housing for those who needed it, counsel for both victims and abuser, support throughout the process of recovery. I think if I was at that church, I’d feel reasonably confident I could be a bit more secure in predicting the response. 

Perhaps talking more about what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable will help people know that their normal isn’t necessarily right. Even just an encouragement from the pulpit during a sermon on the qualifications for Elders that gentleness and kindness are important, especially when our children are driving us up the wall. That we all struggle to keep our cool sometimes, but that if it’s a problem a lot of the time, that’s ok, better to seek help for it now than to fly off the handle and do or say something you’ll regret. Remind everyone that Christians aren’t perfect and don’t claim to be, so it’s no shame to ask for help to learn a more godly way of behaving. Then recommend a good, local anger management course. Couldn’t hurt, could it? 

The first one however, in my mind and experience is even harder. The conspiracy of silence. Often, it’s even just an attempt to show grace to someone who has wronged you. Which is a good and godly impulse isn’t it. But doesn’t bring about justice. 

When it comes to reporting of domestic violence, we have to remember that victims are vulnerable for any number of reasons, and that this is going to be a long haul problem. We need to know how to respond well as well as how to identify the problems. I look forward to further recommendations from the taskforce in the Sydney Diocese, and I pray for all those trying to tackle these issues. And I think of a friend who doesn’t talk to her parents any more, for many excellent reasons, including the probability of further abuse, and of the many people who’ve tried to counsel her over the years to ‘mend things’ because ‘that’s what Jesus would do’. It certainly makes me feel reluctant to go what she goes through. 
Joanna Hayes

*which is naturally obnoxious to a person like me, ie, a woman. Please tell me you’ve thought about that! Even when you’re down with male headship, it can be really annoying to feel like a secret cabal is running your entire spiritual life… 

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What happens when you don’t let women preach. 

I’ve been pondering for a while how best to address my “allies” on the topic of women preaching, when the issue is inevitably personal, for me at least! And can therefore be ‘sensitive’. 

By “allies” I mean those other Evangelicals who believe that the male leadership of a church can sanction a woman to preach to a mixed congregation under their authority. I name this group in particular because I too am in Evangelical circles who believe in male leadership of the local church, and many of those in our circles view the public ministry of women as a threat to that authority. I don’t, but this isn’t actually the topic of this post (and if it’s not the position you hold, that’s fine, but I’m not going to discuss that here, and maybe this whole post will therefore either be irrevlant or annoying to you, so, feel free to stop reading now).

What I want to do is talk to those men in power who believe this also (that it’s ok for women to preach to mixed congregations under the authority of the local male leadership), but are doing very little about it. I want to raise my specific concerns about this inactivity, of course with the hope that some will change their actions, but frankly not with much optimism about that. 

In order to do this, and to “de-personalise” the conversation as much as possible, I’m going to talk about a meeting I was in almost 10 years ago, where my concerns and objections were on the public record (so to speak) and therefore have not been a matter of discord in a current personal relationship for some time (I think I’m still friends with the former Rector of Barneys, and I’m pretty sure that after this I still will be!). 

St Barnabas’ Anglican Church, Broadway, had  sanctioned the preaching of women to mixed congregations, but on the particular occasion I’m recalling, there was a congregational meeting of the evening service held because some concerns were raised on the topic. For you see, even though as a church we “endorsed” women preaching, it happened so infrequently that at a church with a high turnover at least in its student population, people could be a ‘member’ of Barneys for some time before such an atrocity took place in the pulpit, thus leading, almost every time, to people walking out during the sermon, or at least some concern afterwards and intense conversations with staff. I was sick of this response, and so attended the meeting to hear what the staff had to say and to speak to the issue. 

Barneys had several habits at that time, which I think created some really negative impressions in a place that was supposed to support women preaching. Barneys was by no means alone in these habits among those who think it’s ok for women to preach, I’ve seen them over and over again. Each of these habits were raised and discussed, little resolution or change was found however. The story is different at Barneys now, and I’d love the same elsewhere. 

Habit 1 – infrequency. As I’ve said, women took the pulpit so infrequently, it raised controversy every time. Most men in ministry I’ve spoken to who think it’s ok for women to preach to mixed congregations say they don’t push it cos they don’t want to cause controversy. Well, more on that in a moment, but, certainly, infrequency doesn’t help with this problem. It just makes it a constant controversy every time. 

Habit 2 – “avoiding” controversy. “Our focus is the gospel!” We say, “this is a secondary issue! And I don’t want to cause unnecessary controversy and distract from the gospel.” I broadly agree with this, which is why I remain in fellowship with those who baptise children for example, despite my having strong theological objections to it, but it doesn’t mean I never discuss the issue altogether. More important though, this habit makes me think, “what other topics are you avoiding? Do you not want to talk about money or sexuality because they’re controversial? Hmmm, nope, most of you seem quite happy to address those topics. Liturgy, baptism, politics, all these and more make it habitually into the actions and topics addressed at church. All are controversial. Are you so worried about the discomfort of some that you’re happy to lay aside a entire sphere of women’s ministry?” Furthermore, I often see this habit resting entirely on assumption rather than discussion, an assumption that those who would be disgruntled are a) a significant proportion and b) would leave because of it. Rarely though, in my experience, has anyone actually spoken to these supposed injured parties. At Barneys, these injured parties often made themselves identifiable, so, it was raised, what should our leaderships response to their distress be? What would our response be if they were offended by the style of music, content of prayers, type of preaching? “Simply” avoiding controversy isn’t a good reason to me to avoid acting on principle. 

Habit 3 – only preaching to the “special” congregations. You don’t want women in your main pulpit (cos you mostly want it?) but you think it’s ok for woman to preach, so they can! To the international student congregation, or the young adult group, or the “special friends” congregation. This is so problematic to me. What are you saying, “so long as they’re not white people, or are disabled, it’s fine”?! I’m glad that such congregations often get a greater variety and richness in their preaching program, but it does stick in my gullet a bit. Doesn’t it in yours?

Habit 4 – they have to be excellent, over qualified and perfect every time. You’ve let student ministers take the main pulpit, and deliver sermons of questionable quality and orthodoxy, but it’s ok, cos they’re learning. I agree! But why let them take the pulpit, but not a trained, qualified female? Furthermore, why hold her to a higher standard? Every time I preach as a woman, I feel like my entire sex and our future qualification to preach is on trial. No pressure anyone!

Habit 5 – if he’s a guy, he can preach. You’re in a congregation of people who you think will only allow men to preach to them because the local authority of the church should be men, and therefore they should exercise that authority by being the ones in the pulpit. So, why do you have male guest speakers? Doesn’t this reinforce the idea that it’s maleness rather than local authority that divinely sanctions a man to preach? We had more male guest speakers in our pulpit than our own female staff. What’s their qualification? Their gender? Or that they’re sanctioned by the leadership? And if they’re sanctioned by the leadership, why is it not ok to sanction the women? Your congreagation will happily sit under the teaching of a male who’s a stranger to them because you’ve said it’s ok, would it not be a double standard if you said, “I’ve given this woman permission to preach today”, whether a guest or congregant, and the same people objected? 

These habits altogether, and our avoidance of putting our principles into practise are what keep reinforcing the idea that all true Evangelicals think women should NEVER preach to mixed congregation, a perception held by thousands, unaware that there is reasonable Biblical and theological justification for allowing women to do so. And they rarely see it happen, so why should they ever question that belief? 

I’m a woman. I can preach (ability, and I think also gift), I believe I can preach to mixed congregations (and lots of you do to), and yet I find myself very very rarely preaching, even to single sex congregations. Even a lot of the preaching done at youth specific camps is done by men, when supposedly almost all Evangelicals believe it’s ok for women to teach children! 
What I’d love is to see men in power who also think it’s ok for women to preach to actually make it happen! 

Otherwise, because of the terrible impressions given by the above habits, I’d be happier to not be allowed to at all. To be forced to neglect the gift I’ve been given, than to continue to give the impression that it’s something so borderline wrong it should only be done rarely, behind closed doors, or to “special” groups of people. 

To use a somewhat crude but typically Australian expression, I’d prefer for you either to poo or to get off the pot. 

These concerns and more were raised at that Barneys meeting. The conversation remained civil, and Barneys continued to be a place which supported women preaching (though infrequent at that time). Nowadays at Barneys, when they advertise for female staff, they have to be able to preach, and share the pulpit as frequently as the other assistant ministers. Some people might not come to Barneys because of it, but at least we don’t give the impression we think it’s dirty. Furthermore, I think it aids us in spreading the gospel in a culture which has perhaps recognised God’s perception of the equality of men and women more than His church has. 

You will of course all do what you think is right. And because I share the desire to build up the kingdom, I’m happy to sit under leaders who think it’s not ok for me to preach and will never invite me to. I can’t help however my frustration with those who think it’s ok but never make it happen. I’ll happily sit under your leadership too, I do. But I’m the one who bears the personal brunt of your actions. I’m the one they’re talking about when they say “some selfish women want the authority for themselves” and compare women preaching to gay marriage as “things that are totally wrong”. I’m the one who has to comfort myself with the knowledge that other people do agree with me, they just don’t want anyone else to know that. I’m the one who has to watch student ministers, guest preachers, laymen and everyone but a woman like me take the pulpit. I’m the one, who, when I’m finally asked, finds myself preaching to the  “other” congregation, plugging a desperate hole, or preaching to the holiday congregation of four people and one baby. That’s why it’s hard for me to cope with these habits among my “allies” and why I therefore continue to make myself odious to many by mentioning the subject at all. 
Joanna Hayes

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So let’s talk about the motherhood thing… 

My Facebook friends saw me having a bit of a rant about motherhood this week because of some remarks made by a Christian sister on a television show. Her remark was along the lines of “being a mother is the Biblical vision for women” and I wanted to call that out as an erroneous and yet widely held belief. 

Not that being a mother is a bad thing, children are a wonderful blessing, I am one, that’s how I know. But is giving birth and being a mother God’s purpose for my life? 

No one has time for me to give a history of God’s peoples varying stances on the nature and purpose of women over time, but that’s ok, cos this isn’t just a historical issue, it’s an exegetical and theological one. What does the Bible say about the nature and purpose of women? Well it’s actually a pretty quick summary and I hope will demonstrate that the Biblical vision of womanhood is not restricted to motherhood. 

In the beginning… What do we learn from Genesis about the feminine?

1. Equal in status to men as image bearers of God (Gen 1:27). 

2. Women are jointly given with men the mandate to “multiply” (yes, that’s right, God knows how babies are made!), fill the earth and rule over it (Gen 1:28). So, parenthood is given as a joint responsibility. Also, for how long and for what purpose? Well, it’s easy to argue that as the command is “to fill the earth and subdue it” this mandate finishes when we’ve filled the earth, right? And population/environmental/resource scientists of many kinds say we’ve kicked that goal. So, are we done with that one now? Certainly something to ponder…! 

3. Because of the Fall, motherhood is gonna be painful. Now, of course, that provides temptation to avoid it, doesn’t it, cos we don’t really like to be in pain. But at this point, it’s just information about what motherhood involves. Pain. And yet also, salvation. Not for the specific mother herself (thank God! I’ve been saved from childlessness), but for humanity itself, when the offspring of a woman crushes the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). So that’s good news, motherhood will eventually save humanity! Yay! But does that make it the entirety of the Biblical vision of womanhood? 

Well, here’s where we move on from Genesis to see women as nation leader/prophetess (Exodus 15), spy assistants (Joshua 2), nationleader/prophetess (Judges 4), saviour of Israel (Judges 4), model of righteousness (Ruth), queen (Esther) etc etc etc. Yes, many many women basically get the role of “mother of blah blah” but they’re still involved in multiples ways in the carrying out of God’s plans, particularly to save and preserve Israel. The roles of woman are diverse. God uses them for more than giving birth. 

Furthermore, I think it’s important to note though that some of the famous mothers, those whose main role was motherhood, Ruth, Elizabeth and Mary for eg, are noted as much for their character and faithfulness as much as, “and they also gave birth”. And this is noted for the women who basically get any other lines than “mother of”. As ever, God’s plan for His people is their faithfulness and holiness, not the size of their family (Psalm 51, Isaiah 57, Micah 6:8). 

So we can see from the Old Testament that the scope of women’s roles in salvation is more than just giving birth, and that God’s purpose for both men and women, for His people, is their holiness and righteousness. 

What does the New Testament have to contribute to the issue? Well, one of the significant things is that God’s people are given a new mandate, by our King, Jesus. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20). 

Granted, one way of making disciples is baby-making them. But I think it’s quite reasonable to see that the instruction involves a little more than that! If you’re church growth/kingdom growth strategy is simply “having lots of babies”, you’re not actually following through with the whole deal. For eg, you’re leaving out the “all nations” bit. 

And again, the New Testament continues the Old Testament theme of God’s purpose for His people to be holy and righteous, over and above anything else. Even Jesus sumamrises the Old Testament law as “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). 

So what’s God’s purpose for women? To be part of His salvation plan for the whole universe and to bring honour and glory to Jesus as their King. 

What is the nature of women? Leaders, wives, mothers, manageresses (see Proverbs 31, that woman is busy! Running her household and other businesses (sorry to super conservative Evangelicals who don’t believe women should balance the chequebooks in the family, it’s practically a Biblical command), as wide in scope as that of men. 

The Bible doesn’t open and finish with “women should give birth, that’s what they’re here for”, and our idolatry of motherhood is incorrect and therefore evil. A woman is not ripping God off if she fails to give birth. She’s not disappointing or frustrating His purpose for her life. She’s not cursed. 

You probably know some childless women. Some who are child-free. You may be one yourself, married to one, related to one, dating one. What does God primarily have to say about their situation? The same thing He has to say to any person, no matter their marital, economic or social circumstances, “what I mean brothers and sisters is that the time is short. From now on, those who have wives should live as though they do not; those who mourn as if they did not; those who are happy as if they were not; those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of this world as if not engrossed in them. For the world in its present form is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Having children is not the sole purpose of human life; male or female, so don’t make your decisions based on the idea that it is. Your purpose is to build up the kingdom of God, in numbers and strength, and we have a lot of freedom in how we go about that. 

Get that in our heads, understand that that is our first priority, and we’ll understand that the primary purpose and call of women is not to be baby factories. “Seek His kingdom and these things will be given to you as well”. It’s surprising how many blog posts I have to end with that quote (Luke 12:31).  
Joanna Hayes

And look, here’s me with a child as proof that I don’t hate them! (Slightly old photo though, but both the child and I are still alive and have had more, undocumented snuggles, since this incident.


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Internet Dating: my opinion from so three years ago. 

This was originally published as a piece for Eternity Newspaper. 

‘Fat Boy’, 24, was the last in a long line of totally unsuitable matches sent to me because of our “deep compatibility”. In answer to the form question, “I typically spend my leisure time [fill in the blank]”, Fat Boy said, “I love to have sex! I am freaky a lot and i am VERY romantic. I also like trying out new positions too … I love music and money. I’m even thinking about making my own clothing line. I’m very stylish and love a girl who looks good 24/7.”

The problem is glaringly obvious: he didn’t make the ‘i’ a capital letter, and his punctuation is all over the place.

But seriously, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to figure out if this profile was a joke, experiment or honest portrayal of a Christian guy. But it’s profiles like this that reveal the truth: online dating isn’t all about beautiful people in soft focus planning their wedding. Just like dating IRL (in real life), it can be brutal.

The problem is that you sign on with wide-eyed hope. Sure, you’ve not had much success IRL before—those three guys you had a crush on in your early 20s are all married with kids now, and the pool is getting smaller and smaller—but this is the internet! There are boundless possibilities of matches from all over the world! Surely there’ll be someone out there for you. And maybe it’ll be a little easier because you’ll be matched with people who suit ‘the real you’. That ‘you’ all those guys in your life have obviously not been seeing up till now. Cos y’know, if they had seen the real you, they would have fallen adoringly at your feet. This is your chance: millions of members. Rack ‘em up, let’s get going.

But then the matches arrive. There’s the alarmingly large proportion of men who want to live and die for the glory of the US of A (and want you to as well). It seems that apparently every guy in the world likes to keep fit and typically spends their leisure time playing Frisbee. Everyone is most passionate about Jesus, which is great right, until it becomes such a pat answer you want to stab your own eyes out. Are you passionate about anything else? Suddenly the guy that announces his light-saber skills becomes fascinating because at least it sounds like he has a personality! And hey, he’s willing to teach his future spouse nunchuck skills—sign me up!

But most depressing of all is that actually, online dating can simply massage discontent into bitterness. That world of possible matches starts turning into a longer and longer list of people who don’t want a relationship with you. Boy is that great for the self-esteem! I find it hard enough to remember that I’m valuable in God’s eyes without the ever more consistent reminder that in the world’s eyes, I’m a risible failure because nobody loves me.

Even worse, in the sheer inanity and superficiality of it all, it’s horribly easy to become more and more judgemental. Deleting him: he mentioned weight-lifting. Deleting him: he said he doesn’t read. Deleting him: he CANNOT spell. Deleting, deleting, deleting. It doesn’t matter what criteria you’re sifting and evaluating by, the smorgasbord system makes it so easy to make a more and more specific and yet impossible list that ceases to reflect the godly desires you started out with (that he loves Jesus and honours him as Lord), and becomes about marginal partialities you wouldn’t notice immediately in person.

No wonder discontent can grow and grow. Your search becomes more and more about finding someone who fulfils your desires and preferences instead of someone you can serve, encourage, exhort and minister to. And it can become a bigger and bigger part of your life, eating up precious time with daily emails, profile checking, photo uploading and wondering and wondering instead of rejoicing in the people God has already put in your life and in the many blessings you have in Christ.

I know people have varied experiences of online dating (and dating in general). My Bible study leader’s brother is about to marry the second girl he was matched with—hooray! And it’s not as though devoting time to finding a marriage partner is sinful.

But for me, for the second time I’m deleting my account and stepping away from the whole palaver. I want to focus single-mindedly on God, knowing that he will provide all I need.

Returning to a cliché of my teenage years, it’s probably a good idea to ask, WWJD—what would Jesus do? If Jesus could date online and sort out his whole 33 and living with his mother problem, would he do it? I think his clearest answer is in Matthew 6:33:

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Joanna Hayes

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In praise of wardens.

We all have them in our church, different denominations call them different things, wardens, deacons, whatever, they’re the people who help balance the books, manage the material resources of the conregation, and generally help the entire community by getting organised behind the scenes so we don’t have to. 

And in my denomination, the Anglican Church, we get together once a year for our Vestry Meeting/AGM and interrogate them. Hopefully thank them too. 

Because that’s what I love about my church wardens. They shoulder a huge responsibility in caring for the budget and buildings, they have endless meetings, heaps of banking and admin to do, basically all the life admin stuff I hate, and they do it voluntarily so that we can all get on with all the other service we have to do. They make their decisions openly, we can talk to them about what’s going on, they’re happy to be questioned, but they do so much that goes unnoticed and unthanked. These people are champions! No wonder one of the first ones ever was stoned to death!

Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was one of the seven deacons appointed to sort out the issue of feeding the widows of the church. Classic admin job. He happened to perform a few miracles on the side, and made the longest speech in the book of Acts, in the Sanhedrin court, which is no surprise really because the qualification for his job was being known to be full of the spirit and wisdom. He could explain and defend his faith, as well as organise a fair system for distribution of resources. 

Stephen is the gold star standard for wardens because he was faithful to Jesus and to His word, as well as executing his duties in organising the meal roster. His character and faith shaped his service, he wasn’t just useful at admin. 

I’m so thankful to God that my church wardens are like that as well. I don’t want them to be martyred, they make so many sacrifices already to serve our church and therefore our community in this way! But I’m thankful that not only are they great at their voluntary roles, but they’re people of great character and faith as well. 

I really want to make sure I thank them more and pray for them more often. I’d encourage you to do the same. 

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