… so you decide to clean the mirror.

I recently attended a day course to raise awareness about domestic abuse. This is something I knew existed but, like many people I suppose, I assumed that it was rare and did not affect anyone I knew. You see, domestic violence, which is one kind of abuse, does not broadcast itself on the estate where I live. It all happens in another part of town.

Well, I learnt that that is just not true. The statistics were frighteningly high and there are psychological abuse and financial abuse as well as the more-reported sexual and physical abuses. My fellow students and I did struggle with some definitions. We could see how some incidents in isolation, while still wrong, did not amount to a pattern of abuse. For example, a sarcastic remark, a put-down, a criticism of your partner’s appearance is something many of us have said or heard – and regret afterwards. And it would be easy to excuse someone’s poor behaviour with a dismissive “but we’ve all done that” or, worse, ” what goes on behind closed doors is none of our business”.

The fact is that criticism can be used to put someone in their place and keep them there. The jokes at their expense gradually undermine their self-confidence until there is little of none left. Gradually, you have them under your control.The abuse is verbal and not a single smack of the fist is needed.

Then there is money: who controls the purse strings? Now, we had some discussion about this because some of us recognise that in some marriages one person may be more competent/confident in managing the money. That is OK if you are in the habit in trying to explain what is going on from time to time, insist that both of you see the financial advisor and you do not have everything in your own name: there must be some discretion for each of you and a level of trust that does not have to account for every single penny. By contrast, we heard about one instance where one partner worked and earned more than the other. The man took both their wages and she had to ask for some of her own money back – which he resisted and resented. To help make the distinction one member of our family said that it was one thing to be in charge of the money and another to be in control. In other words, one of us might be responsible for the finances but not in a dictatorial sort of way.

There was a lot more in the course but I think one of the key lessons was to realise that abuse is the result of one partner/family member wanting complete control over the other. It was as if they saw themselves in the other person and did not like what they saw. So, instead of sorting themselves out they tried to sort the other one out: “When he sees his dirty face in the mirror, he cleans the mirror”.

The message for the church is two-fold. Firstly, if we want our churches to be safe places for people to come then we need to recognise that it is likely that there are some in our congregations who are abused or who are abusers: their public persona may be wonderful and they may even be in church leadership.

Secondly, abuse is not part of God’s plan. Abuse violates the marriage covenant: there are vows to love and to cherish and to honour; there are none which permit abuse, physical violence or otherwise. Jesus tells us to love one another (John chapter 15 verse 12) and if this is true of his disciples then it applies no less to families. “God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John chapter 4 verse 16, NRSV)

There are a number of places you can go if this affects you. I found this link to restoredrelationships.org worth a look. In this country there are now dedicated units in the police, the National Domestic Violence Helpline and Childline as well. For the churches there is also the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) with further advice and information.

Incidentally, we learnt that while most domestic abuse is perpetrated by men on women (for which there is most research, and hence the main focus of our course), there is also abuse women on men; by men on men and by women on women.

A prayer for the home

Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, you shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home. Reign in the home of your servants as Lord and King. Give them grace to minister to others as you have ministered to them. Grant that by deed and word they may be witnesses of your saving love to those among whom they live; for the sake of your holy name. Amen. (from Common Worship: Pastoral Services p 161)

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