Would you have considered that one third of your church family may be experiencing physical, psychological or sexual abuse? Is it possible that we as Christians have turned a blind eye to violence against women?
After a day at the Gweini conference ‘One in Three’ on 28 January, it would be hard to imagine anyone leaving without a new set of lenses. Of the 89 there present, some of us may have been aware of the World Health Organisation’s statistic: that one in three women worldwide are victims of some form of gender-based violence during their lifetime. But what some may have not considered is the reality of violence against women within the church, even amongst church leaders. Boldly and daringly, the conference shone a light into this dark and oft avoided corner through the expertise and experience of a number of speakers and some striking stories of survival from remarkable women. At the heart of the day was the urgent question: how can we as individuals, and as the Church, respond?
Throughout the conference the reality of violence against women within the church was gradually unpacked. We must first be aware that the church is not exempt, voiced Mandy Marshall from the organisation Restored. The church exists to be a safe place, where power is understood in the form of the power of love, rather than through control and manipulation. Strikingly, 40% of women feel manipulated by men in the church, she unveiled.
Following such unsettling news, Mark Lyndon-Jones from Christian Vision for Men upheld the belief that a real man is one who treats women well. As men we cannot, he asserted, stay in the box and remain blind to the sexualisation of our culture, feeding ourselves and children with harmful images and attitudes. Karin Cooke, founder of Porn Scars, took the lead in sharing the horrific prevalence and impacts of pornography amongst our children, relationships and marriages.
There was a strong conviction that, in response, a counter-culture of empowerment, truth and healthy relationships is essential. Helen Griffiths, a PhD student focusing on violence against women, introduced a highly impacting drama enacted by Going Public. ‘In Search of a Happy Ending’ challenges the societal attitude of sexual consent and offers young people the opportunity to discuss relationships, sex and abuse. Such a method of education and culture change was highly praised.
Teresa Madden, founder of Born to Fly, portrayed the unfortunate web of lies and abuse which many women become entangled in, whilst bystanders look on perhaps unaware, or baffled at why she cannot leave the relationship. What is often overlooked is the near inability for a woman to see beyond the cloud of lies and confusion, hence why awareness and support is absolutely vital. From her counselling experience, Linda Alexander made clear the seriousness of the situation at hand, and the highly important role we play as carriers of Jesus’ love and healing.
It was perhaps impossible to not be wounded by the stories laid out in the spotlight before us. But this is all too necessary for us to experience: it is an evil affecting the lives of those we love, binding both the abusers and victims. From this place of sorrow we can be empowered to march forwards as culture shifters and healers. This was wonderfully demonstrated to us through the victorious stories of two ladies, both who have overcome a history of abuse. Their stories of survival radiate the capacity for Jesus’ powerful love to bring hope and beauty out of terrible pain. With His Spirit as our guide we most definitely do not find ourselves amidst a losing battle. We must speak up, seek out practical ways of offering help, and pursue prevention of future abuse.
As a next step, we can continue to be informed through the many resources (offered through the featured organisations) available to us online, can influence the significant Ending Violence against Women and Domestic Abuse Bill which will be introduced by Welsh Government in June 2014, and can share these resources with our family, friends and churches. Gweini will be sharing follow-up information, ways to act and more through its mailing list. If you would like to be added to this, email Jim Stewart on email@example.com. May we each be fearless, little torch bearers into the situations around us.
In April this year Porn Scars will be hosting an event on Pornography, to take place in Cardiff. For more information contact: Karin.firstname.lastname@example.org