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Bishop Mark and Monica Short

As a young child I was an avid reader of newspaper comic strips. Along with Fred Bassett and the Wizard of Id one of my regulars was Andy Capp. Andy lived somewhere in the north of England and was never drawn without his cap pulled down over his eyes and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. His great ‘loves’ were beer, pigeons and going to the dogs. His wife Flo stood half a head taller than him and always carried a handbag.

Every couple of strips Andy and Flo’s marriage would descend into violence. Five decades later I can still remember the recurring panel – a cloud of chaos with fists, shoes and handbags emerging at crazy angles. That comic strip was giving me a script – men are irresponsible, women are over-bearing and domestic violence, while regrettable, is in some sense normal.

All of us will have received our own scripts that have shaped our approach to intimate relationships. Those scripts have been given to us from our family of origin, our culture and from our church experience. Some of those scripts will be healthy and helpful – scripts that speak of mutuality and respect and a concern for justice. Others will have been less so – scripts that re-inforce gender stereotypes and re-frame what should be unacceptable as being unexceptional.

The thoughts above were prompted by the release of research commissioned by the Anglican Church of Australia which found that Anglican church-goers experienced intimate partner violence at the same or greater rate as the general community. Specifically, 28 per cent of surveyed Anglican church-goers experienced some form of intimate partner violence in the past 12 months – noting that violence can take many forms from coercive control and psychological intimidation through to physical force.

How must we respond to this? Certainly we must ensure we are informed about the issues, that we listen to and support victims as well as holding perpetrators accountable. We also need to examine our scripts – the scripts we’ve heard, the scripts we’ve internalised, the scripts we’ve shared with others. Do they reflect the character and priorities of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve?

I and the rest of our Diocesan leadership are committed to reviewing the research, engaging with experts and survivors and seeing how together we can minister Christ’s love in this area. Already ordinands being formed at St Mark’s undertake training in recognising and responding to domestic violence and we are considering how to make such resources more available. I welcome your suggestions as to how we might move forward together to ensure our churches are safe for all.

Elsewhere in this edition you will read about an exciting initiative to give members of our Diocese access to a resource for strengthening healthy marriages (see page 6).

In Isaiah 42:1 it is said of the Lord’s Servant that he will bring forth justice to the nations. May our concern for justice in the nations and in our homes show that we belong to Jesus, our Servant-King.

If the contents of this article have raised concerns for you, you may wish to contact the Domestic Violence Line in New South Wales (ph 1800 656 463) or the Domestic Violence Crisis Service in the ACT (ph (02) 6280 0900). Both are 24-hour services.

by Bishop Mark Short

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