Listen: Journalist Julia Baird in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty
When the ABC first published a report on domestic violence and the Christian church, it came under heavy criticism with some commentators accusing the organisation of bias, and attacking Christians.
The reaction both surprised and disappointed the lead author of the investigative report, Julia Baird. She has been encouraged however by more recent responses, both official and at the grass roots.
Dr Baird has told Open House that responses to the article Submit to your husbands: Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God, were two-fold.
“We were flooded with stories of women who had gone through it and were glad that we were raising it,” she said.
“I was disappointed when it got caught up in something that seemed like a culture war, that it was misunderstood as being an attack on Christianity.
“If you read our pieces you will see that the people we were quoting were Christians who were calling on the church to reform, who were asking them to hear and to better protect the most vulnerable in their midst,” Dr Baird said.
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However initial criticism of the report has given way to a much more considered response, with many churches acknowledging shortcomings in the church’s understanding or and response to domestic violence.
Among the substantive responses the Anglican Synod of Australia, at its triennial meeting held in September 2017, issued a heartfelt formal apology to the victims of domestic violence.
In his opening Synod address, Anglican Primate of Australia, Melbourne Archbishop Phlip Freier, said the church apologised “for the shameful way we actively worked against and discouraged those who came to us and reported abuse.
The Synod’s statement said “We grieve with victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and pray for their healing and recovery.
“We give thanks for those women and men, clergy and lay people, who have faithfully supported, cared for and protected such victims in our churches and communities.
“However, we also confess with deep shame that domestic abuse has occurred among those who attend our churches, and even among some in leadership,” the apology said.
The Synod has voted to conduct research into family violence inside the church.
In addition to her role as a broadcaster and host of ABC’s the Drum, Julia Baird is a practising Christian with a passion for social justice.
She told Open House the apology was important recognition of “the voices of so many women who have asked to be heard, who have asked for the church to better understand their plight”.
Julia Baird also told Open House of other grassroots responses that will, she hopes, represent real change in the way churches deal with domestic violence in the future.