This Friday, 10th December, is Human Rights Day. This is the day that marks the anniversary of the United Nations Assembly adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a bold attempt to step up to the seemingly impenetrable wall of human rights violation witnessed across the world.
We can sometimes slip into the attitude where the suppression of human rights is seen as something that happens elsewhere; that we need to leave our shores and help developing countries break the shackles of oppression, violence, poverty and abuse. Needless to say, these are experienced in our own nation, community, church. It is an uncomfortable truth to accept that even those within the Christian body in our country can cause awful suffering to those they love and spend time with; hope lies in the knowledge that with understanding and honesty, the church can be a powerful body to dress and mend such wounds.
Friday will mark 16 days of activism to end violence against women, with Restored, a global Christian alliance with a vision of transforming relationships and ending such violence, producing a draft church pack on domestic abuse to help equip churches in raising awareness and responding on the issue. The statistics, as ever, are stark and disturbing: In the UK, 167 women are raped every day. Women who are raped by a partner or former partner number two per week in the UK, three per day in the USA, and one per hour in Russia.
Clearly this is yet another issue whose effects are deep and widespread, and yet it is one where there is often a distinct lack of awareness in how to deal with it. Obviously the situations presented are very complex: knowing how to forgive but also when it is right to leave a relationship premised on abuse and manipulation; being able to present the appropriate support to both partners involved; having the wisdom to protect the immediate community without isolating the victim. As Mandy Marshall, Co-Director of Restored, says, ‘Violence against women is happening both within and outside of our churches. We know that the church can be a place of love and compassion, yet there is a need to be wise in the way we deal with relationships. This new resource aims to raise awareness of violence, equip churches to identify signs of abuse, abusive behaviour and signpost people to access the professional services available.’
In reacting to the complex relationships and emotions that are tangled up in situations of domestic violence, the church needs to show deep concern, commitment and care for those involved, towards both the women and the men. Creating an atmosphere of guilt will not cause the perpetrators to break their habits; indeed, guilt is already a powerful presence in many abusive circumstances. We know, in all this, that we can rely on God’s transforming power, that he has the power to change, the grace to forgive, and the love to renew the broken, the hurting, and the condemned. It is our call as a church to work together in making this a tangible reality: demonstrating that we are a community in which all fall short of the glory of God and yet all are loved equally and without measure. This is one of the greatest challenges for the church, but one that it must rise to, especially in the most complex of situations.