Thursday 10 December 2015 is Human Rights Day. This day marks the anniversary of the United Nations Assembly adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a bold attempt to tackle the enormous problem of human rights violation that we see across the world.
As a British person, I can sometimes slip into viewing the suppression of human rights as something that happens elsewhere. It can feel as if we need to leave our own shores and help lower-income countries break the shackles of oppression, violence, poverty and abuse. Needless to say, these things are happening in my own nation, community and church.
The statistics are stark and disturbing. In England and Wales, approximately 85,000 women are raped on average every year. According to a 2013 report, around 90 per cent of those who are raped know the perpetrator before the offence (Ministry of Justice, 2013).
Clearly the effects of this issue are deep and widespread – yet there is often a distinct lack of awareness of how to deal with it.
It is an uncomfortable truth that even those within the Christian community in my country can cause awful suffering to those they love. Hope lies in the knowledge that, with understanding and honesty, the church can be a powerful body for dressing and mending such wounds.
Human Rights Day falls on the final day of the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign. Restored, a global Christian alliance with a vision of transforming relationships and ending violence against women, has produced a church pack on domestic abuse. This pack will equip churches to raise awareness of violence, identify signs of abuse and signpost people to the professional services available.
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.’
Obviously, the situations presented are very complex. How do we balance the ability to forgive with the knowledge of when it is right to leave an abusive and manipulative relationship? How can we provide appropriate support to both of the partners involved? How do we find the wisdom to protect the immediate community without isolating the victim?
In reacting to the complex relationships and emotions involved in situations of domestic violence, the church needs to show deep concern, commitment and care for those involved – both women and 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 situations.
In all this, we know that we can rely on God’s transforming power. He has the power to change, the grace to forgive, and the love to renew the broken, the hurting and the condemned.
We are called as a church to work together in making this a tangible reality. We must demonstrate 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.
By Jo Dew-Jones
This post first appeared as a guest post on David Westlake’s blog in 2010 and has been updated with current dates and statistics. You can read more about the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence on the Restored website.