We spoke to more than 250 counselors, church workers, psychologists, clergy members, theologians, social workers, sociologists and survivors. We discovered aspects of the culture that allow abuse to occur and continue: the teaching of male “headship” and the domination of women, a dearth of female leadership, the church’s emphasis on forgiveness, stigma surrounding divorce, the lack of understanding of domestic abuse, and a covering-up of women’s experiences.
We found that many local pastors did not believe women who came forward with stories of abuse. Church leaders often told women to submit to their husbands, to endure and stay.
We cited Steven Tracy, a professor of theology and ethics at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona, who wrote in 2007: “It is widely accepted by abuse experts (and validated by numerous studies) that one-fourth to one-third of North American women will be assaulted by an intimate partner in their life time and that evangelical men who sporadically attend church are more likely than men of any other religious group (and more likely than secular men) to assault their wives.”
Since our reports were published, some Australian churches have taken action, including apologies to victims from the Australian Anglican (Episcopalian), the Sydney Anglican Diocese and the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania. Some individual leaders have vowed to listen to women. But the work is slow.
The church took decades to reckon with the sexual abuse of its children. Now, surely it is time to reckon with the abuse of women.