Since the late 1960s the whole church has been confronted by its misuse of power against women and children. Horrific stories of the abuse of children drawn to the attention of clergy who did not respond has been all too often common place. Former institutions established to care for those the community had cast aside were often cold places for children and young people. The institutional church has a history of misusing our power over vulnerable people.
The challenge for the contemporary church is to show that we understand this and have changed our ways. It is incumbent on each denomination to demonstrate that it has learnt about the misuse of power.
In my denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia, I have seen some changes over the last twenty years. The most dramatic improvement is a result of the introduction of consensus decision making. No longer do we use hold parliamentary style debates where issues are framed up by “those for” and “those against”. But we still have a way to go as I find that;
- we look up to the male pastors who are grand orators – those who preach, speak and expect to be listened too.
- George Caleb Bingham, “Stump Speaking, or, the County Canvass,” 1853-54
- men still tend to dominate in leadership settings and discussions both in number and voice.
- regardless of which meeting process you are use (formal or consensus) the attitude of the chair will shape the culture of the group for better or for worse.
- men sometimes operate out a sense of entitlement to leadership in a way that women much less often do.
- we are unlikely to hear the contribution of non dominant culture (the young (i.e. 8-16yo), elderly, disabled people, GLBTI people) – those we have damaged in the past.
- some male clergy when informed about domestic violence advice women to stay in violent relationships to honour the marriage vows.
I have heard it said by one of my male colleagues that ‘the equality thing is a thing of the past. And it is now time for us to grow up and move on’. But move on to what I wonder?
Faith in Action believes that ‘the equality thing’ isn’t just a fad. Rather it is based in our reconnecting with the biblical stories where Jesus respected and celebrated the role of women and children in the community.
Faith in Action offers the following contribution to the churches road to recovery for its misuse of power.
- Assets Based Community Development offers practical insights into how organisations, like the church, can use its power and influence in a way that creates safe communities for all.
- It does this by focussing on the process of bringing people together (hosting) to discern a call on a congregations time and resources, or to respond to a shared community concern.
- Our workshops explore a range of principles and tools for the hosting and discerning process.
- The discernment process includes working out what it takes to hear the voices of those who haven’t spoken, and hearing God’s voice amongst the wider community.
- The workshops methodologies work with children as well as adults. Often children are much more fun to be with!