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Listen…Believe…Care…Protect

"Those who are abused need people to advocate for them when they do not feel strong enough to do this for themselves".

Listen…Believe…Care…Protect

Karen Holford.

From 4-6 May, more than 160 people from 27 countries gathered together online to learn how to listen, to believe, to care and to protect the children and adults who have experienced domestic abuse.

The 'End it Now' conference was hosted by the Swedish Union of Churches Conference. The purpose of this conference was to raise the awareness of church leaders and pastors to the extent of domestic abuse in Adventist homes and local communities, to discover how to respond to those who are being abused and learn how to lower the incidence of abuse in our churches.

The conference opened on Tuesday morning with a message from the General Conference President Pastor Ted Wilson expressing his concern for the victims of domestic abuse, and his support for the event.

Dr Daniel Duda, Education director at the Trans-European Division (TED), challenged the attendees to reflect on how we live out the Bible in our own times. Simple quoting of the biblical passages to justify violence towards children ignores the shift which can be seen when you compare the Bible with the contemporary literature of that time. The Old Testament limits the corporal punishment of adults; requires proportionality (lesser punishment for lesser infractions) and explicitly states the concern not to degrade the dignity of one’s neighbour. There is a further shift in the New Testament which can be seen in Jesus’ attitude towards children and those who are powerless, and Paul’s advice to families. The contribution of contemporary research on the psychological impact of corporate punishment and abuse leads us to treat children, women, and family members in a way that it will empower them and develop their dignity. Living out the Bible in this way, will not only make the gospel attractive to non-believers, but also contribute to the best family relations possible.

Dr Rene Drumm, from the USA, shared her research into the incidence of domestic violence in Seventh-day Adventist families, including the families of church leaders and pastors. Her presentation was punctuated by the powerful stories of women who had survived horrific abuse at the hands of their husbands.

Harald Giesebrecht, a pastor from Norway, gave an insightful presentation on the spiritual abuse of children. He pointed out how easy it is for adults to misapply their spiritual authority, by causing fear and shame, and using it to manipulate children’s behaviour. He invited us to reflect on whether we are making God and Jesus a source of children’s fear and distress, or a source of love, and comfort. After all, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We need to learn from Jesus how to challenge those that are shaming others, without shaming them in return. Ultimately, we need to create a “Be Careful” charter that reminds all of us how to treat other with warm respect, love and encouragement, rather than with criticism, judgement and shame.

Dr Les Ackie, Family Ministries director at the British Union Conference, spoke about the long-term, destructive power of emotional abuse. He described how it can slowly and subtly distort a person’s reality, their self-confidence, and even their ability to leave an abusive relationship. We need to be aware of the signs that someone may be neglected, coerced, or abused and be willing to ask them, not just once, but twice, or even more often, so that they know that we are truly concerned about them and care for them. And when they do feel safe enough to talk to us, we need to listen with empathy and help them, creatively, to define their own safe boundaries.

Joanna Daniel is an Adventist counsellor with a special interest in abuse. She closed the conference by encouraging participants to listen compassionately to those who have the courage to disclose their abuse, and to help them find places of safety. We need to create churches where it is clear to everyone that we listen to, believe, protect, and care for those who have been abused. This happens when there are regular discussions about abuse in the church, appropriate training about abuse is taking place, and there are clear posters pointing people to help and support if they feel vulnerable or at risk. Those who are abused need people to advocate for them when they do not feel strong enough to do this for themselves. Churches need to be safe places where there is zero tolerance of abuse, and there is separate support for both the victim and the perpetrator. Adults who have experienced abuse need support to help them leave an abusive relationship in a safe and healthy way or learn how to live safely in the relationship.

All of these excellent and thought-provoking presentations were interspersed with videos telling the real-life experiences of Adventist survivors of physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse, both male and female. Their honest stories brought the brutal reality of abuse, and the powerful effects it has on people’s lives and relationships, into sharp perspective.

After each seminar, the audience was divided into small breakout groups to discuss focussed questions provided by the speakers. The conference ended each day with a lively question-and-answer session with the day’s speakers, hosted by Róbert Csizmadia from Hungary, and his wife Heli, who comes from Finland.

Many thanks to Pastors Sonja Kalmbach, Tina Laketa-Thomsen and the Swedish media team for organising the 'End it Now' conference in consultation with the TED Family, Women and Children’s Ministries departments. Also, thanks to Pastor Bobby Sjolander and the leaders of the Swedish Union of Churches Conference for being willing to support this conference, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the incidence of domestic abuse has risen dramatically.

'End it Now' is a joint initiative of the Children’s Ministries, Women’s Ministries, Family Ministries, Heath Ministries, Youth Ministries, Ministerial and Education departments of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The goal of this initiative is to help lower the incidence of domestic abuse in our families and churches.

For more information, please visit https://women.adventist.org/enditnow-day where you will also find materials for the “End it Now” Sabbath at the end of August. This year the materials are focussed on the issues of pornography and youth violence.

Presentations from the  Sweden’s 'End it Now' conference are available to watch at 'End it Now' YouTube channel .

The original article was published here.