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(Latest chapter for my new book Questions & Responses).

She came to talk to me in our church office after being discharged from hospital, and still wore the bruises her violent husband had inflicted on her. ‘I’m not taking this abuse any more’, she said. ‘You don’t have to,’ I responded, knowing something of the ongoing saga. I phoned a friend with a large property and a few spare rooms, and before the day was out she had transferred herself and her two children to that safe haven. The enraged husband contacted me and told me he’d be coming after me with a gun… 

Abuse in this chapter refers to any action between human beings which intentionally harms or injures another. The context can include physical, emotional, institutional (including legal/military), spiritual or sexual violence – or a combination of these… 

NOTE 1. This chapter has half the story: the bad/violent half. See the ‘LOVE’ and ‘JUSTICE’ chapters for the kind of responses I believe Jesus might make/encourage.

NOTE 2. There’s also more bad news in the RACISM chapter, including some observations on current and previous slave trades…


 –> Emile Durkheim said religion serves to strengthen the bonds of solidarity among those who worship the same god in the same way. But the flip side of this solidarity is enmity towards those who worship other gods or worship the same god differently.  

 –> Martin Luther King: [On Christmas Eve, 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired this sermon as part of the seventh annual Massey Lectures].  ‘There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. And so, if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war.’   

[More… see the brilliant summary of ‘Just War Theories’ here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/justwar/]

Here’s a pot-pourri of terrible stories to give us an idea of the magnitude of evil in our sad world…  
* ‘Yazidis in the Middle East have undergone centuries of persecution – including, according to one estimate, 72 genocides. Terrible stories of atrocities committed against them are coming to light: ISIS moving people without providing food and water; the prisoners were so desperate they had to drink from the latrines. From an ISIS manual on ‘Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves’: One question asked: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not yet reached puberty? The answer was yes. [Weekend Australian Magazine, Nov. 12-13, 2016, p. 29 ff.] 

The genocide of 1.5 million Armenians carried out during and after World War I was implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour; followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly, and the infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. [For an excellently researched article, plus pictures, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Genocide ]

* Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian mother of five was sentenced to death under the nation’s blasphemy law for drinking from the same water as Muslims. She has been held on death row in Pakistan for more than seven years. [The Melbourne Anglican, November 2016, p.5] 

* The election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines has resulted in 1000 people a month being killed as a result of his ‘war on drugs’. One newspaper headline: ‘So many die in the war on drugs that even the funeral directors are complaining.’ 

* Then there’s the seemingly endless war in Syria. ’I’m just a headline: the bad President, the bad guy who is killing all the good guys’ (Bashar Assad, President of Syria, referring to the nearly half a million citizens killed during the first five and a half years of his nation’s civil war, including those who died from alleged war crimes perpetrated by his administration). Assad blamed a ‘narrative’ propagated by the U.S. government. But how do we explain the photographs (of 28,000 tortured bodies) carried by ‘Caesar’ who fled Syria in August 2013? [The Australian, 8/2/2017, p.9] On the other hand let us not forget the endless American drone strikes in the region…

* Also ‘The Troubles’ (1968-1998) – a violent thirty-year conflict framed by a civil rights march in Londonderry on 5 October 1968 and the the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998. At the heart of the conflict lay the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The goal of the unionist and overwhelmingly Protestant majority was to remain part of the United Kingdom. The goal of the nationalist and republican, almost exclusively Catholic, minority was to become part of the Republic of Ireland. [http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles] This was mainly a territorial conflict, rather than a religious one. At its heart lay two mutually exclusive visions of national identity and national belonging. Over 3600 people were killed and thousands more injured…

* World-wide, Muslims kill more people than anyone else, don’t they? Well, maybe, but Americans kill more Americans than Muslims do; British kill British; Indonesians kill Indonesians; Chinese kill Chinese. A Westerner’s chance of being slain by a terrorist is very small: perhaps our fear is increased by the spectacular events like 9/11 or the Paris episodes, and, more recently, trucks and cars being driven into crowds of pedestrians… 

* And let us feel appropriate shame at the general inability/willingness of Western nations (including my own, Australia) to stop persecutions of ethnic groups all over the world… Why do militant Buddhists in Myanmar get away with abusing the Rohingya people? Item: ‘Eyewitnesses have reported shocking cases, including soldiers dragging a woman in labour from her house, and beating her in the stomach with a stick, then stomping the baby to death under their boots. In another awful instance, a 25-year-old woman was gang-raped by five soldiers. Her eight-month-old son was killed with a knife after crying out.’ [The Age editorial, 16/3/2017]. The world was surprised when Time in 2013 ran a cover-story featuring ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’ – a monk named Wirathu whose ultra-nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement advocates race and religious laws against Muslims. 

* Remember when American B-52 bombers dropped more than 500,000 tons of explosives on Cambodia’s countryside? Over just 200 nights in 1973, 257,456 tons of explosives fell in secret carpet-bombing sweeps. The pilots flew at such heights that they were incapable of discriminating between a village and their targets, North Vietnamese supply lines. The bombs were so massive they blew out the eardrums of anyone standing within a kilometre radius. According to one genocide researcher, up to 500,000 Cambodians were killed, many of them children. (A headline this week – March 12, 2017 – says Washington wants the country to repay a $500 million ‘war debt’, a demand which has prompted indignation and outrage in Phnom Penh). 


I’m thinking now of three abused women – three of many hundreds I’ve counselled over the years. They were raped repeatedly by their biological fathers: two of them until their teenage years. And each of these now middle-aged women also had emotionally cold/distant mothers: at least two of those mothers certainly knew what was happening when ‘daddy’ was ‘cuddling’ their little baby/girl… 

Abuse victims have their own preferred approach to talking about their deep pain. These three ‘survivors’ had hazy memories of when it all began. One of them wanted to re-live the terrible episodes in detail. Another shared her deep painful feelings about it all. A third talked about the awful events or conversations throughout her adult life that ‘triggered’ terrible and traumatic memories… 

Every ‘people-helper’, psychologist, or counselling pastor hears many stories of serious abuse suffered by children at the hands of the Big People in their young lives… 

A significant book was recently published in Australia – Crimes of the Father – by one of our greatest contemporary writers, Tom Keneally. Christian religious institutions have had a poor track record of supporting people who were sexually abused. They have tax-exempt status and seem to be more concerned about their finances or reputation…  

In many parts of the world the horrors of what happened in these institutions which were supposed to care for children have come under the scrutiny of Royal Commissions and other investigative bodies. These enquiries were prompted often by adult survivors ‘coming out’ with their horrific stories. Sometimes news media prompted the enquiry (the role of the Boston Globe’s investigative team and the award-winning movie ’Spotlight’ come to mind). 

In a submission to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Vatican advisor Baroness Sheila Hollins wrote that clergy may have used canon law to hide alleged sexual offending in their ranks. ‘Canon law may have been deliberately misused to excuse inexcusable behaviour, and to cover up known wrongdoing,’ the member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors wrote. Canon lawyer and whistleblower priest Father Thomas Doyle told the hearing the Australian Catholic church authorities have been aware of allegations of clerical child sexual abuse for decades. ‘Canon law has been used as an excuse in some instances by ecclesiastical authorities for not proceeding and taking direct action against reports of child sexual abuse,’ he said. The commission heard that ‘pontifical secrecy’, the church’s highest form of secrecy outside the confessional, was still in force in relation to child sexual abuse. ‘If there are no civil laws requiring reporting, then the pontifical secret still applies.’ [The Age, 10/2/17, p. 8]. One of Australia’s worst sexual abusers was Father Gerald Ridsdale, who was convicted of nearly 140 offences with more than 50 confirmed victims in 10 Victorian Catholic parishes. His bishop tore up church records to conceal his offending… 

A boy in an elite Australian school was sexually abused by its Boarding School master: the school failed to conduct any investigation, but instead, the boy was expelled. In the Royal Commission investigating such complaints, the excuse is commonly proffered: ’They acted as best they could in difficult circumstances according to the knowledge and practices of the times’. My response? ‘Rubbish!’ 

Then there was the inadequate police response to the exposure of an online site posting thousands of explicit images of underage girls without their knowledge or consent. Queensland Police concluded that the site did not ‘appear to contain any child exploitation material’, and one young woman told Radio Triple J’s Hack program that she had received exceptionally short shrift from police when she made a complaint about her image being on the site: ‘The guy I spoke to, an older guy, just laughed. He said that’s what I get for taking them’. An example of deeply entrenched victim blaming attitudes in Australia. 


Isis zealots throw gay men from tall buildings. But it’s happened in Australia (simply substitute ‘cliffs’ for ‘tall buildings’). On a December day in 1988, a teenager on a spearfishing expedition found a body at the bottom of one of the wild, honey-coloured sandstone cliffs that line Sydney Harbour. Scott Johnson, a gay man, had moved to Australia to be with his partner and was pursuing his doctorate at the Australian National University in Canberra. He was a’virtuoso’ mathematician. The day he disappeared, Scott Johnson told his Ph.D. supervisor, Ross Street of Sydney’s Macquarie University, that he’d had a breakthrough on a vexing problem that was crucial to his dissertation…   [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/30/world/australia/australia-gay-men-killed-suicides-sydney.html.] 

About 80 men died or disappeared across the state from the late 70s to early 90s during an epidemic of gay hate crimes. Many of the brutal attacks on these men happened in the eastern suburbs which was a hunting ground for gangs of young thugs such as the Bondi Boys and the Tamarama Three: it was not difficult to make these murders look like suicides. (Google Duncan McNab, whose book on the subject is titled Getting Away with Murder). There have been quite a few press articles on all this: and the consensus is that the police were slow to investigate many of the crimes…

Speaking of police and minorities, Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, apologised for what he called ‘the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color’ at the group’s convention on Oct. 17, 2016 [Time, October 31, 2016, p.4]. 

Which leads us to the Australian frontier wars – a series of conflicts fought between Indigenous Australians and mainly British settlers that spanned a total of 146 years. The first fighting took place several months after the landing of the First Fleet in January 1788 and the last clashes occurred as late as 1934. Historian Henry Reynolds has suggested a figure of about 30,000 indigenous people killed since white settlement – a figure now tacitly accepted by more conservative scholars like historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey. The most common estimates of European fatalities range from 2,000 to 2,500. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_frontier_wars] 

There were many killings, a famous one being the 1838 Myall Creek massacre in which 28 people were slaughtered at Myall Creek near Inverell, New South Wales . On the shore near Portland, Victoria was one of the largest recorded massacres in Victoria when whalers and the local Kilcarer clan of the Gunditjmara people disputed rights to a beached whale carcass. Reports vary but 60 to 200 Aborigines died, including women and children. [See the (incomplete) list of massacres here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_of_Indigenous_Australians] 

In Australia we have a right-wing ‘black armband theory’ about dealing with the collective guilt of all this. Here’s a graphic excerpt from [Jan Roberts, Massacres to Mining: the Colonisation of Aboriginal Australia, 1981/1985, p. 19]: ‘The following story is recalled by Aborigines today. It comes from the high country in northeast Victoria. Old Mr. Birt would tell it. He had heard it from his mother who was of the Ya-idthma-dthang Tribe: “My mother would sit and cry and tell me this: they buried our babies in the ground with only their heads above the ground. All in a row they were. Then they had a test to see who could kick the babies’ heads off the furthest. One man clubbed a baby’s head off from horse-back. Then they spent most of the day raping the women, most of them were then tortured to death by sticking sharp things like spears up their vaginas until they died…”‘  

[Also visit this long list of websites:  http://treatyrepublic.net/content/britain-worlds-worst-mass-murderer ] [Note also that many of Australia’s aboriginal people have died since 1789 from diseases like smallpox against which they had no resistance].

How do the biblical prophets deal with all this? One example: Jesus’ follower Stephen to the Jewish authorities [Acts 7:51]: ‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.’ This prophetic idea of identification with oppressors is contrary to the ‘I wasn’t there, don’t blame me’ response. 

Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination is a classic on these sorts of questions: ‘Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural, but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness… ‘

The closest an Australian leader has got to acknowledging our role in all this, and identifying with past evil oppressors, is probably ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating’s Redfern speech, which brilliantly attacked the ‘We weren’t there you can’t blame us!’ black armband denial of responsibility for our ancestors’ evil oppressions…


… is an epidemic in our world.

Fact Check: Violence by a partner or former partner is the leading preventable cause of death and illness of women aged 15 to 45 in Australia. More than one woman a week is being slain in this way… One in four Australian women have experienced at least one incident of violence from an intimate partner (2,194,200, 25.1 per cent) since the age of 15 [Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS)]  The “One in Three” campaign is a group of diverse advocates who raise awareness of male victims of domestic violence, They say that one in three victims of family violence are male.

An Australian Institute of Criminology paper said that ‘in the vast majority of cases, children’s abusers are known to them’. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies the prevalence of child sexual abuse is 1.4-8 per cent for penetrative abuse and 5.7-16 per cent for non-penetrative abuse for boys and 4-12 per cent for penetrative abuse and 13.9-36 per cent for non-penetrative abuse for girls… To put those figures into context, the ‘best case’ scenario is that 1 in 20 boys are sexually abused. The worst case is that 1 in three girls are. Yes, women can also abuse, but as the AIFS Who Abuses Children fact sheet makes clear, ‘Evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by males.’ 

An Australian Institute of Criminology 2011 paper Misperceptions about child sex offenders shows 30.2 per cent of child sexual abuse was perpetrated by a male relative, and 13.5 per cent by the father or stepfather. A tiny 0.8 per cent of cases were perpetrated by mothers and stepmothers, and 0.9 per cent of child sexual abuse was perpetrated by a female relative. The other categories of perpetrators were family friend (16.3 per cent), an acquaintance or neighbour (15.6 per cent), another known person (15.3 per cent) – without specifying the gender split. Data from the US National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) showed that males made up 90 per cent of adult child sexual assault perpetrators, while 3.9 per cent of perpetrators were female, with a further 6 per cent classified as “unknown gender”. 

What can parents do to prevent/restrict these possibilities of abuse? Here’s one radical approach: ‘When our first daughter was born my husband and I made a family rule: no man would ever babysit our children. No exceptions. This includes male relatives and friends and even extracurricular and holiday programs, such as basketball camp, where men can have unrestricted and unsupervised access to children… Group slumber parties are also out. When there is a group of excited children it is far too easy for one of them to be lured away by a father or older brother without being noticed. To be clear, I’m not saying that all men are sexual predators.’ [Kasey Edwards’ new book Guilt Trip: My Quest To Leave The Baggage Behind is due to be released in May 2017]. 


Let’s start with Bonhoeffer’s famous quote: ‘Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’ Or the American civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis: ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’ Walking away/being silent when someone’s being harassed or bullied can be an act of cowardice – or, naturally, of self-preservation. Our rationales may include these: ‘It’s none of my business.’ ‘I’ll get hurt.’ ‘I don’t have the power to stop the bullying.’ ‘There’s nothing I can do…’ And so on.  

Research has found that there are bystanders in 87% of bullying situations. Unfortunately our cowardice or selfishness leads us to be ostrich-like, when we could be influential in exercising more power than we realise we have. Parents and teachers have a strategic role in encouraging children to become helpful bystanders and by letting them know that adults will support them, if and when they report a misdemeanour. We also have a role in highlighting the courage of those who paid a high price – even with their lives – for resisting evil…

There are also reasons why people who take the New Testament and the teaching of Jesus seriously are frequently pacifists. It is a significant challenge for any preacher to use the New Testament in clear support of war, even a just war. For at some level all violence is a betrayal of Christian commitment – as Jesus makes clear in dismissing the ‘punitive psychology’ of his own disciples in Luke’s Gospel when they, in the face of rejection, seek vengeful recompense in the form of ‘fire from heaven’ (Luke 9. 54). 

‘What would Jesus do?’ I have a habit of asking Christians ‘What did Jesus say to the adulterous woman?’ (John 8:1-11). If they’re conservative they’ll mostly respond ‘Go and sin no more’, forgetting that Jesus first said ‘I do not condemn you!’ Former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams posits, in his short essay ‘Writings in the Dust’, that when Jesus paused to sketch in the dirt before the adulterous woman and the people who wanted to stone her, he is creating an opportunity for alternatives beyond stoning her. He is opening a space for everyone to consider their situation, to breathe. 


Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, was credited with helping thousands of Hungarian Jews flee Nazi-controlled Germany during the Holocaust. But he mysteriously vanished in 1945. Authorities pronounced him dead on October 26, 2016, after receiving a request from his family to do so. (But newly published diaries of a KGB officer tell us Wallenberg was liquidated on Stalin’s orders in 1947). 

And before we cast a stone at anyone else, we Christians will pause to remember our bloody past. To quote just one terrible episode (in the words of America’s premier public theologian Martin Marty): ‘Those with historical senses could recall what Catholic-Lutheran actions used to be like. For instance, through the first centuries after the start of the Protestant Reformation, to be celebrated [this] year after 500 years… Catholics and Lutherans by the thousands killed each other. They got mixed up on both sides of a Thirty Years’ War, whose Christian devastation provides cheerless comparison to Muslim-related conflicts in Syria and elsewhere today.’ [‘Sightings’, August 22, 2016]. 


For my sober reflection I sometimes visit Wikipedia’s ‘Lists of Wars by Death Toll’. Excerpt: World War 2 (1939-1945) – 40-85 million; Mongol Conquests (1206-1324) – 40-70 million; Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) – 20-100 million; Three Kingdoms War (184-280) – 36-40 million; Conquest of the Americas (1492-1691) – 8,400,000 – 137,750,000; Chinese Civil War (1927-1949) – 8 million; Russian Civil War and Foreign Intervention (1917-1922) – 5-9 million; Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) – 3-11.5 million (the German mortality rate was 15-20% due to a mix of armed conflict, famine and disease); Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) – 3.5 – 6 million. And then, not to mention the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) – 2-4 million. 


Finally, be challenged by this…

I remember the things we do and don’t do to each other: 

war, injustice, 

poverty, torture, 

broken relationships, bullying, meanness, gossip, 


I remember, 

but sometimes I’d rather forget 

Yeah, I’d rather forget 

Denial tempts me 

Because I don’t care? 

or because I care too much? 

or because I want to do something about it, 

or because I don’t know what to do 

I don’t know what to do. 

Maybe I’ll try a different verb 

Maybe I’ll feel for a time 

Can I let my spirit take in the weight of the pain 

without bouncing into a flurry of fixing?  

[Excerpt from a poetic sermon by Michele Rizoli Toronto United Mennonite Church November 2010  Scripture Text: Matthew 5, Micah 6:8]

Rowland Croucher

April 22, 2017

[Footnotes to be sorted out later]. 


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