Domestic violence, child protection, environmental responsibility, welcome for refugees. The time devoted to the ordination conversation did not prevent this General Convention of Synod supporting four proposals that commit the LCA/NZ to social involvement and action. Our church, which often has been silent on social issues, has committed itself to speaking out and reaching out with Christ’s healing love into a broken world.
The LCA will work to tackle the tragedy of domestic violence, with a church-wide campaign of resources, education and pastoral care.
The move was strongly supported by Convention delegates, who also endorsed the church reaffirming its ‘condemnation of all forms of violence in the family’, following similar resolutions by the 1993 and 2003 general conventions.
Raw nerves were evident as delegates considered the issue of domestic violence experienced in homes across Australia and New Zealand, between husbands and wives, partners and children.
One delegate (a part-time prison chaplain) encouraged fellow delegates to speak up and to model Christ-like behaviour. ‘We are all important in maintaining a society where respect for each other is valued’, he said.
A couple of delegates reminded the synod that churches could play a practical role, to be places where love comes to life for victims of abuse. ‘Women escaping domestic violence desperately need somewhere safe to go. Can the LCA commit some of our resources to providing refuge and succour for them?’ they asked.
Pastor Ken Schultz (Alice Springs Lutheran Church, Northern Territory) urged delegates not to forget central Australia in their prayers. ‘We have many funerals, for both women and men who are victims of domestic violence’, he said. ‘Please support the work of Lutheran Community Care SA/NT, who are rolling out early-intervention programs.’
Submitted by the GCC, the LCA Royal Commission Working Group and the Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions, the proposal was presented to Synod in response to the alarming extent of family violence in Australia.
A report prepared by the Commonwealth Department of Parliamentary Services provides sobering statistics, including that after the age of 15, one in six Australian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner; 61 per cent of Australian homicides between July 2008 and July 2010 occurred in
a residential location, with domestic homicides accounting for more than half of these; and domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness, affecting 32 per cent of all clients receiving assistance from specialist homelessness services in 2011-12.
If you, or someone you know, is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, visit ANROWS Get Support website or call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), the 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line. In an emergency, call 000.
The proposal on resettlement of refugees jointly submitted by the Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions (CSBQ) and Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS)called on Synod to encourage congregations and individuals ‘work to understand their [refugees’] specific needs and actively support them in their resettlement’.
Presented by CSBQ member Helen Lockwood, it won strong support from delegates. As well as charging all church members with providing hospitality and support to new arrivals, the proposal issues a challenge to speak out against injustice.
Mrs Lockwood said the Bible called on everyone to welcome strangers, a concept backed by a 2013 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees statement, which invited all people of faith to consider how they respond to the profound principle of ‘welcoming the stranger’.
‘Our church, through its members and its agencies, supports those fleeing violence, war and discrimination’, she said. ‘We see it on our news broadcast every evening—people fleeing their homes, escaping violence and chaos, desperately hoping that there is a better life.
‘It is not okay when people are tortured and persecuted and driven from their own country. It is not okay when children are starving and dying. It is not okay when people are discriminated against because of race, religion or gender. The question for us as individuals and as church is: When do we speak up and when do we act?’
Lutheran Community Care (LCC) SA/NT, of which Mrs Lockwood is director, provided settlement support to almost 2000 people last year, while congregations across the LCA are also offering practical help to refugees.
Mrs Lockwood (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the contact person for congregations interested in providing practical assistance to refugees. LCC will work with ALWS to develop a resource to give guidance and help people connect with settlement services and other denominations already engaged in this work.
Synod backed a call for all LCA members to consider the health of creation and the environment in everything they do. On behalf of the CSBQ and co-sponsor ALWS, Pastor Geoff Burger presented the proposal to Synod: ‘that the LCA affirms that a prime responsibility of Christians is to be responsible stewards of creation and all life on the planet’.
The proposition, supported by an overwhelming majority of delegates, encouraged members, congregations, groups and agencies of the church to keep ‘God’s gift of creation and our stewardship and care’ prominent in our prayers and worship life, as well as in decision-making.
‘We’re acting totally irresponsibly with the gifts God has given us and it can’t continue’, Pastor Burger said. ‘We’re leaving the pantry half empty, all the taps running and
the Christmas gifts opened with all the paper lying around. And we’re going to die and leave it all to our children and grandchildren.
‘Christians are called to be responsible carers of creation.’
There were five further key points to the submission, including: to ‘encourage, implement and model ways of living and working that minimise the production of greenhouse gas emissions’, to ‘examine the long-term implications of an economy which readily consumes and throws away’, and to ‘act to reduce waste and implement the sustainable use and recycling of Earth’s resources’.
The final element was a request that church members engage with the broader community in order to discuss, learn and take action for the good of the planet.
The proposal background stated that there was no intention to ‘bind congregations or individuals to particular courses of action’, instead placing ‘the issue of responsible care and keeping of creation before the LCA for members and congregations to celebrate, reflect upon and implement in individually appropriate ways’.
A ‘Care of Creation’ video, produced by Pastor Burger, can be viewed at www.lcasynod.org.au NEWS
Delegates overwhelmingly supported the proposal put forward by General Church Council (GCC) and the Working Group coordinating the LCA’s engagement with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The proposal reaffirmed ‘that our children are a precious gift from God. They are to be nourished and nurtured in their spiritual life within the Lutheran Church of Australia and their needs must be considered by all boards, councils and committees prior to the making of decisions. Children are to be cared for and protected from all physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual abuse while engaging in all church activities.’
Synod authorised GCC to commit resources to continue to develop effective procedures, and education and training programs ‘to ensure that children are valued, respected, listened to and kept safe from harm’.
This year, the church approved a Child Protection Policy and has committed to implement recommendations of the Royal Commission.
Colleen Fitzpatrick, a member of the LCA’s Royal Commission Working Group, presented the proposal to delegates, saying the church had a responsibility to protect children from all forms of abuse.
‘Our children are a gift’, she said. ‘Let us remain mindful of Jesus loving commitment to children, and play our part in ensuring that they are kept safe from harm within our church community.
‘It is also important that we listen to our children as well as protect them.’
In order for the church to be a child-safe organisation, Mrs Fitzpatrick said it should develop:
- a strong culture of child safety
- ways for children and young people to have a voice, to be heard and participate fully in the life of the church
- clear and well-publicised standards of behaviour
- rigorous recruitment and screening practices for paid staff and volunteers
- thorough training and regular refresher courses that cover: what constitutes sexual abuse, recognising grooming behaviour, recognising and responding to suspected child abuse, and the misuse of power
- compliance monitoring
- excellent record-keeping systems with security of data
- a rigorous and fair process for dealing with complaints that acknowledges that sexual abuse of children does happen and that it is a serious matter, with all complaints of sexual abuse of children required to be referred to the police and/or the relevant authority.
The LCA has produced a devotional rite of confession, acknowledging sexual abuse in the church, which was led during Convention by LCA Queensland District Bishop Paul Smith. This rite will be available to congregations for their use.