The murder of Hannah Clarke and her children has again brought the issue of domestic violence into the spotlight. How do we respond to those who say that Christianity is somehow responsible for violence against women?
It’s time to talk domestic violence.
It’s a very difficult subject, but it’s the subject that’s on all of our minds.
It’s on all of our minds because of the terrible events that occurred in Brisbane with the murder of Hannah Clarke, 31 years old, and her three children by their husband and father, Rowan Baxter.
It’s just dreadful. There was a history of domestic violence in the family. There was a domestic violence order against Rowan Baxter, and he breached that order. He was due to appear in court in March as a result of that.
And there were family members who were helping Hannah get away from him, but what we know is that somehow he intercepted his wife’s vehicle as she was taking the children to school, and he got fuel on or in the car and on the children or on her – it’s not entirely clear how it all worked out – and he set them on fire.
He tried to stop bystanders from helping as they burned. And he then stabbed himself in the chest, killing himself at the scene.
The three children died there. Hannah was alive and got out of the car, but with burns to 97% of her body, she passed away later that evening.
An absolutely horrifying story that stopped the nation.
Now, there were some immediate comments along the lines of, “Well, we don't know the whole story: don’t judge.”
But I will judge this man as a murderer, because that’s simply a statement of absolute and completely obvious truth.
And there is nothing in the world that could ever justify murder, especially the premeditated murder, in a devastating, painful and violent way, of one’s own wife and one’s own children.
There is nothing in the world that could mitigate responsibility for that; no kind of injustice that someone might perceive themselves to have suffered.
And there’s no evidence at all that anything like that happened to this man.
But to those who have said that we should not judge, or that something may mitigate his responsibility, I say: that’s crazy.
This story is so extreme. There’s a lot of bad news around us every day, and many bad news stories just bounce off us. Not this one. This sticks in your mind. It has stuck in my head and bothered me for a long time because it’s so terrible.
And there’s something particularly terrible about a father and a husband doing this. It’s like the whole universe turns in on itself and goes backwards, because he’s meant to be protecting and helping and looking after his family and his wife, and what’s he doing? He’s violating his duties as a husband, as a father and just as a man by doing this. It is absolutely horrific.
He’s done something horrendous. Let’s be very, very clear about that. And honestly, if that wasn’t your reaction to this case, a reaction of pain and grief, then there’s something wrong. There is something really wrong.
Now, there’s something I want to address about this.
It’s not the fact that a lot of people say, “Oh, this is a gender thing.” The statistics do show that intimate partner violence and filicide (that is, the murder of one’s children) isn’t particularly gendered; it is perpetrated by both men and women – although when men commit violence it’s far more serious, no doubt about it.
And I’m not going to address the family court system and its limitations.
In fact, I’m not going to address many important aspects that have come out of this, but there is one aspect I do want to address.
There’s always somebody who brings up the whole Christian thing. There’s always somebody who points the finger at Christianity.
Perhaps it’s because they think that this is a patriarchal Judeo-Christian society, and there are latent remnants of Christian thinking in general society, and therefore women cop it as a result; or perhaps it’s just an overt and blatant criticism.
Take this example from Independent Australia. Journalist John Wren wrote this: “So why does the Liberal government do so little to reduce violence against women and children? Part of the issue lies in Morrison’s Pentecostal belief system – it preaches that women must submit to their husbands, be subordinate to them.”
And then he says this, which is absolute rubbish: “Pentecostalism has many strains. In some, it is even acceptable to discipline an insubordinate wife with violence.”
Absolute rot. He later says, “Morrison’s faith is one aspect of the reasoning behind the lack of support for domestic violence action.”
Now, that’s just completely offensive to say that. A Prime Minister who apparently is going to be less moved to do something about men burning their wives and children to death in cars because of his faith?
There’s always someone like this who publishes commentary on the connection between supposed Christian violence and domestic violence, even though there’s no evidence that supports this.
But I want to say this for those who are ignorant or for those who may in fact be influenced by the things that are said in this vein.
I want to answer the question: what does the Bible actually say about how men should behave towards women?
Because this is important.
Here’s an intimidating but timely thought for men, especially if you’re married or if you’re in a relationship, and it’s this: when you meet God, as you certainly will – every Christian believes that absolutely, because it’s true – you as a man will be held accountable for the condition of the woman in your life in very important respects.
When you meet God, the standard applied to you will be the standard that is given to men in Ephesians 5, and it’s this: have you given yourself up for her? Is your love for her a sanctifying influence leading to her increased holiness? Is she free from blemishes inflicted by you, whether physically or spiritually?
There is no higher standard in all of human existence than the standard given in Christianity for how men are to treat women in their lives.
I once met a guy who struck me as a dodgy character. I just got the wrong sense about him. Unfortunately, I was quite young at the time and I watched as this bloke worked his way into a young woman’s affections. She was a very beautiful young woman, and innocent, but he corrupted her and made her just like he was and took her down a slippery slope into all sorts of awful things.
And then they got married and he inflicted violence against her, both physical and psychological. And that’s a tragedy that’s continuing even now.
When we see that sort of thing, we’re all disgusted. It’s something that is purely satanic.
I raise that story because it demonstrates the hallmark of a bad man: that those he claims to love are worse off for it.
By contrast, the hallmark of a good man is that the people who encounter him, who are part of his life, and whom he loves, are made better, are lifted higher, and are greatly blessed, especially in the area of sanctification and holiness. They are enriched in the most profound ways possible by his presence and by his actions, such is his living for others, and such is his influence on others for good.
And that’s the standard.
When you meet God, as you surely will, the woman you love is to be presented in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).
And who has set that example from which we can draw? None other than Jesus Christ himself in his astonishing, selfless, sanctifying love for me and for you.
It’s his goal to present us to God in exactly that same way: sanctified, holy, without blemish. And he died for that; he gave himself up for that.
Now, if that’s the standard; if that’s what God asks of husbands with their wives; if that’s the ‘apprenticeship’ in which boyfriends and fiancés have enrolled – in fact into which all men have enrolled – then that standard should cause you to gasp and to tremble, because men will be accountable to God in the final judgement for this very thing.
Some are saying that family violence is the product of male power, and that men need to be torn down and demasculinised in order to solve that problem.
But power isn’t the problem: evil is the problem; wickedness is the problem. It’s the difference between a good man and a bad man in the way he behaves towards others, what he desires for others, and the way his presence enriches others or drags others down.
It’s the difference between a good man and a bad man, not a powerful man and a subjugated man.
And we’ll never be Jesus, of course, but with prayer and obedience we can inch closer to being like him, because this is our high calling.
One of the great tragedies in this debate is that people don’t think about character. They think that our badness or our goodness, our ability to be good or do good, is based on our sex, male or female.
It’s not. Character is equally accessible to all.
And yes, men and women are different, and those differences are innate. But goodness, virtue, character – which are equally accessible to all, regardless of gender or any other thing – are the most important things.
And the calling, the shape of that character, is given there in Ephesians 5.
Next time someone tells you that domestic violence is all the Christians’ fault, you can take great confidence in the fact that it is anything but true.
This is a society that has broken apart the family; that has championed easy divorce; that has promoted individualism, empowerment and independence at the expense of loving others; that has sexualised children as young as possible (which does turn young boys violent); and that claims that women have no unique dignity that is to be honoured or upheld by society.
Society has done all these things.
And when it all goes to custard and we see violence breaking out, people turn around and say, “Oh, it’s the Christians’ fault.”
No. I’m sorry, but this is not on us. There is no standard higher in all the universe than the standard that Christ puts upon men in this world. Fortunately, he also gives us the power to be able to inch towards that standard and fulfil it, otherwise we’d be, of all people, the most miserable.
There is no standard that’s higher than that. And this one is not on us. It’s on the world that has forgotten these great and priceless principles.