Churches to fight domestic violence

By Teuila Fuatai

People who use the Bible to justify domestic violence have misinterpreted the scripture, a local minister says.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people use the old testament to justify their actions," Reverend Motekiai Fakatou of the Wesley Methodist Church Tauranga said. "[But] this is a different context and this is a different time and this is a different culture.

"You can't use the Bible to justify what you are doing [domestic violence]."

Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills says some parents have used scripture to justify family violence.

But nearly 30 of New Zealand's religious organisations have now joined the fight against domestic abuse.

Brought together by Dr Wills, a 41-strong signatory group on Monday launched a joint initiative declaring that family violence had no place in their religions.

The signatories promised to hold perpetrators of violence accountable, encourage reporting of family violence by their members, provide support for victims and train staff in responding to situations of domestic abuse.

Reverend Fakatou - who is Tongan - said domestic violence was not an issue in his congregation, which catered to those mainly aged over-65.

But he worked with other Pacific Island congregations to raise awareness about the problem and help different cultures understand what was acceptable in terms of physical discipline under New Zealand law.

Dr Wills, a practising paediatrician, said he had treated children from families where faith or belief was used to justify violent behaviour.

"No faith condones violence towards women and children," he said.

"There are some people who use their faith as an excuse.

"So if you want to address this, you need to do that through a faith-based mechanism."

Dr Wills was approached earlier this year by three religious leaders - Dr Zain Ali, Fiji-born head of Auckland University's Islamic Studies Research Unit; Auckland University chaplain Uesifili UNasa of Methodist faith; and Maori Anglican minister Robert McKay.

They wanted to discuss how faith communities could address family violence.

"As a result, we worked with faiths throughout the country on a national statement against violence."

Police figures show about 89,000 domestic violence incidents were reported in the last financial year - nearly half of which resulted in criminal charges.

In the Western Bay, about 3400 incidents were reported - more than 60 each week.

Notifications of concern to Child, Youth and Family have also doubled in the last six years to more than 150,000.

Tauranga notifications rose from about 2000 to more than 5500 in that time.

"I applaud all the faith leaders who have contributed and signed up to this national statement," Dr Wills said.

"We all need to be part of making this country free from violence."

Religious promises

Stand up for our children, women and families

Refuse to tolerate violence or turn a blind eye to it

Provide places of safety and nurture for children and families

Encourage people to report family violence and hold perpetrators accountable

Train staff to respond safely to family violence

Partner with community organisations to combat domestic violence and provide support to victims

Source: Faith Communities Against Family Violence National Statement

- Bay of Plenty Times

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