My day ended as it had began: thinking about the credibility of women’s testimony in the Church. As a lecturer for the School of Theology for Charles Sturt University, my morning class examined the critical role of eyewitness testimony in the story of Jesus Christ. The surprising role of women recorded as the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection remains one of the more remarkable features of the origins of Christianity. As an ordained minister at Paddington Anglican Church, that evening I watched the harrowing testimony of several women who had suffered domestic violence and abuse within the church on the ABC’s 7:30 Report.
I noticed my own response as I listened to their testimony: these women are so brave, their story is difficult to hear (it must also be difficult to recount), what should I do with their testimony? What should happen to these women? I suppose it is likely that the responses of the first disciples to the testimony that Jesus had risen from the dead were similar to my own. Even though some of the men were too slow to believe the eyewitness testimony (remember doubting Thomas?); even though their Jewish laws and culture forbade women from giving testimony in court; even though their world (and ours) was about to be turned upside down; history confirms that the unlikely testimony of the women was deemed credible. Credibility. It is in short supply in politics, on social media and in the Church.
In everyday interaction it is one of those invisible privileges that many of us reading this presume: that our word will be believed. For example, I am well-educated. So are most of the people reading this. I have held five full-time jobs over the last 30 years and I have learned the importance of being persuasive in the classroom and the congregation. I am rarely discriminated against. I expect to be treated fairly and with respect by students and employers, the police and other authorities. Furthermore, I know what action I can take if I am not. I know my word will be believed.
This is what it means to be credible. To know that your word will be believed. This privilege is not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Many would argue it is a basic right to be shared by all peoples. Yet it is a privilege not readily available to some in the Church.
The Church has a credibility problem due to its past failures to believe victims of sexual abuse and take the necessary action to protect vulnerable people. For the faith whose origins are grounded on the testimony of women it should not have required a Royal Commission for the Church to revise its protocols to ensure safe ministry. The Churches’ credibility is further eroded when women victims of domestic violence are not believed. Overwhelmingly it is women’s testimony that is not believed. The lack of credibility within the Church is a consistent testimony of DV survivors and this must change.
The credibility issues for the Church are inextricably tied together. Only as the Church’s culture changes so that a woman’s testimony is considered equal to a man’s can the church regain its public credibility. Some reading this will not think this possible or likely. Resurrection stories have always been difficult to believe.
The women’s testimony that first Easter morning was deemed credible. Their word was believed. Everything changed. ‘Boys clubs’ (ancient Roman or Jewish to contemporary Australian or Christian) did and must change when a ‘girl’s story’ is believed.
Rev. Dr. Geoff Broughton is a research scholar for the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre and lecturer in Practical Theology at St Mark's National Theological Centre - both located within Charles Sturt University. Geoff is also Rector of Paddington Anglican Church in Sydney Australia. After more than 20 years of inner city life and twenty five of Anglican ministry, Geoff's research interests include the connections between Jesus Christ and justice (see Restorative Christ: Jesus, justice and discipleship, 2014). Geoff is also involved in clergy training, formation and supervision for a number of Anglican dioceses across Australia.