Hope Trumps Hate

Auburn’s “Together 4 Hope” march in multicultural Western Sydney attracted a crowd of over a hundred locals coming together across diverse religious lines in support of mental health. The Suicide Prevention Campaign organised by the Auburn Salvation Army and State Member for Auburn, Luke Foley has become an annual event in the Cumberland local government area.

The sunset march around the Auburn town centre coincided with the R U Okay Day to the backdrop of musical enlightenment by local school students. Encouraging others not to be afraid of speaking up about mental health, a mother shared her story of losing a child to suicide and a gay man spoke about his battle with depression during his struggle to understand his sexuality.

“It’s okay to ask for help,” said Major Paul Moulds of the Auburn Salvation Army who also added that, “Jesus’ message is all about hope, and that suicide is something that affects people across every faith community”.

Joining the chorus of support for mental health, the State Member for Auburn, Luke Foley added that, “if you came to Australia last week, if you came to Auburn yesterday – you’re not alone. You’re part of a community that will care for you. This community reaches out”.

A commemorative candle was then lit to remember those who have lost their lives to suicide followed by prayers from Christian and Islamic leaders in Auburn.

What I Can Do in My Church

Like emotional abuse, the issue of mental health is often undetected among our church communities with sufferers falling through the cracks. It is quite easy in congregations of large and small numbers, for members to become invisible.

The church in the western world hasn’t been known in recent times for its strength in supporting abuse victims, nor for being on the front foot for mental health challenges, but this ought to change and it can only happen if we in our local congregations come together.

Starting with ourselves, we need to be honest about the abuses that have taken place in our churches and seek to rectify past injustices. If we cannot even be united among our local body of believers, how is it that as a church we can be an active supporter of those needing help in the community.

For a church to have people at the door performing the ‘welcome to church’ greeting but then not to hold its leaders to account for abuse is virtue signalling at its best. Such is the antithesis of what the body of Christ ought to be doing—supporting those afflicted. The strong connection between abuse victims and mental health issues is no secret.

Change and reform is possible and just like the call to action of the R U Okay Day, let’s make sure that our churches are focused on the body—the people that actually make up the church. Sometimes we may need to swallow the pride that’s causing division in the congregation and maybe even admit we were wrong or have mistreated someone so that the body can be united.

If we in our own churches can’t be honest and reconcile with one another through Christ, how can we say genuinely that we’re welcoming everyone to church or that we stand together for hope—which in fact is the message of Jesus.

Why I didn’t report it

The United States Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has faced several allegations of sexual misconduct dating back several decades. Despite the near non-existence of evidence supporting the accusations, the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh has been delayed. President Donald Trump in trying to highlight the weak credibility of the allegations, tweeted that the accuser should have made a report to the authorities at the time of the alleged incident.

Whether the allegations have been compiled as another attempt by Democrats in the United States as an eleventh-hour attempt to obstruct President’s Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court or, if the allegations are more than just attempts to smear Judge Kavanaugh, it will be soon be clear. However, it is the statement of the US President sparking many #WhyIDidntReport posts on social media that should be of interest to Christian churches.

Abuse and mental health go hand in hand as important issues that churches can and ought to take a leading role in addressing within the community. A hearty congratulations to the Auburn Salvation Army for striving to bridge religious divides and allowing minority stories to be heard for mental health awareness.

It is also no secret that for many sufferers talking about their mental health and/or abuse is a traumatic and challenging process. Something that cannot be rushed or induced. Unreported incidents don’t mean they necessarily didn’t happen, it just means the abused may still be trying to understand the trauma and find someone who understands them.

Often churches have struggled to have a due process or the skilled personnel to handle such matters and, in some cases, those responsible end up in the role of perpetrator and police. Those impacted will have left because there was no one to turn to—or when they did turn to someone, they were told it’s too long ago.

Perhaps it’s wise to stop asking ‘why I didn’t report it’ but treat every claim seriously through a due process. Churches ought to be a place of hope and it can once again shine in the community as a beacon of such hope if it can heal among itself through the Holy Spirit.

And only then perhaps may we be able to put Psalm chapter 47, verse 1 into practice, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy”. Because ultimately through our God that brings joyous deliverance, we can have certainty that hope wins when we stand together in Christ!

(Since this article was penned the US Senate has voted for Judge Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court)

This article was first published at Christian Today on Monday 8 October 2018