Preaching Tool Question 4: Am I able to confront attitudes that create environments for unhealthy relational cultures to flourish?

Understanding the issues

The acceptance or excusing of violence and abuse is made possible by cultures that nurture attitudes that can support such behaviours. By addressing language, jokes, assumptions and incorrect understandings, we can shape a culture that rejects such attitudes as they are identified and challenged.

Possibilities to watch out for

I like to connect human to human with the congregation, so I add in anecdotes from real life like, ‘My wife and I had an argument before church this morning’, but I realised I was unknowingly normalising abuse. For some, they understand fighting to mean name calling and slapping. Now I reword it, ‘My wife and I disagreed this morning, so you know there is a big talk with lots of deep breaths later today’.

For Example:

When I’m … Can I avoid …
Talking about my partner or others Using language that objectifies or implies value based on physical attributes rather than character (e.g. “My hot wife…”)
Telling personal stories Defaulting to or reinforcing gender stereotypes or language that overtly or unintentionally disparages or dishonours (e.g. “Happy wife, happy life…”)
Speaking about groups of people Generalised language (e.g. “You know what guys are like …” or “Women are prone to…”) 
Engaging in humour Making or laughing at jokes about coercion, power, or violence; or jokes that diminish people based on gender or relationship status (e.g. “He can’t control his wife…” or “She just needs a man…”)
Commenting on culture Offhandedly dismissing or critiquing wider cultural movements without considering their personal impact (e.g. “Feminism has gone too far…” or “Don’t go all ‘MeToo’ on me …”)
Using relational examples Excusing, minimising or ignoring inappropriate behaviour or speech (e.g. “I’m sure they didn’t mean anything by that…”) 
Talking about relationships more broadly Ignoring the realities of relational difficulties or assuming all relationships are healthy (e.g. “Not that anyone here would know about that…”) 
Talking about sex and intimacy Stigmatising sexual intimacy by being embarrassed or clumsy in talking about it (e.g. “Now we’re going to talk about [insert whispered tone] S-E-X…”; making gender stereotypes (e.g. “All men want sex more than women…”); or neglecting to acknowledge experiences of abuse and trauma present (e.g. “Because of course everyone loves sex …”)

Practical suggestions

Identify the small things

culture is made up of many ‘little’ choices, words & actions – every contribution matters.

Create language that empowers people to challenge unhealthy attitudes

Further resources

Trigger warning: Domestic abuse


“Understanding the experience of abuse from a child’s perspective”

Carolyn Cousins, Director, Tuned in Consulting and Convenor of the Clinical Division of the Australian College of Social Work, Chair of Baptist Association NSW & ACT Standards Committee
Sally Contessi, Team Leader for Queensland Baptist Kids and families

The words we use

Daniel Gardiner, Senior Leader Christies Beach Baptist Church and President of Baptist Churches of SA