Domestic Violence, Church Response, Education
I am pausing our Sunday Gatherings for the rest of October. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and I would like to take this time to talk about how the church can effectively respond to domestic violence.
The first time I was educated about domestic violence was in college as a ministry student 30 years ago. Sadly, I did not learn about the problem in any of my ministry classes. Church growth was the main focus at the time, not pastoral care. I pieced together my own ministry program that wasn’t offered, and included a class titled Violent Encounters in the Family. My eyes and heart were opened from that point on to advocate against abuse in any way possible.
I wrote my master’s thesis on Minister’s Knowledge, Views, and Attitudes Regarding Child Abuse. In 1996, my advisor thought this was unusual as she had never seen anything written about abuse from that perspective. Having been a ministry student, I knew that many pastors were not educated about abuse. My research, though very limited, confirmed that.
Education, I believe, is the first key for churches to effectively respond to domestic violence. The numbers from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence are staggering:
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.
1 in 5 women and 1 in 59 men in the United States is raped during her/his lifetime.
66.2% of female stalking victims reported stalking by a current or former intimate partner.
On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines nationwide receive approximately 20,800 calls.
1 in 3 female murder victims and 1 in 20 male murder victims are killed by an intimate partner.
With numbers like this, it should be easy for church leaders to recognize that they have victims of domestic violence within their congregation. LifeWay Research recently conducted a survey of 1,000 Protestant churches asking how they handle domestic violence situations. Some of the findings include:
37% of Protestant pastors are aware of an adult in their church who experienced domestic or sexual violence in the last 3 years.
Half of Protestant churches (52%) have a specific plan or procedures in place for how to respond if someone shares that they are experiencing domestic violence.
The most common specific resource churches have in place to offer someone
experiencing domestic violence is a referral list with professional counselors trained in domestic violence.
60% would investigate whether domestic violence is really present.
Some of these numbers are encouraging; however, I find the fact that such a high percentage of pastors feel the need to “investigate” concerning. Investigation should be done by the police.
I recognize that there are church leaders who have taken the time to educate themselves and the church community about abuse. I have heard very encouraging stories from victims about how their church community is supporting them. However, we still have leaders, such as John Piper, saying that a woman needs to “endure verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.” The church can do better.
Paige Patterson, once the Southern Baptist Conference leader, discussed the “proper way for women to receive beatings.” The arrogance and attitude toward women in this 4 minute clip is disgusting. The church can do better.
Women, such as Lori Alexander, say “seek help for physical abuse,” then turn around and say, “the word abuse is overused,” and finally, encourage women to win over their angry husband. Divorce is never an option for an abused wife. The church can do better.
“Pastors” such as Doug Wilson are promoted and quoted by organizations like The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and Desiring God. TGC removed a post that quoted Wilson’s book, Fidelity: What it Means to be a One Woman Man. “A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.” The fact that TGC initially thought this sexually aggressive wording was fine to promote is appalling. The church can do better.
Then, we have Mark Driscoll rising from the ashes. While at Mars Hill, Driscoll wasted no words in disparaging anyone who was alive and breathing. His words about women, if taken seriously, were enough to make men think they must have power and control in relationships. Women were called “penis homes” and were told to provide oral sex to their husbands because it is “biblical.” Men were encouraged to have their wives watch them masturbate so that the act is not seen as a form of homosexuality. The church MUST do better!
This is what the church needs to know:
- Domestic violence can occur in any relationship.
- Domestic violence happens in “Godly, Christian” families.
- Abuse is always about power and control. It includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, financial, and spiritual abuse, as well as stalking.
- Abuse crosses age, socio-economic, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and national boundaries.
- Please take abuse seriously. Always listen to the victim.
- Abuse can cause physical disabilities, emotional trauma, or death.
- Abuse can cross generations and last a lifetime.
There are many excellent resources available to learn about domestic violence. Please, church, become educated and be willing to open yourself up to helping victims. Every abuse situation is different, so the more you know means you’ll be better prepared to help someone in need. The following is a sample of excellent resources available:
National Domestic Violence Hotline – This resource offers a 24/7 hotline for victims of domestic violence. There is also a lot of information about domestic violence on their website.
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence – “A comprehensive source of information for those wanting to educate themselves and help others on the many issues related to domestic violence.”
A Cry for Justice – Blog dedicated to addressing domestic violence and abuse within the Evangelical church.
No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence, by Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark.
CBE International – Offers articles and book reviews about domestic violence.