Domestic Violence: Education is the Key to Better Church Response

Domestic Violence, Church Response, Education

purple ribbons

-by Kathi


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.

19 comments on “Domestic Violence: Education is the Key to Better Church Response

  1. This article helped me. I was married 32 years to a pastor. Abuse was interspersed but became regular the last 15 years. There was no actual hitting but much verbal abuse, holding me over stove and against wall. There was lying and blaming and using scripture to manipulate. Because I didn’t have marks, the police laughed at me just like my husband did. He used his elbows and said “see I am not hurting you.”

    I am in my sixties and am still working on abuse from childhood which was severe.
    3 years ago I was told by a pastor that the denomination believed all I said was hearsay.
    I am struggling every day to breathe and make steps. It us extremely difficult.
    I left my husband 6 years ago. He still stalks me as of 3 mos ago. The police gave him a warning (finally).

    I feel so burdened that my own slow recovery from childhood abuse affected my ability to be a whole mother. It is devastating. Am making slow progress. Focus Ministries started by Paula Silva has helped me. I attend support group there. You may not know about them.

    Thank you so much for more research. I believe I have brain damage from being drugged, hung upside down, thrown against walls and stepped on violently. I am growing ever so slowly. At least God knows while I have not gotten much help from church. I am unable to sit in a church right now, so I attend prayer group and support group. If I told you some of my history in church, it would be a sad tale denial. But I have gotten some help and am learning that not everyone who is a leader really is willing. Thank you very much. I stumbled upon this site in middle of night trying to find strength to keep going.

    [Admin note: JA changed the name on this comment and revised personal identifying info since “Trina” could get in harm’s way with her ex still stalking.}

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope many read your post and act on it. I need to give my current church credit for taking a strong public stand on DV and protecting women when needed. It has been publicly stated that reconciliation is often not possible and can be grounds for divorce. It’s a theologically conservative church, so there is hope for other churches!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Trina- Welcome! I’m so sorry for all you have been through and how you received very little support. And, I know it’s sometimes even scarier to leave an abuser, especially when stalking is involved, because you know what he is capable of doing. It’s good that you have some support through the small groups. I hope you are finding your way toward peace and healing.

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  4. Trina, even if he was too sneaky to leave marks, hitting with elbows and holding you against a wall against your will counts as physical assault/abuse. I’m sorry you had to go through that. God will not hear your ex’s prayers. (But He will hear yours; he cares for the defenseless and weak.) It says that in the Bible, believe it or not.

    I too will pray that that horrible man quits stalking you!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. @Trina:

    He used his elbows and said “see I am not hurting you.”

    You can do more damage with an elbow strike than you can with a fist. Check out your elbow — it’s solid bone, much stronger than the fingerbones and metacarpals in your fist; you can strike HARD without worrying about breaking your own bones.

    P.S. Doesn’t that phrasing sound like a three-year-old going “See? I’m NOT touching you! See? See? See?”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was being abused while attending Baptist churches, and counseled with instructions to wives in 1 Peter 3, and advised to be a better wife so he wouldn’t have to punish me anymore. When he left me for someone much younger, the deacons announced that I was unfit for youth leadership positions because I was guilty of “adultery by proxy” for allowing him to leave me for someone else.

    Yes, the church can do better.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lisa A – “adultery by proxy?” That is appalling – holding you responsible for your husband’s sin!? That is a form of faith-based abuse I have never heard of before. I am so sorry they did that to you. It is shocking the depths to which the legalist church-folk will go to keep hurting people in bondage while protecting the wicked.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Yes, I finally left that church for an independent Christian church. They seemed a little more compassionate.

    I did suggest that, if they took so much joy in legalism, they could go Old Testament justice and stone my husband and his girlfriend. Then I would be a widow, and blameless. It did little to change my previous church’s attitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think an important distinction in this conversation is to isolate which churches believe in the infallibility of the Bible and a “literalist” interpretation. These are the churches that insist on women tolerating abusive husbands, not divorcing them, blaming women for husband’s sin, etc., because they idolize scriptures that supposedly teach these things (wives submit to husbands, etc.) and can never accept nuance and exceptions to what they read, let alone doing some homework on historical context.

    As for some of Driscoll’s conclusions (Song of Solomon describing oral sex), Christian sexual counselors often rightly teach the same. The difference is Driscoll doesn’t just teach oral sex or other alternatives as fun options for couples, but he implies women should do certain things or else they are complicit in their husband’s sexual hang ups. It’s out-of-balance teaching and pressures women. Men have the same responsibilities to meet the needs of wives.

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  10. Hi Kathi, I’m yet to read your whole article, but would you mind changing the thing you’ve said about ACFJ? The stated purpose of our blog is “Awakening the evangelical church to domestic violence and abuse in its midst.” We believe that it’s important to use the word ‘abuse’ rather than just confine ourselves to the term ‘domestic violence’.

    The reason we believe that is because so many victims do not identify with the word ‘violence’. They think, “He hasn’t hit me” so that doesn’t apply to me. Even if the abuser has ‘hit’ the target, some targets understandably block our the memory of hte assault, for a whole range of reasons most of which are to do with trying to survive the oppression and trauma.

    We believe that calling it ‘domestic abuse’ helps dispel the myth that only physical violence counts as abuse.

    Many abusers do not use physical violence, or if they do they only use it rarely or
    mildly enough so that the victim doesn’t ever need medical treatment. Most abuse is done by coercive control: mind games, psychological manipulation, micro-management of the target’s daily life, and subtle threats and subtle punishments when the target doesn’t meet the abuser’s (changing at a whim) expectations and demands. Most of this would not be classified in many countries as criminal conduct. But it is incredibly hurtful and dangerous to the victim. Domestic abuse is a form of entrapment and kidnapping.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Another thing, Kathi, I have a big problem with the statistic which the NCADV gives that “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.”

    That statistic comes from studies which used the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS). Research which uses the CTS does not adequately distinguish the severity of the violence, nor the context in which the violence occurred, nor the level of fear it produces in the victim.

    The evidence is that:

    The problem of domestic / family / intimate partner violence is largely a problem of violence by men, against women and children.
    Comparing men’s violence against female partners and ex-partners and women’s violence against male partners and ex-partners, men’s violence:
    — Is far more common
    — Has much worse impacts
    — Is far less likely to be in self-defence.
    If we only ‘count violent acts’, males look like 1 in 3 or 4 of victims. But as soon as we look at impact, meaning, context, and history, we find profound gender contrasts.

    See these links for more info:
    http://www.xyonline.net/content/domestic-violence-and-gender-xy-collection

    https://www.academia.edu/17833870/The_Debate_Over_Mens_Versus_Womens_Family_Violence

    http://www.xyonline.net/sites/default/files/Kimmel,%20Gender%20symmetry%20in%20dom.pdf

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  12. Australia has some very good secular websites about domestic abuse which may be even better than the American ones. (Sorry if I’m offending yankees but I think this may be true. America is not at the forefront on everything! )

    Here are a few of them:
    http://www.dvrcv.org.au/
    http://www.ntvmrs.org.au/
    http://www.safesteps.org.au/

    And Scotland is on the brink of passing legislation which will criminalise coercive control in domestic abuse. Yay! See here —
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-37365373

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  13. Dear Trina, I totally believe you.
    The pastor who dismissed your reports as ‘hearsay’ was very very wrong to say that. can only imagine how much that wounded you. The abuse from the perpetrators is horrible and then the abuse from the pastors and ‘c’hristians who blow off the victim’s report is horrible on top of that. It retraumatizes the victim. It re-abuses the victim all over again.

    Re the stalking, I wish more jurisdictions had laws that better protected victims of domestic abuse from stalking. When my abuser stalked me by posting slanderous things about me on social media, I was able to obtain a five year protection order which meant if he did that again I could go to the cops and they might charge him with the crime of breaching the protection order. ….. But, and this is a big difference, I live in Victoria Australia, where the laws about domestic abuse are quite possibly better than the laws where you live.

    For the stalking problem, you might find some helpful things in these links from the blog I lead, A Cry For Justice (ACFJ):

    https://cryingoutforjustice.com/resources/legal-assistance/
    https://cryingoutforjustice.com/resources/safety-planning/
    https://cryingoutforjustice.com/resources/social-networking-and-multi-media/

    And you might find the FAQ page of ACFJ helpful too:
    https://cryingoutforjustice.com/faq/

    (((hugs))) to you if you want them, Trina. 🙂

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  14. You can do more damage with an elbow strike than you can with a fist.

    HUG, this is what they said in a self defense training I attended recently. (But you have to be in close contact for it to work)

    When he left me for someone much younger, the deacons announced that I was unfit for youth leadership positions because I was guilty of “adultery by proxy” for allowing him to leave me for someone else.

    Lisa…what. on. earth??? That’s insanity. Churches like this need to get their house in order.

    Like

  15. Men have the same responsibilities to meet the needs of wives.

    Has driscoll ever made a point to challenge husbands to satisfy their wives in the same way? Honestly I cannot take any of them seriously when all things seem to be about pleasing the husband…especially when these are generally coming from men and thus come off as incredibly self serving.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I haven’t read their book on marriage, but that would be interesting to see if he did challenge husbands. I just did a cursory look at the book reviews and saw nothing about that, but I thought this was telling of one reviewer:

    “When I was reading this book, I also watched his messages on relationships, marriage and sex, and one of the biggest things that bothered me was his focus on what Grace has done wrong…”

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  17. Hi Barbara – I’m confused about the wording about your blog. The description is based upon the header on your page – “Awakening the Evangelical church to domestic violence and abuse in its midst.” As far as the stats, I only cited a few. There are more on the link for those who would like to see the other numbers. All of the stats are based upon U.S. Center for Disease Control studies.

    Like

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