In an issue of "Breakpoint," April 19, 2009, Chuck Colson lamented: “Tragically, studies reveal that spousal abuse is just as common within the evangelical churches as anywhere else. This means that about 25 percent of Christian homes witness abuse of some kind. In many Christian homes, domestic violence is a family value. How can any family be strong when one or more of its members live in fear of being hit, maimed, or killed in their own home by one of their own? Virtually no church, house of worship, or community is untouched by this act of sin."
What Churches Can Do to Stop Domestic Violence?
Standing together, churches can become powerful first-responder networks that help create zero tolerance for intimate partner and dating violence throughout the communities they serve. First, pastors and their teams must learn to recognize the signs and, then, how to address domestic abuse without jeopardizing the abused person's safety. Because virtually every church body has abused members within it, each should receive formal training for the pastoral and lay teams to fight domestic violence. Every church body needs to identify the resources in their community that serve the needs of abused persons and become an active part of that support network.
What Is the Church's Responsibility?
In order to help prevent Domestic Violence it is vitally important to: Give a "Correct Reading of Scripture."
Often, men who abuse their wives use the Scriptures (for example, "women submit to your husbands") as a justification for their abuse. This is sin, and pastors need to confront this head-on. The church needs to replace this lie with Christ's view of marriage. Teach the true meaning of "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church" (Ephesians 5:25). Tell your church that nowhere in the Bible does God give men the right to hit their wives, or vice versa. Verbal abuse hides itself in the submission and headship message. This is a SIN. Any view of marriage that does not emphasize love and respect between husbands and wives is a misrepresentation of Scripture. As leaders in the church, the pastoral team has a responsibility to teach these truths, both in premarital counseling and in sermons.
Signs to Intervene When You Recognize the Domestic Abuse
The signs of abuse are not always a bloodied, black-eyed victim. Quite often, they are much more subtle. This is why pastoral teams need to be trained to recognize a number of possible signs:
Of course, by themselves, most of these are not necessarily signs of abuse. Still, training will heighten your sensitivity to situations that simply are not right. When you recognize that something is not right, take the victim aside and ask her about those bruises. Challenge her answers if they raise your suspicions. Let her know she can trust you with her secrets and her safety.
Provide Safety for the Victim(s)
Safety first for the abused person and children caught in the middle of the relationship. Realize that the children may also be abuse victims. Even if they are not being hit, children are damaged emotionally by seeing violence between their parents. When a woman comes to you with charges of abuse, listen to her. Believe her. Don't try to downplay the gravity of what has happened. Tell her that if he has hit her, he's likely to do it again. Tell her that it is your intention to help her and that your conversation is private. You will not share it with anyone, including her husband. If she's not ready to leave the relationship, recommend that she develop an emergency plan for getting out and away from her abuser safely. Her emergency plan should include a kit with cash, bank records, medications, a change of clothing for herself and her children, and their birth certificates. Have a safe place known only to a select few where abuse victims in your church can hide their emergency supplies. Learn how to get victims into a safe house in your community. Find out if she needs shelter. Then, help her get there.
Be a Resource
Yes, pray for her, but don't just send her back home. Instead, make the victim aware of the network of resources available to help. Reassure the victim that your church is one of those resources. You will be there to pray for this family and help them through this. The victim may also need medical care, legal advice, a restraint order for protection, food and clothing, a cell phone, and other resources. Make sure you know how to connect victims with these basic needs. Establish a church emergency fund for domestic violence victims that can be used to pay for a hotel room, urgent care at the hospital, food, clothing, and other immediate needs. Don't do everything for her. She doesn't need to be rescued. She needs a plan and a means of carrying it out. Remember, you're part of a first-responder network, so be prepared. Make sure your first-responder team has a system, so they can go right into action when a victim needs help. Give your team an easy-to-follow checklist, so they know exactly what they are to do, whom to contact, and how to reach them.
Hold the Abuser Accountable
Help the abuser get help. Pray for him. But do not let the abuser off the hook by minimizing the gravity of what he has done. Make sure he understands that he must take ownership of his actions. He is 100% responsible for the violence he perpetrated. Nothing his wife or kids did, and nothing in the Scriptures, justifies his action. Make sure he understands this and that his behavior is sinful. Violence is unacceptable. Never counsel the couple together. This can be dangerous for the abuse victim. Make sure the abuser understands that you intend to stand by his victim. You will pray for him and support him, but he must be willing to change. Part of your resources as a member of the community first-responder network should be identifying a treatment program for abusers. Connect him with it.
Remove Members of the Leadership Team Who Commit or Tolerate Abuse
It should be evident that members of the leadership team who are themselves abusers must be removed. It should be evident, but sadly, some pastors just don't get it. In her 2007 book What Women Wish Pastors Knew, Christian author Denise George, sites the findings from a survey of 6000 pastors who were asked their attitudes toward domestic violence. The findings are shocking: Asked how they would counsel a woman who came to them seeking help for abuse in her marriage:
26 percent would tell her it's her job to "submit" to her husband.
25 percent would actually tell her that it was her fault she was beaten because she didn't submit.
50 percent said they would tell her that submitting to the violence was better than getting a divorce.
Most Pastors excuse VERBAL ABUSE as the victim "being too sensitive" or that she has done something to provoke him.
Shocking, isn't it? Who is an abused Christian woman to turn to if her own pastor believes such sinful behavior is justifiable? Eagle's Wings goal is to help churches help families struggling with domestic violence. Find out how our programs can help your church's leadership team create a safety net for victims in your church and community.
Read "When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women."
In 1992, the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued a strong condemnation of the church's handling of domestic violence. They called for a "correct reading of Scripture" with regard to relationships between men and women. They condemned abusers and pastors who use scripture to justify the abuse of women. Further, they called upon priests, pastors, and church lay teams to become "first responders" who protect the abused. The Bishops reissued their declaration 10 years later, in 2002. To learn much more about how the church can battle domestic violence, read their statement in its entirety.
(For more information-http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/domestic-violence/when-i-call-for-help.cfm)
Domestic Violence Prevention, Intervention, and Healing
Need Help: National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or 9-1-1