Most of us have bumped into domestic violence whether we know it or not. Maybe we’ve been a victim ourselves, or we’ve known someone who was. Maybe a co-worker who seemed somewhat crazy and came to work with bruises on her arms or a daughter’s best friend didn’t want to go to school for fear of what dad would do to mom. As a pastor I encountered domestic violence in the church. A beloved deacon dated a member of the choir and physically abused her children. Even though he was convicted in court and did jail time, the congregation was divided. Some demonized the deacon, but many more concluded that the woman couldn’t be believed.
Domestic violence is a pattern of purposeful behaviors directed at achieving control over another person. It can involve verbal, physical, psychological and sexual abuse. It often includes social isolation, financial control and the fear of threat without raising a hand. On average, more than 1 in 4 women will experience violence in their lifetime, netting 1.2 million victims a year. Increasingly, men are victims too. Witnessing violence in the home by children is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violence from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes in this country. And it’s no wonder why: Of the approximately 20% who obtain civil protection orders, about 1/2 are violated again by their perpetrators (Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.ncadv.org).
Because the church is embedded in society we are not immune. Pastor James Polling sounds the alarm: “More than 25% of the members of a typical congregation have experienced violence and abuse. Therefore, victims, survivors and perpetrators are present in every congregation whenever a sermon is preached. (Telling the Truth, p. 72).” Though dealing with domestic violence in the church can be challenging, religious leaders can make a difference. First, if a victim discloses believe them. Second, say the behavior is wrong. Finally, avoid couples counseling as it only escalates the cycle of violence. Blue Grass Domestic Violence Project in my state of KY summarizes: Because victims are looking to their faith for strength and answers, the role of the church becomes important. Victims need to hear from the pulpit that domestic violence is wrong, that they are not to blame. They need to hear that they are believed and that the church, synagogue or mosque will take action steps to provide safety and support for those suffering.
Encourage your faith leaders to speak out about domestic violence this month. Ask if your place of worship has any protocols in place to guide a response when domestic violence is disclosed. Distribute the bulletin insert (bulletin insert) created by Faith Trust Institute, invite agencies who deal with abuse to your coffee hour, and light a candle during your prayer time to speak the names of those who have died. Most states provide websites with these statistics called Speak My Name. Click here to see the list for 2013 for the state of KY. If you believe that you don’t know anyone who’s a victim of domestic violence, they probably haven’t told you.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233