I try very hard not to dominate conversations when the topic turns to gender and faith. I really do! But when a pastor came to our home for dinner, joined by a member of his board, I just couldn’t resist. We were discussing the incidence of abuse in among American Christians. Holding court, I found myself citing the research from Beyond Abuse in the Christian Home: Raising Voices for Change (Wipf & Stock: Eugene, OR, 2008). These researchers interviewed pastors and Christians on their experiences of abuse. Here is what they found:
According to pastors:
- 1 in 5 couples in their congregation is violent
- 8% feel well-equipped to respond to domestic violence
- 9% have counseled 5 or more abused women in the last year
- 83% have counseled at least one abused woman
- 31% have preached 1 sermon on abuse
- 40% discuss violence in premarital counseling
According to women in churches:
- 95% have never heard a sermon on abuse
- 58% have personally helped an abused woman in their church
- Many Christian women who have been violated by abusive acts do not feel that the term “abused woman” applies to them.
This data suggests that abuse is prevalent in Christian churches and marriages, though pastors are not discussing or addressing the problem successfully. Perhaps we lack the tools—a fact that you can hardly blame on pastors given seminaries do not always include abuse as part of pastor’s training curriculum. Given this, I asked my guest, the pastor, if he had ever preached a sermon on abuse?
His response was “No.” I wondered silently if he addressed the topic in pre-marital counseling, or, whether the topic discussed during adult education class? But, before I could ask, the board member said, “Well, actually, over the years, my wife and I have opened our home to several abused women from our church.” Isn’t this interesting, I thought! The pastor hasn’t addressed abuse publically, but a couple in the church has been dealing with abused women for years. Though the church is officially egalitarian, and despite the fact that its leadership supports women at the highest levels, male dominance in the form of abuse is at work.
Taking my hat into my hands I asked the pastor: “Have you ever thought of preaching a sermon on abuse?” To my delight, he seemed quite open. Three months later, on Mother’s Day, he gave a lovely sermon offering a Christian response to abuse. While our conversation that evening may have been uncomfortable, God used it to challenge the status quo—to end the silence on abuse from the pulpit. Perhaps the next step is an adult education class or a premarital counseling session that provides resources for couples in distress?
For me, the lesson learned that evening was basic. Take the risk, ask the questions. Dare to bring problems to the light. Is there really a topic we cannot discuss together as God’s children? Problems unaddressed only fester and become more entrenched, and more virulent, enslaving one generation after another. The church can and should lead the way, but we need many more resources and courage most of all. We need pastors who are not afraid to do what they have never done before—to break the silence on abuse. We also need church curriculum for married and engaged couples that boldly addresses abuse biblically, offering resources for individuals in distress. As the church, the worst thing we do is remain silent, to keep secrets, allowing the hurting to suffer alone. Pray for bold pastors like the one this blog celebrates. May their tribe increase!