October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The statistics on domestic violence in the United States alone is staggering: one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; each year, 3 to 4 million women will be the victim of assault by an intimate partner; 70 to 80% of intimate partner perpetrators also abuse their children; more than three women are killed every day by an intimate partner. In 2007, The Family Violence Prevention Fund surveyed 1,020 men in the Father’s Day Poll. The researchers found that the majority (56%) of men have had reason to believe that a member of their immediate or extended family, a close friend, or an acquaintance has been in a domestic violence or sexual assault situation. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of men think that our society should do more to respect women and girls. Rating the faith community, 36% of the men said that these institutions were “doing enough,” while 54% said these institutions should be doing more. In fact, several research studies suggest that the church may be more of a hindrance than a help for battered women.
This raises the question: So what can faith communities do to “do more”? First, church leaders can educate themselves on domestic violence and the resources available. Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH) and Faith Institute provide educational resources. Al Miles’ Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know, Steven Tracy’s Mending the Soul, and Ron Clark’s Setting the Captive Free are specifically written for the Christian community. The Duluth Program, based in Duluth, MN, nationally recognized as the standard for the field, has developed Christian programs to address male violence against female partners.
Second, church leaders can evaluate their own beliefs. Ron Thorne-Finch (and other male writers) suggests men fall into one of three categories when it comes to domestic violence: those who abuse, those who tacitly (and perhaps unknowingly) collude, and those who actively work to end violence against women. An honest self-appraisal is needed. Men who perpetrate violence against intimate partners, do so, simply put, because of their belief system. They generally hold to beliefs that they as head of the house have the right to do whatever is necessary to maintain their power. Systems based on male privilege and power support those beliefs. Some questions to ask are: How do you and your church understand the marital relationship? Is the emphasis on mutual submission and servanthood, or on dominance of one partner over the other? How does your organization handle the role of women? Are women’s voices, views, and opinions valued and represented by leadership and those in positions of decision-making power? If you have preached that God hates divorce, have you also taught that God hates the man who covers his wife with violence (Mal. 2:16). If you have called women to submit to their husbands, have you also called husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her?
Third, church leaders can encourage their membership to get involved in stopping violence against women and children. The movie Fireproof addresses domestic violence in its more subtle forms and can be a great discussion starter on promoting loving, healthy relationships while bringing domestic violence into the public consciousness. Develop a “Safe Church” policy for women in the same way many churches have set up safe church policy to protect children. Train children to resolve conflict in non-violent, non-intimidating ways. Contact your local domestic violence shelter and offer support.
God’s people are called to model loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Martin Luther wrote, “The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.” In speaking out against domestic violence, the church can fulfill its call to be a voice of hope and a place of help and healing for women and children living in terror.
You can find more resources on domestic violence and abuse, such as Responding to Abuse in Christian Homes, Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence, and No Place for Abuse, at CBE Bookstore.