There are many who are struggling in abusive and dysfunctional relationships, and many of them belong to churches. They sit in the pews on Sunday morning alongside their abusive spouse. Perhaps you are unaware that behind the smiles and handshakes is a secret that is steadily destroying the entire family. Statistics show that one in every four American women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2007). If you are skeptical about this statistic being true in your church, please consider the following reasons why you may be unaware:
· Victims may be hesitant to come to you with their story if you have not taken a strong stand against domestic violence (verbal, emotional & physical) from the pulpit.
· When they finally get up the courage to tell someone, victims need to know their pastor will believe them, will maintain confidentiality, and will be willing to help.
· The abuser may be one of your staff, deacons, Sunday School teachers, or your biggest tither. Pastors need to be willing to confront someone they respect and trust about their abusive behavior.
· You may have missed the warning signs that should alert you to suspect domestic violence. Do you know the classic profile of an abuser and a victim?
· Many Christian women who are being abused remain silent because they have been told by their pastors to pray harder, be more submissive, cook their husband’s favorite meals, keep a clean house, and develop more patience and understanding in order to make their husband happy. They give well-meaning (but harmful) advice without knowing what is really going on behind closed doors.
· Many victims will only share part of their story to see how you will react. You will only see the tip of the iceberg. Pastors need to take seriously the concerns of the victim.
· You may be so focused on other ministries in your church that you don’t notice the needs in your own church family.
· You may be avoiding abuse concerns because of legal and personal risks of getting involved.
· You did not receive training in seminary on how to deal with domestic abuse, and you think annual marriage conferences will take care of the problem. Dealing with domestic abuse requires different skills than dealing with marital conflicts.
· You don’t want to be perceived as being soft on divorce if you advise someone to leave an abusive marriage.
Families are suffering in silence because the epidemic of domestic abuse is being ignored. Sadly, many people don’t get involved until domestic abuse affects someone they love— such as a son, daughter, parent, friend, or neighbor. We are confident the problem is present in your congregation, whether you are aware of it or not. Here are the tools you will need:
1. Education - Domestic abuse has many facets which cannot be compared to difficulties in typical marriages. The method of counseling is entirely different. If you do not understand the mindset of an abuser, you will not be able to help the victim effectively. In fact, you may put them in greater danger. If you are not aware of the dynamics of domestic abuse, make it a priority to learn. We are available to present workshops and create a specialized Domestic Kindness team within your church to help make your church more aware.
2. Clarification - When you understand that an abusive husband feels justified by scripture to “keep his wife in line” because he is the head of the house, you must clarify your sermon on the husband’s role to explain about “servant leadership,” as well as defining specific actions that are considered abusive. You should remind men that scripture does not give them permission to punish or discipline their wives, even if they are not submissive. When you teach about submission, don’t stop short by just instructing wives to submit to their husbands. Husbands are to submit to their wives; children are to submit to their parents; employees are to submit to their employers; and we are all to submit to God (Eph. 5:21-32) Explain Jesus’ style of servant leadership which had nothing to do with external control or coercion. He did not use His power to control and demand, but to invite, nurture, and serve. Many good Christian men in your congregation view women as “second class” or “less than” men. They may not openly admit to this attitude but listen closely to their jokes and occasional references to the belief that men are superior to women and are entitled to certain advantages and rights. Be careful in your sermons to clearly define the man’s role and responsibility which should be modeled after Christ’s example of humility, servanthood, compassion, forgiveness, and long-suffering. Remind them of the scriptures which indicate men are not spiritually superior to women (Gal. 3:28; 1 Peter 3:7). Ask God to reveal truth from His Word and for a teachable spirit.
3. Courage - Getting involved in domestic abuse is risky and messy. Many people shrink back because they are afraid of personal attack. If you have the courage to get involved, you may be threatened by a lawsuit or by bodily harm. If God has called you to defend the defenseless, just as Jesus would do, are you willing to lay your life on the line? Ask God for the courage it takes to go the distance.
4. Wisdom - You will need to rely on wisdom from above to discern the truth about an abusive situation. Most abusers are very clever and charming. They will try to convince you their spouse has a mental problem and needs help. They know how to use religious words and tears to convince you they have repented and changed. You will need discernment when a victim denies being abused in order to protect the spouse, and wisdom to know how to proceed without putting the victim in greater danger.
5. Toughness - The abusers also need your help. They are caught up in a cycle that needs to be broken, and they need support and accountability to change their mind-set about power and control. Pastors must be tough enough to encounter rage and hostility from someone who may not want to change.
6. Respect - Victims are not helped by others who try to take over control of their lives. They already have a controlling spouse who has convinced them they are not capable of making decisions on their own. They need compassion and respect from someone who will present them with options so they can make choices and regain their dignity and self-worth.
7. Integrity - Keep confidentiality! Never share your conversation with the victim’s abuser, even if that person is a friend or serves on your board. When you promise to help someone, follow through. Don’t place strings on your help. Guard yourself from getting emotionally involved with someone who is looking to you for strength.
8. Spiritual Direction - Help victims put their pursuit of God before their pursuit of a better marriage. Ask God to help you put the safety of victims and children above your desire to preserve the marriage.
9. Resources - The church needs to provide safety and financial help for victims of domestic abuse.
Please contact us if you would like our assistance in becoming a church that cares well for abuse. We look forward to hearing from you.
(Information adapted from FOCUS Ministries)