According to statistics about 25% of Christian homes will experience abuse. That is 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men.
Where is the Church?
Each minute – Twenty people are victims of intimate partner violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Each day – Three or more women are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands on average, according to the American Psychology Association.
Each month – The National Domestic Violence Hotline receives an average of 23,500 calls.
Each year – Over 10 million women and men are victims of intimate partner violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the amount of casualties lost during war.
Every 9 seconds a woman is beaten in the USA.
Where is the Church?
Domestic abuse is the quiet killer in our churches. Studies have shown that religion is not a protector from violence in our homes. This data is backed up by the millions of women (and men) who have experienced domestic abuse at the hand of their church going spouse. These statistics show up every time a spiritual leader misguides a victim to stay with the abusive partner. The majority of victims fine very little help, resources or support in our churches. That may be because of lack of education for the leaders and members of our church as well as the unwillingness to face the reality of abuse inside our faith communities. Either way, Numbers don’t lie and the numbers inside the church and the numbers outside of the church match. Domestic Abuse is a real issue that effects real people sitting in our pews every weekend. If anything, churches tend to support and enable abuse and abusers. Religion, historically, offers very little, to no protection to victims of domestic violence. (Our churches also do not offer real recovery opportunities for the perpetrators but that is another post for another day)
This is not the way it should be. The Bible clearly and definitely instructs us to care for the oppressed, to strengthen the weak and look after the poor and neglected. As a church we are really good at delivering meals, giving out clothes and even providing Christmas gifts to the underprivileged. What is our attitude toward domestic abuse and survivors? What do we do for the modern widow? How do we counsel the victim of violence? Are we willing to face and deal with the ramifications of abuse in our church?
Here is an easy list of places to begin in your church and community. Break the silence and shame of being a victim of abuse. Surround hurting families and offer them hope.
- Believe the victim’s story. What she tells you is only a small fraction of what is really going on. The courage it takes to disclose to you is astounding. She is very concerned that you will blame her or hate her partner. Believe her, reassure her that you believe her but do not blame her. The first person I told, hugged and told me she was sorry. She said that she suspected something was wrong but didn’t know what. She assured me that she was glad I told her. This made a huge difference in my hope. I wasn’t crazy, she could see it too and that meant so much to me.
- Beware of Victim Blaming. Our society lends itself to victim blaming. Words like ‘why don’t you just leave’ or ‘how can you allow him to do that to you’ or ‘what did you do to provoke him’? are all phrases that tell the victim that it is her fault. She already believes it is her fault and your words will only reinforce her suffering. She doesn’t need your shaming, she needs your support. When I disclosed to my pastor, he said that there had to be a reason that my husband was abusing me. I needed to pray more, submit more and figure out what I was doing to trigger his anger. Needless to say, I did not seek help from that pastor again.
- Be Concrete in your help. Saying that you’ll pray for her is important but actually follow that up with spiritual care and concrete action. Ask her what else she needs and do your best to help her. Financial help, someone to talk to, a ride somewhere even help finding a book from the library might be all she needs to feel like she can take the next step toward safety. When I was trying to leave, I needed help changing a tire. I had 3 small baby’s and no money. A friend offered to help me get the tire taken care of. That was my last barrier to actually driving away from my abuser.
- Educate yourself. Abuse is its own dynamic, its own cycle and its own unique stressor. To be a support who helps with compassion and protection, please take the time to learn what abuse is and the effects it has on the victim and family. Educate yourself regarding local resources you could help direct her to. You don’t have to become her advocate or counselor but having basic knowledge of abuse will help you support her better.
- Know God’s heart toward victims. The church has a lot of misinformation about abuse and marriage and divorce. Much of what comes out of the church is patriarchal and victim blaming. Most pastors are not trained to deal properly with abuse dynamics. God doesn’t expect a victim to stay in abuse. His heart is for her. He loves her and she will need to lean on Him and seek healing through Him. You can help her by clearly showing and verbalizing to her that Jesus has a hope and a future for her.
- Refuse to support the abuser. Often, the abuser will have surrounded himself with supporters. He will have put out a rumor about the victim and made her into the ‘bad guy’ and himself into the victim. Many people will choose their side and statistics show that usually that is the side of the abuser. It is easier to align yourself with the abuser then it is to believe the victim. The abuser has spent years making his steller reputation. At the same time, the victim has been isolated and often hasn’t been able to make friends and may seem odd to many. When the allegations begin, the victim is often silent in the face of the barrage of verbal assault and the abuser uses that to his advantage. Refusing to be drawn into his charming and misleading lie will help to support the victim.
- Become Involved. This one goes beyond helping just one victim. This is where your empathy turns into action. Speak out, speak up and educate your church community on what you’ve learned. Learn the signs of Domestic Abuse and become a safe person who other can seek out for help. Connect yourself with local organizations that you can support financially or physically. Become a voice in the darkness and offer a bible study, a support group or even a women’s retreat to discuss the impact of domestic abuse on women, children and families.
Where is the church? The church is here, present and active. The church is made up of people, individuals like you who can make a huge difference in the healing of domestic abuse on our families. Christ’s love is the only way to heal from domestic abuse for families as well as for our churches. Showing Christ’s love in the face of domestic abuse will go far in stopping the silence that surrounds domestic abuse. Abuse is sin. When we remain silent in the face of sin, we are actively condoning that sin. Speak up and break the silence for the good of our church and for the victims.