Index

  • Objectives
  • Role of Clergy
  • How to Assist a Battered or Abused Victim
  • What to Avoid
  • How to Deal with Abusive Partners

Objectives

  • To understand the role of clergy in dealing with instances of domestic violence
  • To understand how to assist victims of domestic violence, including planning or finding safety
  • To learn what to avoid in dealing with those who have suffered domestic violence
  • To learn how to deal with abusers
  • To understand theological issues associated with domestic violence

Role of Clergy

In 1992, the U.S. Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, stated that domestic violence perpetrated by males accounted for more adult female emergency room visits than traffic accidents, muggings, and rapes combined and is the single greatest cause of injury to American women. He declared it a national health crisis.1

Sadly, religion is NOT a deterrent…there is just as much abuse (spousal, child and sexual abuse) in Christian homes as in non-Christian homes.

In addition, spiritual abuse is always a component of abusive behaviors in Christian homes and damages the abused person’s view of God.3 People with strong religious beliefs stay longer in abusive relationships because the reality of their abusive situation gets mixed up with their faith beliefs.2

Often survivors of domestic violence seek assistance and counsel from clergy and other spiritual leaders before turning elsewhere for help; clergy often play a critical role in helping survivors attain safety while maintaining and often strengthening their faith.

According to a task force on the religious community responding to domestic violence, “By sharing the unequivocal message that God never intends for any human being to be abused or oppressed by another, and by linking victims with community resources, clergy can support and strengthen the victim’s faith in a loving and just God. This conviction can serve as an important resource for victims as they undertake the journey from an abusive relationship to a life of peace.”4

Although one of the primary goals is to see victims/survivors free from abuse, on the road to recovery and healing as soon as possible, they are the ones who must decide when they are ready to take the steps necessary for change.

On average, a woman leaves her abuser seven times before she leaves the relationship permanently. The abuse always escalates when she attempts to leave and most women who are killed in domestic violence cases are killed after they have left the abuser.

The goals for intervention by clergy should include:

  • SAFETY for the victim and children
  • THEOLOGICAL clarity
  • ACCOUNTABILITY for the batterer
  • RESTORATION of the relationship (if possible), or
  • MOURNING THE LOSS

Ways to Assist a Battered or Abused Victim

  1. Believe her.
    • Her description of the violence is only the tip of the iceberg.
    • Don’t deny her victimization.
    • Avoid making premature judgment
  2. Reassure her by telling her:
    • This is not her fault. She is not the cause of the violence.
    • She deserves love with respect.
    • Abuse is not God’s will for her.
    • She can regain control of her life and she is worth the change.
  3. Refer her to helpful resources
    The National Domestic Violence Hotline:
    1-800-799-SAFE (-7233)
    1-800-787-3224 (TDD)
  4. Do support and respect her choices. Remember she has the most information about how to survive.
  5. Do consult with colleagues in the wider community who may have expertise and be able to assist you in your care for the survivor.
  • Do support the survivor’s decision, even if you don’t agree with it. She has more information about her batterer and her safety issues than you. Standing with her decision will enable you to keep the lines of communication open and provide opportunities to help her when it may be critical for her well-being.
  • Do encourage her to think about a safety plan that includes some of the following suggestions:
    • Set aside money and copies of important papers for her and her children.
    • Set aside a change of clothes.
    • Plan how to exit the house the next time the abuser is violent.
    • Plan how to connect with the children if they are at school or how to safely remove them from the home if they are asleep.
  • Do protect her confidentiality to the extent possible under the law.
  • Evaluate the need to file a mandated report to the appropriate agency for children, elderly, or disabled persons.
  • Do not give out information about her or her whereabouts to her abuser or to others.
  • Assure her through scripture of God’s love and desire for her safety.
  • Advocate for her.
  • Do help her with any religious concerns.
    • AVA’s You Are Not Alone can bring clarity to Scriptures that have been misapplied to her situation. Order through Covenant Bookstore.
  • If she is a Christian, provide her with helpful books:
    • Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse by Marie M. Fortune.
    • You Are Not Alone by the AVA Ministry
  • Do assure her of your commitment to walk her through this ordeal.
  • Do support her and help her to deal with the loss if she decides to separate from and divorce her partner.
  • Do pray with her and ask God to give her strength and courage.

What to Avoid

  • Do not ask about abuse in the presence of the partner, family or friends.
  • Do not send her home with a prayer and a directive to submit to her husband, to bring him to church, or to be a better Christian wife.
  • Do not suggest couple’s or marriage counseling nor approach her husband and ask for “his side of the story.” These actions can endanger her.
  • Do not advise or encourage her to forgive him and take him back.
  • Such advice could greatly endanger her.
  • Forgiveness can only be achieved when sufficient healing has taken place.
  • If the survivor leaves her partner and later returns, do not ask why.
  • Do not advise her to leave home but rather help her to assess the situation by saying: “From what you have told me, I am very much concerned for your safety…”
  • Do not minimize the danger to her.
  • Do not react with disbelief, disgust or anger at what she tells you.
  • Do not blame her for the violence.
  • Do not encourage her dependence on you.
  • Do not become emotionally or sexually involved with her.

How to Deal with Abusive Partners

According to Eldrige and Still in Transforming Trauma, “Offenders are expert at manipulation of people in order to justify their abuse to themselves and to others, as well as to maintain control and protect secret wishes and plans.”5

  • Don’t approach the offender or reveal that you know about his violence unless:
    • you have the victim’s permission,
    • she is aware that you plan to talk to him, and
    • you are certain that his partner is safely separated from him.
  • Don’t meet with him alone or in private. Meet in a public place or in the church with other people nearby.
  • Don’t allow him to use religious excuses for his behavior.
  • Do name the violence as his problem, not hers.
  • Tell him that only he can stop it; and you are willing to help.
  • Do refer him to a program which specifically addresses abusers.
  • Do assess him for suicide or threats of homicide.
  • Don’t go to him to confirm the victim’s story. Studies have shown that victims rarely lie about abuse. Scripture declares, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the Lord detests them both” (Prov. 17:15 NIV). Holding abusers fully responsible means refusing to accept any excuses or minimizations for violence whatsoever. If clergy accept abusers’ blame-shifting or minimizations, this inevitably serves as stronger reinforcement for the abusers’ pathological beliefs and actions. It is also profoundly harmful to battered wives. In some instances, women were later murdered or seriously injured by their abusive husbands.6
  • Don’t give the abuser any information about his partner/spouse or her whereabouts.
  • Don’t be taken in by his minimization, denial or lying about his violence.
  • Don’t accept his blaming her or other rationalizations for his behavior.
  • If he has been arrested approach him and express your concern and support for him to be accountable and to deal with his violence.
  • Be very skeptical of the abuser’s claim that he has changed, even if he does admit being abusive. He may claim a conversion experience, and even if it is genuine, he is still accountable for his actions. An apology, tears, promises, or a religious experience does not eliminate the need for maintaining safety until the change can be verified by time and professional counselors.7
  • Do not encourage reconciliation too soon. In the case of physical abuse, safety is the priority. If the abuser has truly changed and wants to do whatever is necessary to restore the marriage, he will be willing to wait as long as it takes to prove himself and rebuild trust.

Footnotes

1. The Surgeon General, U.S. Public Health Policy, Journal of the American Medical Association 267 (1192): 3132.
2. Dr. Nancy Nason-Clark, 10/07/2006, “When Terror Strikes the Christian Home;” Keynote Address at the Awakening Conference, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
3. Johnson, K. When Faith is Used to Abuse Windy Hill Institute, 2004.
4. “A Message from the Boston Coalition Religious Community Task Force, in Responding to Domestic Violence: a Guide for Clergy and Laity,” Office of Attorney.
5. H. Eldrige and J. Still, “Apology and Forgiveness in the Context of the Cycles of Adult Male Sex Offenders Who Abuse Children,” in Transforming Trauma: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, ed. A. C. Salter (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1995) 153-54.
6. Tracy, Steven R. “Clergy Responses to Domestic Violence,” Priscilla Papers, Vol. 21, No. 2, Spring, 2007.
7. “Helping a Domestic Violence Victim,” by Focus Ministries.

Resources

1. Nancy A. Murphy, God’s Reconciling Love: A Pastor’s Handbook on Domestic Violence, Faith Trust Institute, 2003.
2. Marie M. Fortune, Keeping the Faith, Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse, Harper Collins Publishers, 1987.
3. Rev. Al Miles, Domestic Violence, What Every Pastor Needs to Know, Augsburg Fortress, 2000.

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