Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Effective Domestic Abuse Prevention in Church

In the 8th comment on my “Church Lies” post,, I bring up the question, “What can pastors do differently to be more effective at freeing women from their abusers and at stopping abuse.” Some of my own suggestions are that congregations should have at least 5-6 people per a 200 member group speak to the group about domestic abuse. That would give those who are mistreated by their spouses some choices. Instead of going to the pastor, they could go to someone they feel comfortable around, with whom they may have a closer relationship. In addition, instead of speaking on marriage twice a year and focusing on wife submission, pastors should speak on marriage six times a year, teaching against one-way submission, and instead teaching how a couple can submit one to another.

Especially important is the teaching of attitude. A spouse could keep the letter of the law, but if they are doing the bare minimum, their spouse will likely be unhappy and feel slighted. It is important that each spouse is as concerned about the happiness and satisfaction of their partner (provided that satisfaction is not gained by abusing and controlling the spouse.) as well as their own.

These are suggested because the wives who stay with their abusers, seem to think it will get better; that they must stay married, and/or refuse to report it because they think no one will understand, or think that since they are NOT perfect, the pastor will blame them, or that reporting is too nasty, or some combination of these. These are in addition to the concerns secular wives face. Some women think they ought not go to secular society for advice. So if their church doesn't teach about this issue, they think there is no one to go to. In addition, many Christian counselors are not trained concerning domestic abuse, and would be likely to push for couples counseling, which is extremely damaging to the powerless wife and her children.

I would like ideas and comments from others. What can our churches do differently to be more effective in getting the message about domestic violence and domestic abuse to women who need help in recognizing abuse and in getting themselves and their children free from their abuser? I'd like to save discussion for how to be there for abused wives for a different post. For this post, I want to address how the church can help abused wives get educated and unstuck before the damage to themselves and their children becomes severe. After all, the sooner the abuser is confronted and reeducated, the more chance he has of making permanent change, and the more likely the marriage can become a union of equals who respect and value one another for who they really are, instead of for some role they have been pushed to play.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.


  1. These are very good questions, Waneta.

    I think pastors should teach on mutual submission and true servanthood specifically TO MEN/HUSBANDS very frequently- weekly even. Here's why I think pastors should focus on that to MEN/HUSBANDS specifically:

    Women often teach youth Sunday school, which means preparing the lesson plans and then teaching it. That's two instances of hearing instructive teaching and living it out. They might also teach or attend a weekly Bible study, again at least two more instances of receiving instructive Bible teaching and putting it into practice. If they home school using Christian curriculum, they are daily drenched in spiritual instruction, as well as in humility and service of cleaning, cooking, and child care. Even for women who are not SAHM/HSing, they still probably listen to Christian radio on their commute and still do the bulk of serving when they get home from work.

    Most men have AT BEST a daily brief devotional reading period. Actually, that is the committed few. MOST men merely show up Sunday morning. Some of them manage to stay awake even.

    So, since women are being bombarded with calls to Christian love, sacrifice and service all week long already, pastors should spend the ONE hour a week that most men are listening to strongly admonish them to Christian love and service. It still won't balance out, but it would come a lot closer.

    My opinion, anyway.

  2. I was recently reading Ecclesiastes, and King Solomon (they believe the author)to me spoke against some of the myths of life and faith that we hear pushed today.

    Ecclesiastes 7:9-10 MKJV (9) Do not be hasty in your spirit to be angry; for anger rests in the bosom of fools. (10) Do not say, Why was it that the former days were better than these? For you do not ask wisely in regard to this.

    How often do we hear that we would be better off following the ways of the past? How often do they compare today to yesterday in order to shame others?

    Ecclesiastes 8:1-8 GNB Only the wise know what things really mean. Wisdom makes them smile and makes their frowns disappear. (2) Do what the king says, and don't make any rash promises to God. (3) The king can do anything he likes, so depart from his presence; don't stay in such a dangerous place. (4) The king acts with authority, and no one can challenge what he does. (5) As long as you obey his commands, you are safe, and a wise person knows how and when to do it. (6) There is a right time and a right way to do everything, but we know so little! (7) None of us knows what is going to happen, and there is no one to tell us. (8) No one can keep from dying or put off the day of death. That is a battle we cannot escape; we cannot cheat our way out.

    How often do we hear to 'obey' your husband in everything, and yet he says that there is even a time to NOT listen to the King that has authority over you. How a wise man will know when he should, and when he should not.

    Ecclesiastes 8:10-14 BBE (10) And then I saw evil men put to rest, taken even from the holy place; and they went about and were praised in the town because of what they had done. This again is to no purpose. (11) Because punishment for an evil work comes not quickly, the minds of the sons of men are fully given to doing evil. (12) Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and his life is long, I am certain that it will be well for those who go in fear of God and are in fear before him. (13) But it will not be well for the evil-doer; he will not make his days long like a shade, because he has no fear before God. (14) There is a thing which is to no purpose done on the earth: that there are good men to whom is given the same punishment as those who are evil, and there are evil men who get the reward of the good. I say that this again is to no purpose.

    Because punishment for an evil work comes not quickly, the minds of the sons of men are fully given to doing evil. - could that be he is talking about lack of accountability? How if it is seen that is this lack then people figure WHY not - he got away with it! Its called human nature, and yet the church denies it.

  3. Waneta, for Christians, this is so important. Christian women don't recognise abuse and when they do look for help, they are unlikely to approach a secular domestic violence service, even though that is where she will find the knowledge she needs. So churches MUST have the resources to educate, support and help the abused and the abusers.

    I have been thinking a lot along those lines. When I first separated, I started drip-feeding my pastors. Emailing them with articles, giving them printed material (including a handbook for clergy) and speaking to them whenever they wanted an update on my situation.

    At the same time, I started seeking out professionals and survivors in our church and found some. Sometimes it is hard to tell who is ignorant and who understands but very soon in the conversation it becomes clear.

    My third step will be to sound out the possibility of having a support group. I am already attending a secular one to get some ideas of how it should/could run. I would get one pastor to oversee such a group, but not facilitate it. The pastor would obviously have to be supportive about domestic violence, but doesn't necessarily have to be educated in it, because slowly, the education will come if the person is open and gets the right information.

    The biggest obstacle to overcome would be the abusers (men and women who abuse and their allies). If you had an "open" session and an abuser heard such information, he/she would object (on no less than theological grounds) and use abusive tactics like bullying, coercion, intimidation, etc. to block the progress of such an awareness campaign. Certainly, their spouses would have their safety compromised if they dared to be transformed by such awareness. You would expect things to escalate and many marriage crises to occur before you see the results of having such church initiatives to prevent domestic abuse.

  4. As not all men have the abusive mentality, many Christian men in the pews must be potential allies of abused women (and abused men as well). Surely we should break that ignorance by making sure we get them as allies. The more domestic violence is seen for what it is, and not a rant of secular feminists, the better the chances of women in churches being validated and believed.

    Surely Christian men who are already advocates can spread their passion by enlisting the support of men by starting a movement to educate men to be God's hand of deliverance and support to all the abused women in the pews. Most of the people who are currently enlightened, aware and passionate seem to be either survivors or social workers - mostly women. We need to the men to join in the battle.

  5. Anonymous,
    The problem is that so many Christian men are taught to disregard the abuse of a husband presuming that it is a part of what he must do to maintain authority over his wife. Whole churches, whole movements, blame the wives for the abusive acts of their husbands. In those churches the voices of one or two men who are against husbands abusing their wives would be drowned out--if they even dared have the thought.

    It is possible that in churches where the husband authority doctrine is not so heavily preached, that there may be a few men who would stand up as allies. But unless they hear that one of their sisters, aunts, daughters--or their mother--has been abused, they tend to stay uninterested. It often takes a life experience to get them involved. Oh yes, men who are negatively effected because their wife was abused may also be willing to get involved.

    I agree, we DO need men, real MEN, to join in the fight. The men who abuse have no respect for women, so our words fall on deaf ears. Women had to rely on law-makers, and then the police and judges to make any dent at all.

    And now a small army of Christian women, and an even smaller army of Christian men, is working to educate pastors, lay workers, and Christians as a whole. Generally, unless a man has been on the receiving end of domestic abuse, he don't care to get involved. Considering the many voices who claim women are just as abusive as men, I find this quite telling. The men who rise up to complain that women writers are targeting male abusers, appear to do little to stop domestic abuse. Instead, they heap more verbal abuse on women, say how horrible women are--just like abusers do.

    If you have any ideas how to get real men involved, I'd like to hear them. Writer/speaker/pastor Al Miles has said he has a difficult time getting pastors to attend his conferences. If he has a conference about anything else, they will attend, but they don't want to hear about dv. Caryn Burton, a trainer & speaker for shelters in Indiana says she has noticed that pastors & faith clergy are the #1 profession for perpetrating dv on their spouses. (law enforcement is #2) Is it any wonder church doors are blocked to our message?

    I believe the first thing that is needed to get men to be our allies is to convince them that the husband authority doctrine is at the heart of domestic abuse among Christians. It is that doctrine that causes the confusion. When men are willing to let go of their entitlement, they also are willing to take a stand and help. But so few want to give up the entitlement they have been taught was given them by God.