Domestic abuse is an insidious, silent epidemic in the Christian community. Sadly, 37% of pastors surveyed say they believe that domestic and sexual violence does NOT occur in their congregations.
With nearly 1 in 3 American women suffering domestic abuse at some point in their lifetimes, It doesn’t seem likely that nearly 40% of churches are completely free of this issue.
The greater likelihood is that these churches either don’t know how to identify cases of abuse, or do not have the kind of culture in which victims are encouraged to come forward to seek help and healing. In the meantime, women and children are terrorized by the effects of intimate partner abuse as victims struggle without guidance and support from a spiritual community.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. But identifying the fact that there is a problem is the first step.
What the Statistics Show About Churches and Domestic Abuse Awareness
Lifeway Research conducted a study of 1000 Protestant pastors in the summer of 2018. A staggering 54% percent of pastors surveyed said that they are either NOT trained at all, or insufficiently trained, to handle domestic violence issues.
The good news is that 96% of pastors believe they should do something about abuse if they know about it (and we pray that number will become 100%). Unfortunately, since more than half of pastors surveyed feel they are not adequately trained in this area, the advice they give often can make the problem worse. For example:
70% of pastors surveyed have either recommended or provided marriage counseling to the couple. This is an extremely dangerous practice and is actually illegal in some states when there is a case of known abuse. The prevailing literature on this subject warns against couples counseling for abusive situations. Abuse requires individual counseling for those involved, not couples’ counseling.
Only 40% did any kind of safety assessment for the victim. Safety is of paramount concern in these situations and must be the first line of treatment for any suspected cases of abuse. A woman is most in danger when she is at the point of separating from her abuser. Furthermore, victims cannot be relied upon to know whether or not they are in danger- they are often in denial about what is happening, have been groomed to minimize the abuse, or don’t report what’s happening out of fear of retaliation.
8% of pastors have told the victim to work at her marriage to stop the abuse. Abuse is not a marriage problem. Abuse is an individual’s problem, stemming from his own unresolved heart issues and traumas. Some may also be dealing with the effects of mental illness (such as narcissistic personality disorder). Abusers use control as a method to manage their thoughts and emotions. The victim cannot change the abuser, no matter how “good” she is.
9% of pastors believe domestic abuse should be resolved within the home instead of seeking outside help. An abuser is often so blinded by his need to control that he doesn’t recognize that what he’s doing is wrong. Furthermore, if he does know it’s wrong, psychological abusers use blame shifting as a means to imply his wife is the reason for his poor behavior. Abusers require outside intervention to not only correct behaviors, but also identify them in the first place.
11% of pastors don’t know how to counsel a victim of domestic abuse at all.
These are devastating facts ya’ll. The research is clear- as the Body of Christ, we MUST equip ourselves to both identify abuse and provide intervention for those involved.
Abuse as Heresy
Paul calls marriage a “great mystery” as it is “an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.” (Ephesians 5:32 NLT) In the metaphor of marriage, husbands represent Jesus Christ, who humbly sacrificed Himself fully for the good of His bride, the Church. Likewise, wives are the embodiment of the church, responding in awe and humility towards her Protector. To outsiders, a marriage should be a clear depiction of mutual devotion in which God’s love for His people is displayed and acted out.
Abuse in marriage is tantamount to heresy because it wrongly portrays the relationship between God and His people. Jesus does not use manipulation, physical violence, and terror to command the allegiance of His bride. So when a husband uses such tactics to control his wife, he is spreading an evil perversion of the metaphor of marriage, that infects not only his wife, but also his children and the greater community.
And as believers, we are called to be vigilant in purging evil from within the Body of Christ.
The Church is a place of refuge for the oppressed and downtrodden- which includes victims of domestic violence. But if we do no nothing to root out the sins of abuse in our midst, then we are accomplices to the destruction of these families, which in turn ultimately destabilizes the church community as a whole.
And we can’t wait for victims to come forward- like Jesus, we have to go find them.
In our next post, we’re going to address a few simple ways churches can proactively address domestic violence. Victims and church leaders alike can be encouraged to know that the Church already has everything it needs to engage in the fight.
Have you had difficulty getting domestic abuse support from your faith community? Please contact us or share a comment- your stories help us fight for other victims in need.
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