Religious Perspective on Domestic Violence/Abuse

-by Mable C. Dunbar, Ph.D., L.P.C

Pam worked in a Christian institution for almost 30 years. During most of those years she was battered by her Christian husband. She sought help from church members, but they would not believe her "stories." She eventually confided in her pastor. He encouraged her to stay in the relationship for "the Lord’s sake." When she told me her story, her arm was in a cast. Her husband was still abusing her.

Why didn’t she leave? She did not want to bring shame upon her church or be shunned by church members. Having a very meager retirement income of her own, she did not think that she could live on her own.

What is Domestic Violence/Abuse?

Domestic violence or abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviors that are purposeful, and directed at achieving compliance from and over a victim without regard for his or her rights. These behaviors can be perpetrated by adults or adolescents against their intimate partner or significant other in current or former dating, married or cohabiting relationships. Domestic violence is a combination of physical force or terror designed to cause physical, psychological, social, religious, economic, mental and emotional harm to victims.

Prevalence of Domestic Violence/Abuse:

While male battering exists, most statistics indicate that approximately 95% of the victims of domestic violence are women (Figures based on a survey by the majority staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr, Chair, October 1 1992.) Let us keep in mind that the real issue is not which gender or group is the most abusive. Here is the real issue: Satan wants to keep us blaming and shaming each other to prevent us from uniting and becoming wise to the wiles of the one who is the true enemy of our souls:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” -Ephesians 6:12.

Satan’s Agenda: The Reason for Abuse:

1. Destroy Children:

“I believe that there is a devil, and here’s Satan’s agenda. First, he doesn’t want anyone having kids. Secondly, if they do conceive, he wants them killed. If they’re not killed through abortion, he wants them neglected or abused physically, emotionally, sexually (and spiritually). One way or another, the legions of hell want to destroy children because children become the future adults and leaders. If they (legions) can warp or wound a child, he or she becomes a warped or wounded adult who passes on this affliction to the next generation.”

-Terry Randall in TIME Magazine, October 21, 1991.

2. Destroy Human Relationships:

“The reign of violence within many homes is evidence most basically of Satan’s kingdom at work destroying order, love and happiness in human relationships. And until we enter the arena of domestic violence willing to battle evil, our efforts to see violence stopped and families transformed will be ineffective at best. We cannot dismiss evil as some vague spiritual force that presides outside of human behavior. Evil is rooted in a superhuman personality: Satan. And when people are violent, hostile, argumentative, deceiving, accumulating, as it were, a treasure of evil goods within the economy of Satan - they gradually permit Satan to restructure their character and own them.”

-James and Phyllis Alsdurf, Battered Into Submission. (Illinois: Varsity Press, 1986) pp. 61-62.

3. Prevent Exposure to Sin (Keep Secrets and Conceal Truth):

“Whether using psychological or theological language, the truth remains that acts of evil are acts of sin. They are assaults on God’s moral laws. They separate the evildoer from God and from fellow human beings. The result is that evil acts throw the individual into an abyss of aloneness. The destruction of a marriage, that earthy image of spiritual union with Christ and the most intimate of all human relationships, must certainly be a desired prize in the dominion of Satan. The church’s failure to effectively confront the problem of wife abuse, more than being just a reflection of a fundamental disregard for women or a fear of any challenge to a patriarchal system, is a reflection of the failure to recognize evil for what it is. Before Satan can be defeated, he must be identified. And, once identified, he must be fought on spiritual ground. The problem of wife abuse is not one of feminism, secular humanism, or a lack of headship in the home. It is the problem of evil - unseen and unopposed.”

-Ibid.

“One of the most shameful problems facing the vast majority of Christian church congregations is the epidemic of domestic violence that many of its families are suffering from. In the vast majority of cases it remains a carefully concealed sin.”

– Dr. Frank Cosby, -The Hidden Church Disease, Yahoo Contributor Network.

Forms of Abuse:

There are many forms of abuse: Physical, Sexual, Ritualistic, Verbal, Emotional, Religious, Silent, Elder, Economic, Using Children, Threats, Intimidation, Sibling, Cultural, Isolation, Personal, Institutional, and Witness Abuse, etc. But they all have the same common denominator: the perpetrator's desire to gain and maintain POWER and CONTROL in the relationship

Abuse can occur in the home in the form of spousal rape or incest. The workplace is not safe from abuse, either. An individual can be stalked or sexually harassed. Maltreatment can also take the form of elder abuse or hate crimes. Abuse touches victims across the lifespan and is a serious social and cultural problem affecting everyone. Abuse affects victims, perpetrators, friends or confidants of abused people looking for ways to be helpful, or simply as those who are angered by injustice and are trying to work for positive change.

Abuse is a commonplace event in modern times, taking on many different forms. Physical abuse includes things like slapping, hitting, pinching, pushing, and punching. Sexual abuse can consist of being coerced to have sexual relations with another person, or being forced to engage in sexual behavior that you don’t want to be involved in. Emotional abuse can occur in a number of ways and always accompanies physical and sexual abuse. You may be ignored, belittled, called names, threatened, or degraded. Your abuser may withhold affection, refuse to recognize you in front of others, say mean or sarcastic things to you. The abuser may pretend he or she is going to punch you, only to stop their swing just as their fist reaches your face or body.

Abusers may threaten to harm you, your children or other family members if you do not comply with their demands. Abuse occurs when people mistreat or misuse other people, showing no concern for their integrity or innate worth as individuals, and in a manner that degrades their well-being. Abusers frequently are interested in controlling their victims. They use a pattern of abusive behaviors to manipulate their victims into submission or compliance with their will. These behaviors include harassment, coercion, humiliation deception, and force. Domestic violence can be a combination of physical force or terror designed to cause physical, sexual, psychological, social, spiritual, economic, mental and emotional harm to victims. There are also a variety of tactics - some physically injurious and some not, some criminal and some not - carried out in multiple, sometimes daily episodes by adults or adolescents against their intimate partner in current or former dating relationships, married or cohabiting relationships of heterosexuals, gays or lesbians.

Why Abuse Continues:

Research conducted to determine the reason why domestic violence continues indicates that it continues because we let it. It is intimidating to try to intervene when an angry abuser is harming someone else. We fear that we will become their next victim. Police often report that investigating a domestic dispute is one of the most dangerous home visits police can perform. If an abuser is angry and desperate, police can be threatened with weapons used to harm the victim. However, when we fail to help a victim or abuser, we don’t support efforts to end domestic violence, we misinterpret Scripture to justify abuse or perpetuate systems that condone the right to have power and control over others. Ill-founded community beliefs, lack of accountability on the part of civic leaders, church leaders, and failure of the religious and secular community to appropriately address this issue make the problem of domestic violence a threat to the well-being of the family and society in general.

Do Christians contribute to the prevalence of domestic violence and abuse in our homes, schools, and churches? Yes! How?

  • When we turn a deaf ear to the cries of people who are hurting as a result of domestic violence, we are condoning it.
  • When we put our heads in the sand and pretend that it does not exist in “my church or home”, we are perpetuating its continuance.
  • When we do not take personal responsibility for our unresolved anger as a result of our personal hurts and pain, or refuse to get professional help and lash out at others, we perpetuate domestic violence.
  • When older women stay in abusive relationships, they give younger women the message that it is acceptable to take the abuse for the sake of the children, marriage or church.
  • When older men show little or no respect for women and offer derogatory remarks about their roles, bodies, or skills, disregard for the female gender is fostered in younger men.
  • When women disparage and belittle men, saying “They can’t help it, they’re men!” this diminishes regard and fosters an attitude of disrespect
  • When parents victimize each other and do not model healthy behaviors in the home or create safe environments in which their children can grow and thrive, they contribute to the inter-generational cycle of abuse.
  • When pastors do not discipline abusive church officers, or themselves abuse their congregation and maintain power and control in the church, they perpetuate an abusive, and unsafe religious experience and environment for worshipers.
  • When Church administrators and leaders fail to hold an abuser accountable for his or her actions by permitting an abuser to be transferred from one district to another without getting professional help to deal with their problems, or they do not provide or support educational programs to address the issue, they perpetuate abusive systems of worship and church government.
  • When teachers and educators do not treat their students with respect and devalue their opinions, thoughts and expressions, a controlling and abusive system of education is remembered by students.
  • When church leaders and members do not financially (or otherwise) support programs, services or facilities that provide safety, healing, and resources for victims and abusers, they contribute to the prevalence of domestic violence.
  • When individuals are ostracized, criticized, condemned and demoralized because they leave an abusive relationship, or they divorce because of domestic violence, they are inadvertently encouraged to either stay in an abusive relationship or return to it.

Some Ideas to End Domestic Violence and Abuse:

Now that we know what domestic violence is and what it looks like, what can we do to stop the violence from occurring? Here are some ideas that will provide you with a starting place for designing programs at your church, or that will help you know what you can do in your community to stop domestic abuse.

1. Champion the Cause Against Domestic Violence:

“If the church is to be truly pro-life, how can it help but champion the cause of battered women? Being pro-life requires opposing abortion; it means taking a stance against all which stifles life and personhood. To be pro-life is to be for life. And violence by husband toward his wife (or vice-versa) is one obvious offence to the integrity of human life. The life of any individual cannot be sustained - body, soul and spirit when it is destroyed by violence, domination, fear and threat.”

-James and Phyllis Alsdurf, Battered Into Submission. (Illinois: Varsity Press, 1986) p. 128.

2. Insist on Accountability for Abuses and Safety for Victims:

Batterers, both male and female, should be referred to qualified domestic violence programs, services, and counselors. Safeguard children and abused spouses who may attend the same congregation as the estranged batterer and adhere to protection order if one has been obtained by the victim. Meet with church leadership such as deacons, elders, pastors, and teachers to discuss how to protect and incorporate victims and abusers in the life of the church

3. Correctly Interpret Theological Symbols and Doctrines:

“Our education, service and advocacy depend upon the adequacy of our theological vision–the way we interpret Scripture and tradition regarding relations between women and men, sex, marriage, parenting and violence. In this adventure of faith and thought, the victims of violence and violation can offer valuable guidance. We need to listen to their stories with an ear for the religious reflections that sustain capacities to survive, to heal and to flourish. A careful and respectful attention to the voices of the violated may also encourage the reconstruction of our theologies, as the experiences and interpretations of sexual violence cast new light on old theological symbols and doctrines.”

-Lois Gehr Livezey, “Sexual and Family Violence: A Growing Issue for the Churches”. The Christian Century, October 28, 1987, p. 939.

Pastors need to address issues of power, control, and family violence when called upon to perform premarital counseling. Qualified religious and secular therapists, counselors, and resources for domestic violence victims should be personally known to the pastor and utilized for appropriate referrals. Clarification of the role of men and women in relationships, society, and abusive relationships should be spoken of explicitly from the pulpit. Children who grow up in a congregation that never declares its stance on their experience will think that either their experience is unusual and shameful, or that the church is out of touch with real life. Either impression is problematic.

4. Cooperate and Collaborate with Other Religious and Secular Helpers:

“The crisis of family violence affects people physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Each of these dimensions must be addressed, both for victims and for those in the family who abuse them. Approached from either a secular or religious perspective alone, certain needs and issues tend to be disregarded. This reflects a serious lack of understanding of the nature of family violence and its impact on people’s lives. Treatment of families experiencing violence and abuse requires integrating the needs of the whole person. Thus, the importance of developing a shared understanding and cooperation between secular and religious helpers to deal with family violence cannot be emphasized too strongly.”

-Marie M. Fortune, A Workshop Manual for Clergy and Other Service Providers (1980) published by the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence.

In order for domestic violence and sexual abuse to end, entire communities, including religious organizations, must take responsibility for this terror and work together to make a difference and end its occurrence.

5. Practice What We Preach:

Many churches sit empty for most of the week, while social service agencies are desperate for space to hold support groups, informational meetings, and planning committees. Churches should partner with these agencies to provide a venue and financial support when possible, for the good work they do. This also allows the community to see that Christians don’t only speak peace; they support and participate in activities that are relevant to the quality of life in their community. It is imperative that we as believers, do all that we can individually and corporately to assist victims, direct abusers to services, nurture children, and support the healthy function of families in our congregations. Many people have been turned off from religion because of the incongruities between a people who believe that Jesus came to set the captives free, and the continued subjugation of abuse victims. Men, women, and children suffer wherever abuse shows its ugly face. We must speak out against it in our private conversations and in our churches. 5. Gather Information about Domestic Violence and Abuse:

Contact programs and services in your area that assist domestic violence victims and their children. Read books, watch video tapes, and attend community awareness programs, and become proactive in assisting programs and services that provide safety, advocacy, support, and other needed services for victims as well as abusers. Contact your local domestic violence hotline or program and talk to staff about your concerns. Domestic violence advocates can be an excellent source of support for a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence and abuse. “And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up, and, as His custom was, He went into synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He hath sent Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.’” -Luke 4:18 “The Lord has told us what is good and acceptable in His sight.

What is it that the Lord requires of us?

It is to be just, to show mercy, and to walk humbly before our Lord.”
-Micah 6:8. - (The Clear Word).

To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
-James 4:17