The words ‘domestic violence’ and ‘church’ do not belong together and do not exist in the same context. To deny this would seem traitorous and unfaithful, and yet, to ignore it would bring into question our faith, values, and beliefs as Christians. Domestic violence is alive and kicking in the church, and turning a blind eye to the plight of women, children, and men will only strengthen the excuses made for the abuse.
I once volunteered in a trauma center in a place where alcoholism, domestic violence, drug addiction and sexual abuse were rife in the area. The trauma center was situated in a police station which meant that I was exposed to countless cases that opened up my small town perception of the world. To a certain extent, I had been shielded from such situations- they always seemed far away from me, and thus not my concern. I always had sympathy for the victims and a sort of ignorance that only a naïve person could achieve, but I lacked the compassion and a sense of duty to help these victims.
One particular case stuck with me, not due to the severity of it (I had seen many horrendous cases of rape, violence etc) but because it involved a well-known church in the area. A woman, whom I had surmised to be in her early thirties, was being routinely abused by her husband. Her two daughters were witnesses to these beatings and were beginning to accept it as a way of life (they were around six and nine years of age). The woman had approached the church on more than one occasion for help, but their advice to her was always to submit to her husband, avoid doing anything that angered him and to pray for him. She followed their advice, but it did nothing to protect her from his fists. When she told me her story, I couldn’t believe that the church had basically turned their backs on her. They were quick to point out that a wife must respect and submit to her husband as the church does to Christ, but they failed to mention that a husband should love his wife as Christ loves the Church. Her husband had failed her, her church had failed her, and it seemed that GOD had failed her too. Her daughters had begun to see her abuse as a joke, no doubt a way for them to handle the situation. I believe that is what led her to seek help from the trauma center. I was assigned to her case (I suppose that they assumed that as I was studying Psychology at the time I would be perfect for the case, but I was way out of my depth) and I just started to speak to her from my heart, letting her know of the love that Jesus has for her. It took a couple of weeks, but she eventually got the courage to leave her abusive husband and her church. It was a scary thing for her to do, but once she understood the love that Jesus has for her, she mustered up the courage and started her life all over again with her two daughters, attending a different church.
This woman is just one example of the hundreds of cases where the church has failed to help their people. A research was done to reveal the prevalence of domestic violence amongst churchgoers, and it was found that one in four people have experienced abuse in their current relationship.
“Domestic abuse happens in churches too,” Dr. Kristin Aune of Coventry University, who led the research, said. “A quarter of the people we heard from told us they had, for example, been physically hurt by their partners, sexually assaulted, emotionally manipulated, or had money withheld from them. This includes 12 women who have experienced between 10 and 20 abusive behaviors and six women who are currently in relationships where they fear for their lives.”
Only two in seven churchgoers felt their church was adequately equipped to deal with a disclosure of abuse.
Although the research surveyed churchgoers in the north-west English county of Cumbria, I believe that it represents other areas around the world as well. The statistics may be different, but their situations remain largely the same. There are certainly many Christian organizations that are working to highlight domestic violence in the church and to address it accordingly, but individual churches themselves and the men within it (even the women) are not doing enough to challenge the attitudes and behaviors that promote this violence.
Scripture on marriage and relationships is often misinterpreted and used to justify abuse, but GOD will not be fooled. Abusers love control and will do anything to maintain it. They seem to find their identity in being respected and feared by others, and this fuels their desire to gain control through abusive behavior. What they lack is an understanding of their identity in Christ, so trying to build their self-esteem or suggest anger-management classes are not longterm ‘fixes’.
The church needs to step up to the plate and really address domestic violence. Abuse in the church has been going on for centuries, mostly due to powerful people within the church justifying it. We are no longer living in times where women are seen as property, where men are laughed at for having their wife beat them, or where children are seen as replaceable and used to bargain with. Yes, it may still happen around the world, but we are all aware of how wrong, barbaric and inhumane it is. We should give a voice to the voiceless, and protect those who come to us.