Domestic violence in the faith community | Guest column
October 18, 2011 · 4:26 PM
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
by KIM BRYAN
DVSAS victim advocate
Karen felt nauseated as she watched her husband, the head deacon, smiling and visiting with fellow members at their local church. Her eyes drifted to his strong hands as they so gently helped an elderly woman through the door. Why had those capable strong hands turned so hard and cruel to her?
Karen cringed as her husband sat down in the pew next to her and slid his arm around her. His touch made her skin crawl as she remembered what had become the all too familiar painful scenes of the previous night. It was a good thing the weather was turning cooler so no one questioned the long sleeves and high neck that she chose to cover the already emerging bruises. She hated the charade of coming to church and acting like everything was “just fine.”
She wanted to cry out with the emotions that were smothering her inside but she knew that no one even suspected. And what would they think of her and her “perfect little family?” Wasn’t there someone who cared even a little bit? Could there be a way to get help and not have everyone find out? Would they just tell her that she needed to be a better wife, pray more, and “submit” to her husband? Didn’t the Bible say that her husband was the head of the family? But was this what God really had in mind?
Statistics tell us that Karen’s story of abuse within the faith community is just as common as that of the “Karens” who choose not to take part in an organized religion. However, for the women and children suffering in abuse within a faith community, what should be a safe, nurturing environment often times is one of oppression due to misinformation and lack of resources.
So what can the faith community do to become the safe haven its members need?
• First and foremost establish a zero tolerance policy towards abuse.
• Access your local domestic violence service advocates to educate your leaders and members.
• Ask your clergy leadership to speak on the zero tolerance of abuse from the pulpit.
• Learn and share the right interpretation of scriptures in regards to love, submission and use of power.
• Have a response and safety plan in place for when a victim comes forward for help.
• Have resources available for victims and perpetrators.
• Offer meeting space to your local DV agency for educational meeting or support groups.
• Be prepared to hold the perpetrator accountable while striving to heal the family unit if at all possible.
• If churches make the issue of abuse something that is talked about openly instead of in the back hallways and corners of the restrooms then the victims among us will feel safe to come forward and ask for the help that they so desperately need.
Kim Bryan is a Victim Advocate for DVSAS. She and her husband Don are the pastoral team for the Friday Harbor Seventh-day Adventist Church.