Awareness for Church Folk
(Prepared by the Rev. Arthuree McLaughlin Wright, a deacon in the Baltimore-Washington Conference who is a volunteer with Women’s & Children’s Advocacy of the General Board of Church & Society.)
[The Lord] heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
—Psalm 147:3 (NRSV)
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
—I Corinthians 13:13 (NSRV)
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
What would the church and the world look like if women and girls were seen as children of God with sacred worth?
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It calls us to reflect upon the societal ills that lead to isolation, loss of self-esteem, alienation, financial dependency, shame, and interpersonal violence. While domestic violence is a crime whose victims are largely women and children, it is regarded as a substantial public-health problem with multiple and serious consequences and costs for entire families and communities, regardless of ethnic, racial or economic background.
What are the ramifications of our belief in sacred worth for all people as spiritual offspring of John Wesley who claim the world as their parish and brand their churches as places with open doors, open minds and open hearts?
The role of religion
The Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, co-author of Violence Against Women & the Role of Religion, provides a useful overview of intimate partner violence in a webinar from the Faith Trust Institute entitled “Power & Control: Understanding How Faith Can Play a Role in Intimate Partner Violence. In brief, a person’s faith tradition may help or hinder a person seeking safety from domestic violence.
For example, victimizers often use intimidation, humiliation, guilt, minimizing, isolation, control of income/financial information, coercion and threats, cultural norms, or customs together with religious teaching of the sacred text to create and maintain abusive relationships. Christian women of all ethnicities often feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships because selected biblical passages promote a patriarchal “hierarchy of headship” that appears to mandate submission to husbands or turning the other cheek.
The Rev. Joy Bussert, author of Battered Women: From a Theology of Suffering to an Ethic of Empowerment, emphasizes the need to articulate a faith that will provide women with resources for strength rather than resources for endurance. In the Hebrew canon Job is an exemplar of a zealot for God who exhibits great patience in the midst of unmerited suffering. While Job’s wife does not inflict physical abuse, her reaction to the calamities might be seen as emotional abuse.
Closer scrutiny of Job 2:1-10, however, reveals that while he never curses God, Job continually insists that he had done nothing to deserve what had befallen him; that is, Job “perseveres in his integrity.”
Theology of empowerment
Bussert calls for a theology of empowerment rather than passive endurance. In reality, today’s victims of abuse have to deal with a complexity of factors that can test their resolve.
In America, most women have experienced some degree of gender discrimination; some white women, however, are financially self-sufficient and able to exercise options regarding intimate relationships. Some white women elect to remain in an abusive relationship because of cultural norms or customs.
Many African-American women, on the other hand, tend to be penalized by the inequalities of race, gender and economic class. Within the African-American community the call for “racial unity, and [often] silence on the part of women victimized by intimate partner violence, and the reframing of that violence as an almost legitimate response to violations of manhood experienced by black men makes confronting battering difficult. Moreover, the societal denigration of black women leaves them little reason to believe that legal authorities have any interest in protecting their welfare” (Shirley M. Hill, Black Intimacies: A Gender Perspective on Families & Relationships).
The low regard for black women manifested by the deaths of Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman and at least three other women while in police custody in July 2015 substantiates the feeling that police and many white persons view black women as deserving of punishment rather than protection. Thus, to some extent reality cautions against relying on aggressive policing that has jeopardized the lives of black men and women.
Attitudes and values
Abuse results from attitudes and values. Abuse occurs among people of every economic status and every racial or ethnic group, in urban and rural communities, and among same-sex and different-gendered households. Indeed, intimate partner violence is a global phenomenon.
Even though human beings are “made for goodness,” according to Desmond Tutu, sin is, undeniably, a ubiquitous phenomenon. In developed and developing countries, intimate partner abuse and homicide occur within the broader societal context where violence is freely used and sanctioned, according to sociologist Shirley Hill.
Michael Dyson observes that “black life is at a low premium, and to hurt, maim, or murder a black person has carried little punitive consequences or public concern.” This mindset has to change.
Dr. Julia Perilla, a clinical community psychologist and a presenter at the “Forum on Latinos Who Batter: Hope for Those Who Hurt Others,” also stresses the need to understand how domestic violence is related to our personal and collective history, to issues of poverty, discrimination, gender expectation, religion, homophobia, and immigration. She considers this multifaceted analysis essential “so that we never ever use the emerging patterns of oppression, as a rationalization or as an excuse for domestic violence.” (Click here for the report.)
When silence prevails
The people of God need to be better equipped to listen to news reports and read statistical analyses or research findings with keen discernment and in the light of a careful reading of scripture. It is the role of the church to help people see themselves and others through the eyes of Christ, without exception and without reservation. When people of God mature and move in tandem with the Holy Spirit, they will not only mobilize to advocate for the adoption and implementation of just laws, policies and procedures; but concomitantly, in their personal encounters they will manifest respect, trust, support, and accountability for all God’s children at all ages and stages.
Globally, at least one in every three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way by her spouse, a male family member, or someone else she knows. One woman in four is abused during pregnancy (Johns Hopkins School of Public Health). The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides the following statistics, aggregated across racial and ethnic lines:
- Every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten.
- On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
- 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
- 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
- On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic-violence hotlines nationwide.
- The presence of a gun in a domestic-violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
- Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
- Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.
- 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.
- Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.
- Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.
- 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.
- A study of intimate partner homicides found that 20% of victims were not the intimate partners themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law-enforcement responders or bystanders.
- 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; and 94% of the victims of these murder-suicides are female.
- Women abused by their intimate partners are more vulnerable to contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted illness due to forced intercourse or prolonged exposure to stress
- Victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of 8 million days of paid work each year.
- The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year.
- Between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.
- Between 2003 and 2008, 142 women were murdered in their workplace by their abuser, 78% of women killed in the workplace during this timeframe. (Click here to download the report.)
Women in abusive relationships need the support of friends, family and churches. Studies show that battered black women who reported that they could rely on others for emotional and practical support were less likely to be re-abused, showed less psychological distress, and were less likely to attempt suicide.
Awareness and support are critical to help make all communities safer. If nothing is done, violence will continue to start early and impact all types of people. Domestic violence will cause far-reaching health issues and have an adverse effect on the economy. “Everyone deserves a life free of violence.”
Learn more through webinars and DVDs
Faith Trust Institute (free recorded webinars):
- Power & Control: Understanding How Faith Can Play a Role in Intimate Partner Violence
- Healing from Abuse: How to Be a Resource for Survivors
- Battered African-American Women: An Examination of Gender Entrapment
- Men's Role in Ending Violence
- Making Connections & Networking for a Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence
- Domestic Violence in African American Relationships by Rev. Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis
- Sign the National Declaration on Violence Against Women
- Join the Day of Action to End Violence Against Women with HIV, Oct. 23
Next Steps for Sustainable Results
The United Methodist Church recognizes that family violence and abuse in all its forms — verbal, psychological, physical, sexual — are detrimental to the covenant of the human community. Each local church is encouraged to provide a safe environment, counsel and support for the victim. While the Church deplores the action of the abuser, the Church affirms that person to be in need of God’s redeeming love (Social Principles ¶161G, Book of Discipline).
An existing group in a local church or a new team comprising persons from a cluster of churches might assume responsibility for educating and informing the congregations about domestic violence and its effect on the family and the community. The group could take a stand against violence in homes and communities by organizing confidential services such as a crisis line voice mail, referral service, or an emergency shelter.
Agencies of the United Methodist Church have created a wide variety of resources to assist lay persons and clergy in responding to and helping alleviate domestic violence.
- General Board of Church & Society: Domestic Violence Resources
- United Methodist Women: Domestic & Family Violence: Tools and Resources
- United Methodist Women: Domestic Violence Fact Sheet
- United Methodist Women partners with the YWCA: NoXcuses Campaign
- United Methodist Women: What Churches Can Do
Pertinent resources from other agencies
- Center for Family Policy & Practice
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women (Note especially the useful discussion guide I Believe You: Faiths’ Response to Intimate Partner Violence.)
- ALIANZA: National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence
- Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum
- Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women
- National Latin@ Network
- Women of Color Network
- A Call to Men
- Men Can Stop Rape
- European Policy Action Centre on Violence Against Women
- Latin American & Caribbean Women’s Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence
- UN Women
- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
- World Health Organization Reports and News Releases
In the United States, Follow Pending Legislation:
Additional Information and Statistics on Domestic Violence in the U.S.
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
- National Latin@ Network – Downloadable Facts & Statistics
- Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, University of Minnesota
- Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
- National Data on Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking
- Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence & Stalking (CDC)
- National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Summary Report (2010)
- Prevalence & Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, & Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey, United States (2011)
Experience, Equip, Engage
- Organize a 1-day Seminar on Domestic Violence
- Download "Breaking the Silence: A Resource to Equip United Methodists to Speak Up and Speak Out about Domestic Violence"
- Download our Domestic Violence Study Series