Training on domestic violence will equip church leaders with an awareness of its prevalence and God’s deep care for those who are abused.
By Samantha Kilpatrick
In the 1980s, October was designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While awareness and education have increased over the years, domestic violence is still prevalent in our communities, with 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experiencing physical violence by an intimate partner. The church is not immune from the danger and oppression caused by domestic violence.
In 2018, Lifeway Research surveyed Protestant pastors on the issue of domestic and sexual violence and learned that only 46% of pastors who spoke about domestic violence from the pulpit at least once a year had participated in domestic violence training. Only 18% said domestic violence was a problem in their congregation. Views on marriage, divorce, complementary roles within marriage, and Christian suffering can be distorted. And these distortions can contribute to the prevalence and secrecy of domestic violence in conservative church settings. Considering the Lifeway survey results showing less than 50% of pastors have training on the subject, here are four reasons you and your church staff should consider domestic violence awareness training.
1. To increase awareness in order to respond appropriately
Awareness is necessary for a healthy response. Knowledge about domestic abuse will provide the foundation for how church leaders respond when they become aware of domestic violence. Thorough training on domestic violence will help your staff recognize domestic abuse, understand the cycle of violence, and recognize the impact on domestic abuse survivors and their children.“Knowledge about domestic abuse will provide the foundation for how church leaders respond when they become aware of domestic violence.” — Samantha Kilpatrick Click To Tweet
Domestic abuse is a pattern of behavior perpetrated to maintain power and control over a spouse or intimate partner. The abuse removes the survivor’s voice, choice, and agency. Perpetrators of domestic abuse use different tactics to maintain power and control. These include physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, and financial abuse. Church leaders cannot respond well to reports of domestic violence if they do not know what it is, the harm it causes, or how to care for those affected by it. Training on domestic abuse will help pastors and church leaders recognize abuse and respond in ways that protect individuals rather than put them in more danger.
2. To respond in ways that promote safety and avoid increased danger for the survivor
As a pastor or church leader, it is not enough for you to recognize domestic abuse. You must also be prepared to respond in ways that promote safety and support to those experiencing the abuse. By training your staff on how to respond to reports of domestic violence, you prepare them to avoid common missteps, which can escalate the abuse.
Often, church leaders approach domestic abuse as an anger management issue or a marital issue. This approach can lead to further harm and oppression. Pushing the parties toward marriage counseling when abuse is present can lead to manipulation and further abuse. The goal of marriage counseling is to work on the marriage. If one party is exerting power over the other in an abusive way, that is not a marriage issue but an individual problem. The abusive behaviors did not start overnight, and the process of addressing them will take time and discernment. Marriage counseling in these situations is counterproductive and is not suggested when domestic abuse is present.“The goal of marriage counseling is to work on the marriage. If one party is exerting power over the other in an abusive way, that is not a marriage issue but an individual problem.” — Samantha Kilpatrick Click To Tweet
A key component of responding well to reports of domestic violence is knowing how to assist the survivor with a safety plan. The safety of the survivor and children should be the priority when responding to a report of domestic abuse. Your staff should be trained in mandatory reporting laws and understand the process for reporting if there is a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect. If child abuse or neglect is not present, any confrontation of the abuser and reports to law enforcement should only be made with the consent of the survivor and only after safety has been assessed and a safety plan has been put in place.
3. To develop policy and create a dedicated team to guide training and response efforts
Building awareness and learning how to appropriately respond to reports of domestic abuse often highlight the need for policy in this area. It is helpful to train leaders and staff about best practices for responding to reports of domestic violence. Domestic abuse policy can help a church define a course of support and care for the parties involved. It can also provide guidance for pastors and lay counselors to screen for domestic abuse and make referrals for individual counseling and support.
4. To live out our faith as we care for the oppressed and vulnerable
James 1:22 commands us to “be doers of the word and not hearers only” (CSB). Responding to domestic abuse requires that we put our faith into action. Scripture condemns abuse and also offers hope for those who suffer. Proverbs 31:9 calls us to “speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy” (CSB). Unfortunately, church leaders have distorted Scripture to minimize or justify abuse and further isolate survivors of domestic abuse. As believers, this is an opportunity to speak hope and bring safety and healing to the oppression domestic abuse causes.“Responding to domestic abuse requires that we put our faith into action.” — Samantha Kilpatrick Click To Tweet
Training on domestic violence will equip your church staff with awareness of the prevalence of domestic abuse and how God cares deeply for those who are abused. Training will also provide your staff with a framework and tools to respond to domestic abuse and make your church a safe place for survivors who are experiencing domestic abuse.
Let this month remind us of the continued need to raise awareness and respond well to reports of domestic violence. Pastors and church staff are natural points of contact for domestic abuse survivors seeking practical and spiritual support. As church leaders, it is vital to look at how your church is addressing the issue of domestic abuse, consider ways to raise awareness, and evaluate how you are faithfully responding and caring for those experiencing domestic abuse. Engaging a third-party expert to develop training and policies with your staff could give you a head start in assessing and enhancing the awareness and response you need to minister and support those who are experiencing domestic abuse in your church and community.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.