October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. What do you plan to do about it?
Here’s one option. Ask your church or faith-based community organization to take the pledge to become a Safe Faith Community. The team behind Document the Abuse has unveiled this new initiative at the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month to encourage faith-based organizations to be a safe place for domestic violence victims.
For years I’ve said that the church should be the first place domestic violence victims should go for help, yet it is often the last place they’ll go because of the legalism, judgment, and condemnation they might face. Many churches don’t know how to connect victims with resources in their communities either. In addition, those in the ministry who don’t understand the dynamics of domestic violence can provide misinformed and even dangerous counsel.
Too often victims are told that if they would just improve their own behavior or be more attractive their abuser wouldn’t be so inclined to hurt them, be that physically, financially, sexually, or psychologically. Abuse takes many forms. I call this the “just put a bow in your hair, act like nothing’s wrong, and make a nice casserole” syndrome. Victims are frequently guilted into staying in unhealthy and unsafe situations with the Bible erroneously used as justification for why they should endure. Power and control is at the root of this evil. The victim is not causing it and they cannot make their abuser change.
The church’s first concern should be whether the victims are safe, not how to reconcile the relationship, not to treat the victim as an equally guilty party who needs marriage counseling, not telling them God will punish them if they get a divorce in order to keep themselves or their children safe. Churches can become havens for abusers and predators when more concern is given to the possibility that they might make things right with God than to the immediate and even life-threatening matters their victims are facing. Churches too have pathological personalities like narcissists and sociopaths who might have no interest in improving their behavior but have obsessive interests in controlling or stalking their victims.
Statistically, domestic violence is just as prevalent in the church as it is in the rest of the world. It’s probably the single biggest issue facing church families, but the least talked about. It’s high time for churches to start showing domestic violence victims the grace of God more generously and to speak out with one voice against this atrocity. It’s all around us. If we believe in a higher moral authority, why then are we not more interested in living according to that law rather than our own selfish and immature desires that cause others pain? What point is there in believing in Him if our behavior is no different than those without that hope?
The Safe Faith Community Project is asking faith leaders to make these promises:
1. Learn to recognize the signs of domestic violence.
2. Stand with victims of domestic violence as they desire and seek healing and wholeness.
3. Never coerce or require a victim of domestic violence to reconcile with their abuser.
4. Share at least one sermon each October (Domestic Violence Awareness Month) about the epidemic of domestic violence and how the church can respond.
5. Connect with a domestic violence shelter in our city/town.
6. Show that our faith community is a designated safe place by prominently placing Safe Faith Community decal on your site or social media.
7. Offer the Evidentiary Affidavit of Abuse (training optional for staff or selected individuals), found at documenttheabuse.com or at the Apple Store, and a copy of the book, “Time’s Up,” to each victim of domestic violence we encounter.
This is going to challenge churches to get out of their comfort zone and walk the walk! I already sense that some will have a problem with #3. I’ve known people and churches who treat divorce as if it’s the unforgivable sin, so counsel victims to remain with dangerous and unstable people. I was so weighed down by such legalism (man-made rules on top of God’s) that I nearly waited too long to get out of a marriage rife with death threats. Some believers try to convince victims that they’ll go to hell if they marry again.
Really? God’s grace does not extend to victims of abuse? It is His will that they spend the rest of their lives in submission to godless individuals who do the enemy’s work instead of His? That’s like having a curse put on you that supposedly not even God Himself can lift. It’s like being in a macabre fairy tale where someone is changed into a beast or put into a deep sleep, but the prince or rescuer never comes.
Note a tool mentioned in this pledge called the Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit, or EAA. It is a way of documenting abuse so that the victim can speak for themselves in court if they are missing, incapacitated, or dead. By gathering certain documents and photos and using templates in the Time’s Up book, the victim can videotape their testimony and have it notarized and stored in the cloud where their abuser can’t get to it. This is intended to get around the hearsay rule in court—this is unaltered testimony coming straight from the victim. See Document the Abuse for more information.
Join the movement. Share this website with your church leadership and dare them to step out in faith on behalf of those affected by domestic violence. This is not a partisan or a denominational issue; domestic violence affects people of all faiths and creeds.
This will become a nationwide, if not worldwide, movement. Faith communities need to focus on eliminating domestic violence rather than enabling it. This is a great first step. Will you pass it on?
Change starts when someone sees the next step. –William Drayton
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