Churches Challenged to Break Silence on Domestic Violence

This month cities, schools and faith-based groups across the country are drawing attention to domestic violence, which some are calling a pandemic.

Violence in the home affects millions of women and children, including those in the church, yet some say the pulpits remain silent on the issue.

Congregations and clergy need to stop hiding their heads in the sand and pretending domestic violence isn't happening in their communities, said the Rev. Mary Lou Adame, chair of the United Methodist Desert Southwest Conference's Commission on the Status & Role of Women.

The United Methodist Church confessed that it too has done little to raise awareness in its churches and has named domestic violence as a priority issue of the church.

In recent years, the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church has conducted one-day seminars titled "Domestic Violence, A Holy Response" to educate local churches and leaders on the issue and equip them with how to respond to people in abusive relationships.

According to the Methodist Church's GBCS, one in three women will experience some level of violence in their lives – half of them from intimate partners. Three in ten women murdered in the United States are killed by their husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends.

GBCS acknowledges, however, that Christian women often feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships in obedience to Scripture stating "submit" to their husbands. And tragically, many pastors cite the biblical passages when counseling women.

According to a survey featured in What Women Wish Pastors Knew by Denise George, 26 percent of pastors said they would counsel women who came to them for help with domestic violence to continue to "submit" to her husband, no matter what. A quarter of the nearly 6,000 pastors surveyed told wives the abuse was their own fault-for failing to submit in the first place. Moreover, half said women should be willing to "tolerate some level of violence" because it is better than divorce.

Prominent evangelical Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, said in a commentary earlier this year that obviously Christians must uphold the sanctity of marriage. "But we should never ignore the dangers of violent spouses – men who use the Bible to justify abusing, and even killing, their wives."

Jocelyn Andersen, author of Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence was formerly in an abusive relationship herself. She initially stayed in the marriage out of fear and not wanting to "commit a sin" by divorcing her husband.

"I was following the counsel of respected leaders in the evangelical community who counsel against divorce – even in the case of wife-beating – so, I continued to hope and pray for my marriage and seek solutions other than divorce," she said.

In her book, released in 2007, Andersen calls into account evangelical Christian leaders who have "tragically let down the battered wives within our congregations."

"Careless counsel coming from countless pulpits and from leaders with incredible influence (due to television, radio, internet and best-selling books) has ruined and cost the lives of far too many women. This must stop," she asserted.

Some churches have already begun to make changes. The United Methodist Church in 2004 adopted a resolution challenging the church to listen to the stories of victims and survivors and to seek information that will lead to wiser and more effective ways of minister with persons who experience abuse.

"The church must be a refuge for people who are hurting, and it is an entirely appropriate place for these issues to be addressed," the resolution states.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is observed annually in October.