While most Protestant pastors see domestic violence as a pro-life issue and know of victims, they rarely speak about it in their churches, according to a new survey from LifeWay Research, which also found that less than half of them are trained to deal with the issue.
Forty-two percent of pastors "rarely" or "never" speak about domestic violence, and less than a quarter speak to their church about it once a year, says the report of a telephone survey of 1,000 senior pastors of Protestant churches from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
The survey, co-sponsored by Washington, D.C.-based Sojourners and Maryland-based IMA World Health, also shows that 29 percent of pastors who don't address the issue believe domestic violence is not a problem in their church.
And those who do address it are more likely to say it's a problem for their community (72 percent) than their church (25 percent.), adds the survey conducted in May 7-31, 2014.
"This is a conversation the church needs to be having but isn't," says Sojourners President Jim Wallis. "We cannot remain silent when our brothers and sisters live under the threat of violence in their homes and communities."
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research Division, adds that there is a serious disconnect with the realities of American life. "Pastors cannot ignore or downplay the issue, when lives are being ruined – and sometimes lost – through sexual and domestic violence right in their own communities and churches."
More than half of senior pastors don't have sufficient training to deal with cases of domestic or sexual violence, the survey shows. But 81 percent of pastors say they would help reduce domestic violence if they had more training.
About three-quarters of pastors know of a friend, family member, or church member who has experienced domestic violence, and 83 percent of them say they would seek help from outside experts to deal with cases of domestic violence.
But 62 percent of them say they have provided "couples or marriage counseling" to those experiencing domestic violence, the study says.
A 2010 national survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have "experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime."
"The church needs to be part of the solution here," says Stetzer. "This is an issue where people of faith, across theological lines, can speak together that it matters, we care, and it must change."
Some churches have sought to confront domestic violence.
Jessica Yaffa, who was abused by an ex-husband who is now serving a 29-year prison sentence for multiple charges stemming from the violence, started HEALING (Honoring, Empowering, and Loving Individuals Needing Guidance) at Rock Church in San Diego shortly after becoming a Christian.
In 2012, Yaffa was recognized as a "Rock Hero" by her church led by Pastor Miles McPherson.
"It was when I came to know Christ that I very quickly began to recognize through God's whispers that he intended this set of very tragic circumstances to be used for good," she told The Christian Post earlier. "He would allow me the opportunity to be used as a vessel so that I was able to reach other women and children and families that were going through this and feeling very alone as I once did so that they would no longer have to feel alone."
According to author and blogger John Shore, there are six reasons why pastors struggle with addressing domestic violence.
The issue is fundamentally unbelievable and incomprehensible to most people – even pastors, he wrote. Wife abusers are masterful manipulators and sociopaths, he adds. Pastors also think spousal abuse only happens in certain kinds of families; pastors haven't thought enough about the gray area between "submit" and abuse; pastors believe what they preach; and pastors simply aren't trained on domestic violence, he explained further.
In 2009, Bishop T.D. Jakes and his wife, Serita Jakes, held a "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" conference, to address the specific spiritual and practical needs of women, especially those victimized by domestic abuse. Thousands of women sough healing and encouragement at the symposium.