5 Things Your Church Can Do Right Now to Stop Domestic Violence
In the post “By the Numbers: The Silent Epidemic of Domestic Abuse in the Christian Church,” we discussed the raging epidemic of domestic violence in Christian churches and pastors’ self-reported struggles with addressing it. At PlusONE Parents, we have a deep love for the Body of Christ, and know that many pastors and people helpers desire to support the abused and oppressed, but may not know exactly how to go about it. We’ve developed a list of five meaningful steps Christian leaders and pastors can take RIGHT NOW to safeguard their congregations and help families struggling with these issues.
Why Unchecked Abuse Hurts the Body of Christ
In Titus 3:10-11, Paul writes:
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.”
Scripture is replete with warnings, from the Old Testament through the New, to avoid aggressive, deceitful, and divisive people. Paul knew that such people were likely to corrupt the Body of Christ by manipulating the vulnerable in an effort to acquire the adoration needed to fulfill their own selfish agendas.
Not only is it a danger to have these kinds of “believers” wandering around spreading impurity within a congregation, these men may be under the impression that they are saved when Paul seems to indicate they are not.
The need to address abuse is dire, for the protection of the spouse and children, the salvation of the husband, and the unity of the Body of Christ.
Church Involvement in Abusive Circumstances
So often with these sorts of situations, men and women are referred to outside counselors and therapists to deal with these matters. And while therapy is one tool in the arsenal to combat abuse, we must not forget that Jesus and Paul declared the Church itself is responsible for addressing unrepentant sin and providing individual accountability within the Body of Christ.
Individual therapy can be helpful in addressing the traumas that are involved in patterns of abuse, for both the abuser and the victim (as we have stated before, marriage counseling is not appropriate in cases of abuse). However, an abusive person also requires real life consequences and discipleship that a therapist or Christian counselor can’t really provide. And if the abuser is not willing to repent, the church must step in and hold an abusive person accountable with discipline (which may include separating the person from the congregation, as Jesus outlines in Matthew 18).
Paul wrote to both the Thessalonians and Corinthians regarding the handling of sin issues within the Body.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 says:
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. (NASB)
Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 5:11, Paul says: “not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler- not even to eat with such a one.” (NASB)
Not even EAT with him!
While seemingly harsh, this kind of tough love is essential to the “grace and truth” paradigm that Jesus established in His coming. Grace calls us into repentance that gives the opportunity through the Holy Spirit to walk according to the truth. BOTH are essential to the life of a true believer, and to the health of the Body of Christ.
Paul shows how this concept is played out in church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5:5. In this passage, he describes why he is positioned against a so-called brother in the Corinthian church who is entrenched in sin. He says “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (NASB) Paul is choosing to allow this man to experience separation from the fellowship of the Church, and into Satan’s realm (yikes), with the hope that ultimately it will bring him back around. It wasn’t (and shouldn’t be) done in a spirit of punishment or retribution, but rather out of love and concern.
How Churches Can Get Started Tackling Domestic Abuse
So now we know that the Bible tells us abuse is something that must be addressed and that the local church has the authority and responsibility to take part in handling it. But what does that look like practically?
Here are fives ways churches can start today:
Become aware of the deceptive side of abuse.
Domestic abuse is often hidden- abusers often develop a highly respectable reputation which make any claims of abuse seem unlikely, and they are highly skilled in convincing others nothing is wrong. In actuality, one study found that some men who demonstrate very outward signs of religious participation are more likely to be abusive. That means not only is abuse happening in your church, it’s possible that even your most active members are engaging in these behaviors. Even a quick overview of what domestic abuse is will help you realize that abusers commonly deny, justify, minimize, or blame the victim for what they are doing. Don’t be fooled into thinking the victim is partially to blame for the situation; abuse is not a 50-50 equation, and there is nothing the victim can do to cause their own abuse. Abuse is a choice, and there are plenty of non-abusive means to resolve problems that the abuser has chosen not to pursue. They also seem to make quick changes or offer emotional promises and apologies to appear as though they are progressing. Don’t fall for it!
Be proactive in starting the conversation.
When God commissions Jeremiah as a prophet, God tells Jeremiah He as given him position to “root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). Building a congregation means proactively rooting out problems, rather than waiting for them to surface. Partnering with local domestic abuse ministries and women’s shelters brings visibility to the issue by allowing the church body to work first hand with those affected. Then the conversation can continue with including the abused in discussions about the downtrodden and oppressed, as is relevant in so many sermons (and other smaller group teachings).
Learn how to perform a victim’s risk assessment.
This short questionnaire is a quick and easy tool that shows when a woman is experiencing domestic violence. It’s important that victims are believed (and at least given the benefit of the doubt) when they come forward. A victim’s claims should be assessed and not minimized in any way. Abuse is deeply wounding and will cause the abused person to appear very emotional or irrational. The abuser will often use this to their advantage, that the victim’s claims would not be believed. Furthermore, the victim should not be given the responsibility of handling this issue on her own. The abused person requires patience, support, and advocacy. Mentorship can be an incredibly powerful way to offer these things to the hurting.
Designate a Care Person to help a victim get help.
Victims often fail actually get help because they have been groomed to think what is happening to them is not abuse, or that no one cares. They often feel overwhelmed by the process (and the doubt) and may end up going back to an unhealthy situation because it is easier. The Care Person doesn’t need to be an expert on the subject of abuse, but rather someone who can walk alongside the abused in locating and accessing community resources, and offering prayer and compassion.
Be consistent with church discipline and abuser discipleship.
Many abusers slip through the cracks of traditional discipleship group ministries. Worse yet, some use these groups as a means to boost their false reputations. Identified abusers who are willing to seek treatment should enter a batterer intervention program (more on that below). However, the abuser MUST also submit to a proactive church mentor who is involved in his/her life, to an extent similar to that of an addiction recovery sponsor to provide personal accountability. Like the victim’s Care Person, an abuser’s mentor doesn’t need to be an expert in abuse, but someone who can challenge the abuser regarding the sinful realities of their behavior, and asses whether or not that individual is truly accepting responsibility for their behavior, and establishing a pattern of self-motivated changed over the course of months and years. If an abuser chooses not to submit to longterm accountability, Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 18 that this person is to be viewed as an unbeliever, and that distance is necessary to allow for consequences to have their effect.
Batterer Intervention Treats All Types of Abuse
Despite what we’d tend to think about treatment for abusers, basic therapy isn’t necessarily effective for abusers, and neither is anger management. In addition to the personal accountability of church intervention described above, abusers should be required to participate in batterer intervention programs targeted at healing past traumas and changing unhealthy patterns of thought.
The big question here usually is, “What if the abuser is not actually physically violent?”
Domestic violence isn’t limited to physical abuse.
It also encompasses verbal, emotional, and spiritual control and manipulation. The mindset behind all these varieties of abuse is the same, as the abuser exercises control over another individual. It is most often the case the abuser is using multiple methods of abuse to exploit their targets. Research suggests that psychological violence is actually more damaging than physical violence (not to mention physical abuse often includes psychological abuse), so it is of the utmost importance that perpetrators receive tools to reshape their thinking and behaviors and that victims find relief.
Have you had any experiences with a church that is proactively tackling the issue of eradicating domestic violence? We’d love to know more—please leave us a comment.