My wife, Serita, and I, as well as the entire Potter’s House family, are deeply concerned and have expressed that concern through personal contact the moment we were made aware. Those most familiar with our ministry know that I have been a longtime advocate and tireless fighter against domestic violence.
However pained we all may be, perhaps this is a teaching opportunity to awaken us to the fact that thousands of women are beaten and many killed by someone who says they love them. I have personally lost many women in my city, some in my church and several in my family to this heinous problem.
The statistics for women who are abused in this country today by “intimates” —- a husband, boyfriend or someone they are intimately close to —- are staggering. The National Organization for Women submitted the following details:
Every day, four women die in this country as a result of domestic violence, the euphemism for murders and assaults by husbands and boyfriends. That’s approximately 1,400 women a year, according to the FBI.
Although only 572,000 reports of assault by intimates are officially reported to federal officials each year, the most conservative estimates indicate two to four million women of all races and classes are battered each year.
As difficult and as painful as it is to realize, both the victim and the perpetrator are souls that God loves. We must realize that the church’s job is not a judicial one. The courts will do that. The church is the place where people can find redemption even when they have made bad choices or been victims of those who did. We have to stop standing on the road and watching the accident, pointing and staring while the people who are injured in both cars hemorrhage without solution. Churches must be prepared to respond to the needs of all involved including the many children who are often left traumatized and endangered in this toxic environment.
Churches can do something to support families through this difficult time by giving them a safe and discreet place to come for counseling. We must be prepared to get the victim out of harm’s way even while we are working for a solution. However, what the church cannot do is to say to the victim, “Go home and believe that God will make things better.” Or lead them in prayer and leave them in danger.
Here are some guidelines that we use at The Potter’s House that may be helpful to pastors and church leaders:
If pastors or service providers counsel the victim or perpetrator, it is important that they do not allow privileged information to go public. Avoid making a public statement or sharing personal details across the pulpit beyond general concern and compassion without the expressed permission of the family.
People do not confide in leaders who talk.
Churches can also make referrals to social service agencies that can provide deep counseling to victims and perpetrators as well.
Either refer men and women to anger management classes or provide them if you have trained people to help in understanding what triggers outrage and how to develop family skills.
Churches can acknowledge domestic violence by doing plays, holding candlelight services, developing support groups, etc. Secrets thrive in silence, and isolation causes many to remain silently and secretly abused.
Realize that while some women have the resources to leave, many others stay simply because they feel they have nowhere else to go. A report released in 1990 stated that there were 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States. Yet there were 3,800 animal shelters, almost double the number for women and their children.
This must be fixed, as some women go home or become homeless as they feel that they have nowhere to go but back into harm’s way with their children in tow.
The faith community has to come out of shock and realize that knowing the Bible may make you a strong Christian or a great speaker but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the only resource we can draw from or work with to help those in our pews who suffer in silence. Many of our parishioners and even our clergy may not have good family skills, coping mechanisms or conflict resolution training. We must realize that none of us are experts and excellent at everything. And encouraging people to change their lives and provide them with good information is vitally important.
Because so many of us look to our churches for guidance and direction for everything, churches must acquaint themselves with ways we can assist or refer them to help. Prayer is a good starting point, but this is a problem where wise and fair actions are needed.