by Meagan Manas
Cross-posted from National Council of Churches Women’s Ministries website

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28, NRSV (emphasis added) 

The recent dramatic story of a woman who received a face transplant after being shot in the face by her husband reminded anyone who may have forgotten of the traumatic effects of the epidemic of domestic violence.  Some statistics say that a woman is battered every 15 seconds in America alone.  With the economy and jobs worsening, the added pressure of financial strain is bound to increase this sobering statistic.  And each of us can be sure there is someone affected by domestic violence in our congregation.  As we read in Galatians, we are one, and if one person among us suffers, we all suffer. 

An interfaith community breakfast in Brooklyn, New York on May 7 focused on what clergy and lay leaders could do to staunch the bleeding in the lives of those in our community affected by domestic violence.  The breakfast was organized by Trinity Healing Center, based out of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, and  CONNECT, a New York City interfaith organization working to prevent and eliminate family violence.  These groups are doing wonderful work in Brooklyn, but their messages applies anywhere.  

The church is particularly positioned to reach out to all people affected by domestic violence.   Often victims of domestic violence do not reach out to the police or other community organizations because they fear the repercussions in their personal life.  Churches that condemn domestic violence from the pulpit and the table, who are not afraid to name the silences that continue patterns of violence can provide a unique safe haven.  Also, church communities are equipped to minister to different people and different ages, and thus address the lives of not only victims of domestic violence, but their children, and the batterers themselves. 

Our language matters.  Breaking the silence is so important.  But the words we use to do this are equally important.  Participants at the breakfast wondered if the term “domestic violence” softened the way we think about what is actually criminal behavior.  Other ideas such as “intimate violence” were considered.  One Muslim cleric from the community shared that he started speaking not about “violence against women,” but “violence by men against women,” thereby breaking the silence that masks the power of the perpetrators of domestic violence. 

The church can be a sanctuary, but it can also be a perpetrator.  It is important to acknowledge the ways Christian ideas of forgiveness, reconciliation, and suffering can encourage women to remain in abusive relationships.  This article from Religion Dispatches investigates the extreme consequences that theology can create.  The way we understand and speak about forgiveness, reconciliation, and suffering must always be tempered by the knowledge that domestic abuse victims, perpetrators, and survivors are in our midst.  For example, and according to materials from the Faith Trust Institute, forgiveness cannot be asked for if the person suffering domestic violence is not safe, and can become instead a place to gain some feeling of control over the situation instead of  helping to move on.  Repentance means more than just saying “I’m sorry,” it means a radical change in our lives, turning from sinful behavior.  And suffering is not a necessary or commendable aspect of love.  Jesus did suffer, but he suffered so that we would not.  As Theologian Carol J. Adams writes, we need to “let Jesus off the cross.  We are a resurrection people.  Let yourself off the cross.  Your suffering should be over too.  Because of Jesus you do not need to die to experience the meaning and power of resurrection.  If you don’t get off the cross, however, you very well may die.” 

Discussion and Bible study around the meanings and biblical examples of those words might be a good inroad for your community to begin to think about domestic violence together.  We also  recommend the following resources:

CONNECT

Faith Trust Institute

The World Council of Churches’ “Decade to overcome violence”

Breaking the Silence, from the Episcopal Church