The politics of addressing domestic violence in our churches
I was attending a church where I felt I really took ownership of my faith and became acclimated to church culture. At the time, there were several couples who were living together, but not yet married. Upon the arrival of a new pastor, his solution was to encourage the couples to get married sooner rather than later. Consequently, he married a few of them in his office and then the couples later held wedding ceremonies with invited guests.
There was one couple in particular who concerned me. Upon getting to know them, I was doubtful of the suitability of a marriage between them. The reason for my objection, I suspected the male was physically abusing his female partner.
This couple was among the “quickie marriages.” They continued to attend the church sporadically. But I made an effort to stay in touch with the wife. As I continued to connect with her she shared that she was indeed being abused by her husband.
I am not sure how the pastor addressed this situation or if he even knew. But I thought, “If I, a fairly new member to this congregation and young in the faith can tell that something was gravely wrong with the relationship, how could the pastor and/or ministers and/or deacons miss it?” To this day I wonder, “Did none of them see it? Or did they simply not want to see it?”
In all fairness, again, I don’t know that the situation wasn’t noticed and addressed behind closed doors by the pastor and/or church leadership. Yet, the incident continues to disturb me. I’ve been at my Christian walk a little longer now. I’m a bit more seasoned. And what I’ve noticed is that discussion of domestic violence is routinely avoided in our churches, especially by male pastors and especially in the more conservative denominations.
I can tell you without even asking them which of my pastor associates and friends preached about domestic violence during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My more “liberal” and female friends definitely make it a point to do so. Whereas, I have sat in more conservative churches and churches with male senior pastors during the various awareness months—domestic violence, child sexual abuse, human trafficking, crime victim survivors—and not heard one preached word about these problems.
This indicates a complicity of a major portion in the perpetuation of these issues by the Church. If the Church loses or represses its prophetic voice and vocational call to preach and to bring peace and healing, and to counter the subjugation, violence, and exploitation of the world, then it ceases to fulfill God’s purpose. It loses its identity. With our impotence around the culture of violence in the United States, is it any wonder why our churches are in decline? Why would God bless a fruitless tree?
Now several pastors from various backgrounds and denominational persuasions may object to my critique, and criticize me for being “political?” I counter with two questions: “What do you think Christianity is really about? What Gospel is being preached?”
Jesus said to set captives free, to heal he wounded, to bind up the broken hearted. He meant this not just “spiritually” but physically. I believe the Bible is also quite clear to call sin what it is—not to equivocate on the need to renounce it and repent. And here is maybe where some of my critics would probably part ways with me. “Is beating one’s wife really a sin?”
I’ll let you answer that question for yourself.
As to how we understand Christianity, I am amazed at how many Christians either are unfamiliar with or just ignore the context of the first century. Rome was a political, ideological, military, and social entity. It is in this highly politicized and socially stratified environment that God stepped into history in Christ.
Jesus continuously countered the problematic ideologies of the political parties of his own community, the Jewish people. And we know what that led to. It led to him being subjected to an unjust judicial system which sentenced him to death. He died a convicted criminal. Then his followers were systematically persecuted, disenfranchised, socially discriminated against, and economically subjugated by the Roman gestalt that authorized Jesus’ crucifixion.
How is none of that political? And if that is the foundation of our faith, a leader who was fearlessly political, openly critical of evil, staunchly against abusive traditions and customs, how are we all of a sudden not political people?
I speak forthrightly. I believe that Christians who avoid condemning and combatting domestic violence, and other forms of violence, on the grounds that they don’t want to be “political” are copping out. Believing in the furtherance of The Kingdom of God means rejecting what God rejects, and embracing what God embraces.
If you believe in the sanctity of human dignity and the inalienable right of everyone to safety, then you believe in the theological premise that God has created all of us with inherent value and worth. Therefore, there is no justification, not for the Christian, of the beating, intimidation, and sexual violation of women.
Can we stop avoiding the difficulty of correcting this abuse? Can we stop with the quickie wedding ceremonies that ignore problems of violence in a relationship? Can we overcome our cowardice in taking a stand on the issue of domestic violence?
Alicia Dixon-Garrard, M.A. ’14, Teen Challenge volunteer, Catholic Schools of Broome County substitute teacher.
This entry is part of a blog series that focus on experiences, understanding, and responses to violence against women, as part of an online course offered by Northeastern Seminary beginning in the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, this course addresses the problem of violence against women from a Christian theological perspective. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here.