Today, I’ll attempt to highlight just a few things our churches can do for victims of domestic abuse. Before I offer suggestions we need to ask ourselves, are we approachable? Are we trustworthy? Are we safe? Does our preaching, teaching, and leadership communicate to those we serve that they can trust us with their stories, pain, and anger?
- Believe her: When a woman gathers the courage to tell her pastor what she is experiencing it is important that we believe her. Remember we are not gathering evidence for a court case; we are supporting a sister who is hurting. Belief validates her suffering and puts us in a position to help. My experience has informed me that we may be the first people to truly hear her story.
- Support her:
A. When she is willing and able to walk through her pain in community, surround her with loving sisters who will comfort, pray for her, and hold her accountable to the process.
B. Provide Biblical counsel which will include a process of healing and forgiveness in the context of safety. Ensure her that the church will not rush reconciliation but will promote her safety, while calling her husband to repentance, change, and accountability. While I know this will be a difficult subject for some churches, consider how your plan may include considerations for separation, and even divorce when necessary.
C. Consider meeting physical needs. For instance should we establish an emergency fund to help her and children if the abuser is unwilling to financially contribute? Should we establish safe houses within our congregations for temporary shelters? Are we prepared to offer rides or other services that may be needed?
D. Confront the abuser: I believe the greatest means of serving victims is holding abusers accountable. WARNING. Unless you fear for her health or immediate safety and are taking her to a safe house, communicate to the victims your desires and intentions before you address her abuser. Articulate your plan and seek permission before hand. Confronting her abuser before she is safe may actually endanger her further. With that said, Here are a few suggestions based on an assumption that he is willing to change.
-Make it very clear that abuse is sin and will not be tolerated. “We love you too much to allow you to continue down this destructive path.”
-Contact and familiarize yourself with local domestic violence intervention programs or local counselors trained in domestic violence interventions beforehand and encourage him to seek help. Better yet, offer to go with him.
-Provide a well-trained accountability group where men from the community are given permission to ask him about his behavior, challenge his beliefs, and pray for his transformation.