3 ways to bring more clarity to our domestic violence responses

I want to begin this week’s post by thanking the incredible people at Elijah Haven Crisis Intervention Center in LaGrange, IN. Thursday night I spoke at the Elijah Haven fundraiser dinner, Friday night I presented a three hour seminar to a group of Amish Bishops and their spouses, and Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Marion Christian Fellowship. It was a great week with some wonderful people.

Meanwhile back in the Evangelical world a shocking and offensive audio clip re-surfaced and exposed a problem that many of us are all too familiar with; A Christian leader offering dangerous advice to domestic violence victims. I’m not going to address that audio here because there have been many helpful responses to Dr. Patterson’s comments already. I want to spend our time today adding clarity to those responses. I greatly appreciated the Christians and organizations who used their platforms and influence to stand up for victims. However some of what was said could benefit from a few corrections.  

  1. Abuse is a Crime: So many of the responses I have read this week include definitive statements that abuse is a crime. The problem with such statements is that they are only partially true. The reality is that domestic violence is a broad term used to describe a pattern of coercive control, and while some behaviors include criminality most do not. The vast majority of behaviors including emotional abuse, aspects of isolation, minimization, denial, and blame, economic, and verbal abuse are sinful of course but not necessarily illegal. Some writers declared this week that, “not only is abuse sinful, it is a crime.” Unfortunately, a statement such as this tells us that the authors, although well meaning, do not yet understand the dynamics and impact of abuse which may include some criminal activity but more than likely will include tactics of power and control that are frankly outside the scope of law enforcement and the courts. It also says something about our view of sin, indicating that somehow a crime is more significant than the sin of domestic violence.

  2. Report, Report, Report: Secondly, well meaning Christians have taken to social media to instruct their brothers and sisters in leadership to report acts of domestic violence immediately. One passionate writer went so far as to suggest that a pastor who doesn’t report a disclosure to the authorities should be held criminally negligent. Again, I believe these comments are from a place of goodwill, but are problematic. The majority of states in the U.S. require clergy to report acts of abuse against children, and the elderly. On the other hand, most states do not require clergy to report acts of domestic violence and it is in fact based in wisdom. Women who disclose are taking a great risk to confide in you and your willingness to listen and believe them is a tremendous act of support. Reporting a disclosure, without the victim's consent, may actually place the victim in further danger as an investigation or service of a protective order may incite their partner to greater violence. In addition some victims report being safer knowing where their partner is as opposed to the mystery of removal. The bottom-line is that victims must inform our decisions. We offer resources, safety planning, and support. I have found this flowchart from the United Methodist to be very helpful in informing responses to disclosures.

  3. The Cycle of Abuse: One popular model of teaching and understanding domestic violence has been the cycle of abuse. Many experts have used this model in the past to help people helpers wrestle with the life that a victim lives. Victims have cited that this cycle is not the experience of every victim. My friend John Henderson has rightly said, “If you’ve seen one case of abuse, you’ve seen one case of abuse.” The suggestion that we must break the cycle of abuse, or that pastors must understand the cycle of abuse is again a well-meaning and in some ways helpful but overall an insufficient model of understanding abuse. We are best served by listening to victims, interacting and asking questions of service providers, and engaging experts in the field.

Suggestions: I want us to do this well, and I believe Christians with a platform (pastors, teachers, leaders) can do a much better job of raising awareness and calling the church to repentance. May I suggest a couple places to begin.

Read good books such as...

Check out these great resources

  • Focus Ministries - Paula Silva and her team have collected a treasure chest of resources at www.focusministries1.org You can learn more about Focus through our interview with Paula here

  • PeaceWorks University - PWU exists to train, commission, and support people helpers in a variety of ministry contexts so they are better equipped to address the problem of domestic violence with the gospel of peace. Learn more about PeaceWorks University here

Dialogue with Experts in the field

Chris Moles - Chris Moles is a certified Biblical Counselor, and a Certified Batterer Intervention Group Facilitator. Chris has worked in Domestic Violence prevention for over a decade having worked with hundreds of abusive men. You can interact with Chris at www.chrismoles.org

Leslie Vernick - Leslie is a Social Worker and Biblical Counselor who works with hundreds of victims. You can interact with her at www.leslievernick.com

Joy Forrest - Joy is a Biblical Counselor and certified victim’s advocate with the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. You can interact with Joy at www.calledtopeace.org

Julie Owens - Julie is a survivor, advocate, and dv expert. You can find out more about Julie at http://www.domesticviolenceexpert.org


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