There are many definitions of Domestic Violence, and there’s much that is true in all of them. At the same time, there’s something that’s usually left out.
Domestic Violence…Violence that occurs in the place, in the context of what should be someone’s home. Violence that happens at what should be a place of refuge, a safe harbor away from the troubles and problems that surround us. It’s almost blasphemous when a place that should be a sanctuary instead becomes a battlefield, a place of danger, a prison of the spirit, an ongoing nightmare.
When there’s domestic violence there’s victimization, there’s a lack of humanity, and that’s shameful. One person who’s in some way stronger aggressively uses that strength to dominate, to control, to turn other people into things, objects that exist only for the abuser’s purpose. A home can become a place where the focus is on power, and control, and manipulation. That’s evil.
That’s not love, and it makes a mockery of even the idea of love. It’s thirst for power, it’s domination, it’s acting in a way that brings evil into the lives of other people.
Usually, domestic violence is talked about as if it always involves adults living together, with or without marriage. In my view, domestic violence is much broader than that. Domestic violence occurs whenever one member of a family uses force as part of a need to control and dominate another. It’s domestic violence when a husband rapes his wife. It’s domestic violence when someone has to live in fear of being beaten. It’s domestic violence when there’s incest or physical abuse or child neglect. It’s domestic violence when one child in a family attacks another. It’s domestic violence when a grown child attacks an elderly parent. It’s domestic violence when a teen-ager assaults a parent. It’s domestic violence whenever one person uses power to attack and control another person.
Where there’s domestic violence there’s a chilling of the soul, a kind of slow dying that infects all within that household. Where there’s domestic violence there’s a kind of death of the spirit.
When someone is the object being attacked, there’s often an attempt to change, hoping that somehow the violence can be held at bay if only everything possible is done to appease the abuser. Sadly, that’s not the case. The power over another that’s experienced can be almost like a narcotic, becoming more and more needed the more it’s used.
I have absolutely no doubt that God does not want us to live in an atmosphere of fear, of violence, of disrespect, of abuse. God instead calls us to love, a love that binds us to him and to one another. A love that brings life and calls us forth into being all that we can be for one another.
We are people who are called to live in relationship with other human beings, not members of a pack where one animal has to dominate all the others. We are people who are called to live as human beings, to touch that which is best in the human spirit, and to invite that forth from others around us.
There are many excuses and rationalizations used for different types of domestic violence.
I know that there are ethnic groups and cultures who see assault and battery as not that big a deal if it happens within a family. At the same time there may be a claim of being highly religious, of being proud of a cultural heritage. Over time an ethnic group can become blind to a scandal. It’s possible to lose a sense of shame for what truly is shameful. As painful as it can be to drop the rationalizations, to admit the truth, to stop being accomplices in criminal behavior, how else can deeds of darkness be brought into the light? How else can an ethnic group live up to what is truly best in its heritage?
I know that there are many who have seen domestic violence as something approved or even mandated by God. I’ve heard passages from Scripture used to justify attacks on wives or children. Passages that reflect the culture of another time, or that are taken out of context, or that are misunderstood and viewed with abuse-colored glasses. The Bible has been used in many ways in history to gloss over great evils, and using Scripture to justify domestic violence is one of them. There are times when God must weep bitter tears over what is done by those who say they follow him.
I’ve heard of clergy telling people being abused to remain in the situation for the sake of the marriage, or tell children that if they were only better behaved they would not be beaten. I’ve even heard sexual abuse described as "making love" when it is the exact opposite.
All the justifications are lies and distortions, no matter where they come from. Domestic violence is about the abuse of power and it’s about treating other people as things. It’s about my emotion of anger being more important than another person’s right to live in safety. It’s about having a role in a family and using that as a cover for a need to dominate others.
Domestic violence is against faith, and God, and the meaning of love. Simply put, no Scripture can be used to justify domestic violence. No sacrament can be used as a reason to allow it to go on. And nothing can be expected to change for a family as long as the very air that is breathed is filled with fear.
Obviously, I can’t speak for all Churches. I can say that the Catholic Church has made the commitment to do all that it can to help a marriage where there’s violence to be healed. But first, there has to be safety—get out, get safe, and then we can talk. And remember that the longer there’s violence in a relationship the less chance there is that things can be turned around.
We hear a lot about parent rights and "family values." Well, to me a parent abandons the role of parent, and gives up rights that flow from it, when a child is neglected or physically or sexually abused. And the child has every right to call upon the larger community for help, for protection, for sanctuary.
How can the community of faith help those caught up in the cycle of domestic violence? First, by helping to make contact with resources that are already available, for counseling, for shelter, for legal help. Second, we can help by standing with those who have been abused. Third, we can help by proclaiming the truth that domestic violence is wrong and must not be allowed to continue.
To turn our eyes and walk away is a scandal, it’s unchristian, and it’s wrong. For times that has happened in the past, leaders in the Church and the entire community of faith can only beg forgiveness. Together, we can decide that things must be different. We can decide that "No more shall it be the way it’s been in the past."
To echo the words of the American bishops, the cry for help from the abused must be heard. Those who have been wounded must be helped to again walk in the light with dignity and respect. And no one must feel that they ever have to walk alone.
Many times people who’ve been abused ask, with a kind of raw pain that arises from deep within, "Where was God? Where is he now?"
My answer has always been, "God is here now, and he was there then, touching your pain and agony." I then add my own question and challenge, "Where was the community of faith, those who said that they believed in God?" "Where is the community of faith today?
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