Have pity on me, O God, for I am in distress
with sorrow my eye is consumed;
my soul also, and my body.
I am like a dish that is broken...
But my trust is in you, O God;
I say, 'You are my God'
The feeling of cool cream cover-up. The dull ache of silky blank powder patted upon the first layer, making sure the bruise does not show. The eye make-up applied so as not to disrupt the artificial dust on the skin. You must be artistic about your creation.
Countless Christian women regularly go through this cosmetic process on their way to church on Sunday morning. They are trying to hide bruises inflicted upon them by their Christian husbands.
It is not a nice thought for anyone, and, regrettably, some pastors deal with domestic violence by using a little "cover-up" in their congregations rather than dealing with the problem. Sometimes preserving the marriage is placed above the life and safety of the abused woman. What would Jesus say?
By turning a blind eye to abused women who desperately need Godly help, love and compassion, pastors send these women straight into the arms of a secular world that can and will provide that comfort. Is it wise to alienate them from the love of the Church and of God?
The Rev. Al Miles has written multiple books on the subject of domestic violence in the Church, including Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Should Know and Violence In Families: What Every Christian Needs to Know. Miles says his professional experience working with members of the Christian faith -- his goal is to prevent and intervene in situations of violence against women and children -- is that many Christian clergy and congregation members have been poor allies for victims.
"We continue to deny the prevalence of [domestic violence], especially within our own faith groups and among couples worshiping in our churches," he writes. "We refuse to seek the necessary training to help us effectively care for victims and confront perpetrators. We even fail to talk about or acknowledge the fact that some of our own male colleagues are, themselves, abusers."
Personally, I have heard tales of pastors and other religious orders telling women to forgive their abusive husbands and return home. These women must be protected instead and abusive Christian men held accountable for their behaviors. After all, if a Christian woman can't trust her own pastor to help, who can she trust?
It seems to me the apparent ignorance regarding domestic violence is the result of several factors:
1. Since it is not seen as a spiritual problem, some clergy do not understand or attempt to understand it.
2. Some pastors fail to step out of their safety zone.
3. Church leaders are so busy they don't have time to get into the lives of the people in their congregation.
4. Even though some pastors might know abuse is happening, they might not have specific answers to solve it, and therefore avoid involvement.
Terrance R. Trites, a 20-year clergy member of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, has volunteered in various communities with agencies supporting victims of domestic violence, principally women. He has worked in addiction treatment for seven years. Currently, along with a part-time church ministry, he works as a facilitator of programs for men who are or have been abusive in their intimate relationships. Additionally, Trites has been a foster parent for 22 years and has worked with children who have been victims of abuse as well as families who are abusive.
"I would hope that even when the marriage doesn't work out, we wouldn't blame the victim," Trites says. "I would seek to find or offer ways for the victim to rebuild her own life and remain part of any organizations [such as the church] she would choose. Despite some attitudes within some churches, I believe the victim should suffer no shame for either the abuse or the breakdown of the marriage."
In the event an abused sheep is unable to go to her shepherd for protection, others in the world can and will provide it. Nancy Sauer, a Christian woman working for Advocates for Family Peace -- a secular office -- says her program has much to offer.
"I see too many fundamentalist churches turning away from the wisdom and experience that is offered," she says. "A pastor recently told me, `We sure have heard a lot of horror stories about the Advocates office.' I, in turn, said that I have heard a lot of horror stories about the Christian community."
Sauer says one of her goals in educating churches is to teach them how to help a family caught in the web of domestic violence -- for example, knowing the resources in their community, setting up possible safe homes in their own church community, and coming alongside the abuser as well as the woman and her children. Accountability for the abuser and separation until the violence stops are two principles she encourages. "Too many times the sanctity of the marriage is put before the sanctity of life," she explains.
As difficult as it is, Sauer says we must hold abusers accountable for their sins. To do so requires hard work and arming ourselves with a new education in domestic violence to fight the growing battle of abuse within church walls.
Mary C. Ross is a New Jersey-based freelance writer for several different publishers, including Point of View, Krause and Harris, as well as numerous newspapers. Although Ross primarily works in secular journalism, she is a Christian woman who suffered 17 years of domestic abuse. Contact Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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