Wednesday, April 27, 2011

We need safe Churches - GET REAL and allow the healing to begin!

Posted by Hannah at 6:09 AM

Photo Credit Scott Mills
In the past I have mentioned what I called, 'The Holy Hush'.  That wasn't a phrase that I coined, but was a phrase I found when I read an sociology paper by Nancy Nason-Clark called 'Shattered Silence or Holy Hush?'

When we learn about stories like Tina Anderson, and others encouraged to basically let it go or to basically 'be silence'?  That is what is meant by the Holy Hush.

The Shattered Silence as quoted from Ms. Nason-Clark's paper:

The silence is the being shattered as one woman at a time tells her story of battery under the umbrella of her local congregation within a safe space that has been created for such disclosures.
Sadly, for people like Tina Anderson it took 13 years to find.  There are what I call 'safe churches', but I think for most of us we need to feel that safety prior to opening up completely.

The church that I attend was a place that I felt out or checked out first .  I wanted to be comfortable with their line of teaching, preaching, etc.  I made a point before becoming to 'invested'  in this church to attend a new members orientation type of meeting.  I was in the room with some leaders and members, and I decided right away I would tell them I am a victim of domestic violence.  My daughter was in the next room waiting for me, and they basically got up - closed the door - and handed me a business card to our local domestic violence shelter.  The conversation THEN moved to my safety, etc.  You could literally FEEL the concern.

At this point I felt so much more safe with them.  I mean they handed me a secular agency's card, because they knew I needed experts in the field.  Then they concentrated on key factors like safety from there.  You knew they would be there for the journey if I needed help, AND they were not afraid to partner with experts as well.

I remember a poster over at Our Place - an online forum for abuse victims or survivors (both men and women are there) there was a woman that had been out for quite some time.  She still searches for that safe congregation, and I remember the last one she found turned out didn't 'get it' either.

Well, I've been to meet with the pastor.

Gut feelings - yes. I had some during the interview and now after too. It's not that the pastor was outright rude or anything, but just that "gut feeling" that something wasn't right.

One of the first things I said was, "So you've actually had training in domestic violence related issues?"

He answered in the affirmative, and then I asked, "Have you read the book 'What Every Pastor Needs To Know About Domestic Violence'?"

He kinda rolled his eyes - not outright rolling of them, but a sort of ... I don't know how to explain it, but something that gave me the feeling that he was sort of diminishing my question, and he said, "There are hundreds of books out there on domestic violence..."

Mmm-hmm. Gut feeling not comfortable.
Let's be honest with ourselves, and say if this pastor had indeed read anything about domestic violence?  He would have said so, but he offered up no type of education, books, papers, etc on the subject.

Keep in mind the above is just a small portion of what she wrote about. She did tell them upfront she needed someone knowledgeable.  This wasn't a surprise to them - like my meeting was.

She has been out for a number of years, and she has been earnestly searching for church family.  She truly wishes to have one, and she pretty much lost her support from her church when she left her abuser.  Sadly, that is very common in some faith circles.

The bottom line message for her from this pastor?
As I recall some of the things he said, I might add to this. The bottom line of what he said to me was that I really need to get involved in a local church body, whether it be the one where he is the pastor or another one.
He was basically more concerned about her being in church than anything else.

If you look at - again some faith circles - this seems to be a familiar theme.  If you can't 'feel' you will be safe there?  (Notice this pastor didn't go out of way to make her feel that!)

Trust your gut, and find another place of worship.  People being in church maybe important, but it will do more harm than good if the church doesn't 'get it'.  Its not your job to educate them, because only they can be responsible for NOT having major blind spots.  They have to make the decision to be a realistic form of support, faith family, etc.

I'm going to leave you with an audio that speaks of the 7 commandments of a survivor that I felt was very helpful.  Its about 3 minutes, but I felt it was packed with wisdom and encouragement.  I think it also speaks of Nancy Nason-Clark's Shattered Silence and Holy Hush's theme.

Google Doc (For Nancy's Paper) only gives you so much room for documents with a preview.  She had 'references, footnotes, etc' on that paper as well, and if you would like the entire thing?  I have uploaded it as well.  You will need to download the file, due to google doc's size restriction.  Preview of the Shattered Silence or Holy Hush? without footnotes is available as well.  I enjoy papers on human behavior, and she mailed this to me back in 2005.  I basically scanned it for everyone else.

If you have a hard time listening to audio's online?  Here is Dee Ann Miller's transcript of the audio.

Survivors are fielded with commandments that come from the spiritual community, even if you aren't a survivor of clergy abuse.

You have heard many commandments:

Thou shall keep quiet - would be one

Thou shalt preserve the institution

Shall shalt not bear false witness - meaning that you are lying

Shall shalt not speak against your neighbor

on and on it goes as if these were these are the voices of God.

For survivors who have a deep religious faith or have had one?

It is important in the renewal of spirituality to understand that everything that one is commanded from the institutional leaders is not necessarily helpful

I thought giving you 7 commandments could be helpful

So here they are:

Commandment one - thou shall NOT blame thy self when others do not get it.
They suffer from short sightedness and blind spots.  You are not responsible for changing that.  THEY ARE!

Commandment two - thou shall NOT set a timetable for your healing, OR for the healing of the larger community.  While time alone can not heal - healing takes time. 

Number 3 - thou shall not accept without question anyone else's prescription for your healing.   YOU alone can judge when, and how to proceed.  When to take a rest, and when to celebrate.

Number 4 - Thou shall not fail to celebrate small successes.  You may the only one that recognizes them, and the only one that can reward yourself for them. 

Commandment number 5 - thou shall NOT isolate thyself.  No matter how strong the temptations seem, or how overwhelming the struggle taking time to be alone may help.   But staying in isolation stifles creativity and leads to OVER AWFULIZING! (lol I love that word - awfulizing!)

Commandment #6 - Thou SHALT surround thyself with beauty.  Beautiful people, nature - beautiful music and enriching experiences.   Reminding yourself that all of these good things produces strength, and growth.

Commandment #7 - Thou SHALL stand TALL! even when feeling low.  Showing to the world what you are learning about yourself as you overcome.   

Isn't that awesome? Take Courage is Dee Ann Miller's website, and AdvocateWeb is where I found her podcast.

I pray one day that churches around the world will realize to pigeon hole abuse victims and survivors, and basically think of the 'establishment' more than the people?  Its hurtful, sinful, and they can be so much more.  It's sad that abuse victims can be more strong, faithful, and transparent than they can.

It's time to GET REAL, and allow the healing to begin!

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Anonymous said...

How do we get safe churches?

If it is not our job to educate them, and we cannot find any that are educated, do we just sit at home?

Surely, it is the job of those with that awareness and knowledge to somehow bring that same awareness to church leaders? I agree that it is not for the individual survivor to have to be the educator wherever she goes (although that is often what happens), but how can things change if nothing changes?

I hope I am not being naive in my passion, but I don't want my pain to be wasted. My faith nearly didn't survive this crisis. Now, I am hanging on by a thread, not to my faith, but to my church family of many years. It is a church where some, in leadership and in the congregation, do empathize and see the dynamic of abuse, so I have always been reluctant to leave. But most do not, and that's where the problem lies.

Those who understand don't get how the abuse spreads its tentacles to the ignorant and unsuspecting bystanders, recruiting them to his campaign of continuing his control. There are also abusive people in key places, and while some pastors and members are prepared to support me, it is unlikely they will do so at the cost of upsetting some of these perpetrators who are getting recruited as he goes around the church, unfettered and parading as the changed abuser who is now suffering and victimized by a hurt, bitter, vengeful, backslidden ex.

It's not enough to give them guidelines for pastors (done that), it's not enough to give them literature from websites (done that), it's not enough to ask for support (done that), they really need to be educated by an intensive Christian program for educating churches on abuse, then given ongoing support through an active church-wide network. There are just too many ways abusers can exploit the ignorance of churches and the stakes are too high.

Hannah on 2:39 PM said...

Anonymous 1 - You have given them MORE than enough resources, and if he can't take a hint from that alone? I guess as the saying goes - you can lead a horse to water, but can't make him drink it.

Can we speak of certain churches, leaders, etc to educate those that will listen? Of course.

So many victims WONDER if their abuser can change. I think we most of us can relate to that, or of course US changing to fit the abuser. Most have tried to personally pray for the change of the abuser, or wrap ourselves around to better the relationship with the abuser.

Neither works unless both are committed TOTALLY!

We can't change THOSE that refuse to change. Its the same principal.

All we can do is work with those that will listen, and as time goes by MORE people do hear. They learn. They understand.

What do you think that pastor in the story that rolled his eyes at the woman would have done if she literally handed him literature - and attempted some education? Chances are pretty slim he would have taken it seriously.

Sadly, most churches won't come to the table when asked to partner up with a domestic violence shelter - that has women and children in there truly NEEDING their spiritual advice.

From when I started to write this blog? I have seen alot of enlightenment. Thank the LORD for that, and I pray more COMES!

I think the point was more - if you have to BEAT the education into a pastor? He is showing resistance, and the chances of reaching him by the pattern of the past is slim. Find support that is better equipped.

Those in need of your education? The Lord will place them in your path. Those are the ones that will grow from hearing of your pain. The Lord won't waste it believe me!

Anonymous said...

I agree, Hannah, that the pastor who rolled his eyes was not one that was going to empathize. She was better off looking elsewhere. But my ministers are not like that. They have been very empathetic.

But what I am saying is that that is not enough. Simply reading up on abuse, and recognizing that someone is a victim who needs support, simply doesn't go far enough if they don't know the tactics of abuse beyond "being aggressive/ nasty".

They need to know how perpetrators work in congregations. They need to know how to educate their members about abuse. They need to have a uniform policy and be on the same page about how to hold an abuser accountable, and what real changes look like. And be prepared to educate their leaders on it, without being afraid to be accused of "taking sides". All of that will entail education from a Christian domestic violence program. Without that, I don't see how ANY church, even those with empathetic pastors, can be safe.

Hannah on 8:37 AM said...

I do agree they need uniform policies, and no doubt MOST seem to think they 'know' what abuse it. They unfortunately, deal with more myths than anything. Sigh. It sounds like they have opened the door to at least listen to you. is a good start, because they can learn at their own pace.

are just a few faith based organization that do work with churches.

You may wish to go the opposite direction, and write them FIRST - than ask them to connect with the church. No doubt these organizations had dealt with churches wanting to do things, and yet not know how to start.

Unknown on 2:50 PM said...

Thank you so much for a beautiful and helpful post. I have read a lot about abuse and churches, yet very little is said about how to move on after you've left a church that supports abuse, and find someplace safe to worship. That's just what I'm struggling with now. I have near-panic reactions when trying to visit churches within my former denomination (even though they're really not affiliated) and have been trying other denoms. I found one church where I feel safe... so far... but the denominational / theological differences are causing me a lot of anxiety, although I'm not sure that isn't also just a reflection of the abuse in my former church. Also, I haven't talked to the pastor there yet. I am just praying for some guidance on what to do next. Anything else you can contribute on this topic would be valued, or if any readers have worked through this and have good advice on how to find a 'safe' church, it would be so appreciated.

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