What Churches Can Do to Address Domestic Abuse
- 2008 3 Dec
Domestic abuse is a huge problem in the U.S. About four million women a year are physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends. What can churches do to bring hope and help to those suffering from domestic abuse? To address this serious issue, Caring Churches interviewed Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC. Lynette is Director of LifeCARE Ministries at Calvary Memorial Church. She is also a licensed, clinical, professional counselor. This interview is reprinted on Crosswalk, with permission:
Caring Churches: Lynette, what are your qualifications for addressing domestic abuse?
Lynette Hoy: I have been a marriage and family counselor in private practice since 1990 providing counseling to individuals and couples for various problems including issues of control and abuse. Last year I completed the 40-hour domestic violence training program required by the State of Illinois to provide services for people in domestic violence situations. I have a great deal of experience assisting individuals and couples in abusive situations both in my practice, with Rapha Treatment Centers, and in my church position. Prior to 1990, I practiced as a registered nurse for over 20 years in various settings where I dealt with patients and clients in abusive situations. In addition, I am an Anger Management Specialist, having co-authored both editions of the book: What's Good About Anger?
CC: How big of an issue is domestic abuse in our society?
LH: Domestic violence is the number one public health issue facing women and children in the U.S. today. Seventy-five percent of calls to 911 are related to domestic violence. The following statistics demonstrate the pervasiveness of this crime:
- Battering is the greatest single cause of injury to women in the U.S.-more than muggings, rapes and auto accidents combined.
- Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44.
- One out of every four women in this country will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
- Women are more often the victims of domestic violence than victims of burglary, muggings, or other physical crimes combined.
- Forty-two percent of murdered women are killed by their intimate male partners.
- It is estimated that 503,485 women are stalked by an intimate partner each year in the United States. (National Institute of Justice, July 2000)
CC: How can church leaders spot domestic abuse?
LH: Pastors, church leaders, professionals, coworkers, and friends need to become educated about domestic violence symptoms so they can identify potential victims. A victim may complain about an injury and provide a suspicious explanation for its cause. The victim may show or complain about symptoms of fearfulness, anxiety, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, headaches, passivity, withdrawal, nightmares, or insomnia resulting from unhappiness or abuse in her marriage/relationship. Couples may exhibit signs of power and control, serious conflicts, outbursts of anger, or arguments.
Often the signs are not obvious to an outsider. Offering a church program to raise awareness of abusive relationships or presenting a sermon on domestic violence may motivate victims to come forward and verbalize their situations.
CC: How involved should churches become in addressing domestic abuse?
LH: Churches have an opportunity to be at the forefront of intervention and prevention of abuse! Pastors and church leaders may be the first to hear about abuse or identify a victim. Not only can they help the victim access help, safety, and resources, but leaders can hold men accountable for changing abusive and controlling types of behavior.
Domestic violence and abuse are sinful patterns that need to be confronted. Pastors and leaders can address the wrong theology about headship issues, which may exacerbate power and control issues that lead to abuse in relationships. Men with power, control, and anger issues need to be confronted. The church can be an effective change agent. They can educate men and women in the roles of husbands and wives. They can emphasize love and respect in marriage. Women need to be taught how to apply assertiveness and boundaries in their relationships.
CC: What specific steps can pastors and church leaders take when they become aware of domestic abuse?
LH: In cases of physical or sexual abuse, or intimidation or harassment, church leaders and pastors need to refer the victim to a domestic violence (DV) agency immediately or to the police depending on the threat. Encourage the victim to make a safety plan and get assistance from the DV agency in obtaining an order of protection, support, and counseling. Also, compile some information on domestic violence and provide the woman with a list of domestic violence agencies and hotlines. They should also provide an abusive inventory and safety plan. Victims can contact the National Domestic Violence Agency at 1-800-799-7233 for assistance and referral to local agencies. Encourage the woman to go to a safe place (and take the children) such as a house of a relative or friend if the threat is serious. Keep a cell phone on hand to give to the victim. Tell the woman you will keep her situation confidential. Confidentiality is a must so the victim is protected. If the victim reveals that there has been child abuse, this must be reported to the authorities such as the Department of Child and Family Services. Help the woman apply the full extent of the law in cases of physical or sexual abuse.
CC: What about verbal or emotional abuse?
LH: In cases of verbal and emotional abuse, the victim may be fearful about revealing the complete history of abuse. But, when there seems to be no risk of harm to the victim and no previous physical or sexual abuse, then a pastor may consider meeting with the husband to provide pastoral guidance. Church leaders may consider whether church discipline is needed, but the need to protect the victim and her children should always remain a priority. Again, refer the victim to the DV agency for counseling and support since the abuser's behavior may escalate and she may be at risk for harm.
CC: What would you say to church leaders who are intimidated by this issue?
LH: This whole area of domestic violence and abuse is very, very dark. It's a risk for the church to get involved. But, the sin of abuse needs to be rooted out. We desperately need Christians to bring hope and the light of the gospel into these dark places and to bring resources to the victims.
1 John 2:9-11 reads: "If anyone says, 'I am living in the light,' but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves other Christians is living in the light and does not cause anyone to stumble. Anyone who hates a Christian brother or sister is living and walking in darkness. Such a person is lost, having been blinded by the darkness."
The church can be the first to provide hope to a victim and admonish an abuser to repent.
Christ calls Christians to love each other and to be transformed. Therefore, church leaders who are trained can proactively address and intervene in cases of domestic abuse. Domestic violence and abuse generates a crisis that needs immediate intervention. Christians are commanded to "warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone" (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
CC: There really is no excuse for abuse, is there?
LH: From a Christian viewpoint, no matter what the triggers or intents of the batterer are, his or her behavior is sinful and needs to be confronted. There is no excuse or biblical precedent for abuse. If a husband assaults or intentionally endangers the life of his wife, he is breaking his vows "To have and to hold, to love and to cherish." Assault and battery break God's command found in Colossians 3:8: "Rid yourself of all such things as these; anger, rage, malice." The Lord declares in Exodus 20:13: "You shall not murder." And in Leviticus 19:16: "Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD." God asserts in Malachi 2:16: "I hate a man covering himself with violence as well as with his garment." Jesus clearly taught: "Love your neighbor as yourself." And Paul wrote: "Show proper respect to everyone" and "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church" (Matthew 22:39; 1 Peter 2:17; Ephesians 5:25).
CC: Lynette, as we end our interview, do you have any final words you would like to share?
LH: Yes, Domestic abuse really happens to Christians and must be addressed. Christians have the opportunity and resources to assist people in abusive relationships-to provide them with resources, guidance, and help.
Churches can bring Light into the darkness of abuse by declaring and modeling the life-changing power of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Abuse and violence are traits belonging to the darkness. These behaviors emanate from the sin nature of man, from the pit of hell and Satan. Jesus said, "The thief comes to kill and destroy, but, I am come that they may have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
Churches can teach and promote godly relationships: relationships which are safe and loving. Pastors and leaders can intervene and provide resources to help victims and teach and hold men accountable to treat women with respect, love, and gentleness.
To contact Lynette or to learn more about her ministry, see:
Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC
CounselCare Connection, P.C.
Anger Management Institute
2000 Spring Road, Suite 603
Oak Brook, IL 60523
Copyright © 2003 by the author and/or CaringChurches.com and The Church Initiative, Inc. unless noted otherwise in the text of the article above.