How Your Church Can Help Heal Victims of Abuse: Spotlighting a Group of Churches That are Doing It Right
I’ve heard many stories (and featured some in my blog) of women abused by their churches. When I say abused, I’m referring to the emotional abuses of shaming, shunning, and slandering by pastors as well as physical abuse. In too many churches, women are blamed or disbelieved or disregarded when asking church leaders for protection from their abusive husbands. And if a woman calls attention to her husband’s abusive behavior, decides to divorce because of abuse, or calls out abusive leaders in the church, she may lose all emotional support, and, sometimes, even membership in her church, often leaving herself more vulnerable than ever to abuse.
These negative attitudes and practices toward women are not biblical.
The Apostle Paul declared, “You are all sons [people] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all you who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:20-28)
James A. Borland1 gives three examples of Jesus’ attitude toward, and treatment of, women: 1) “Jesus regularly addressed women directly while in public. This was unusual for a man to do [in that day],” 2) “He spoke in a thoughtful, caring manner to women,”3) “He held women personally responsible for their own sin as seen in his dealings … Each had the personal freedom and a measure of self-determination to deal with the issues of sin, repentance, and forgiveness.”These negative attitudes and practices toward women are not biblical. The Apostle Paul declared, “You are all sons [people] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all you who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:20-28)
Women were treated much like slaves in Jesus’ day.
Women stayed home and took care of domestic duties. But Jesus allowed women to travel with Him and the twelve disciples (Luke 8:1-3). Women were rarely even spoken to by men when they ventured outside the home. But as Beth Moore, American evangelist, author, and Bible teacher, wrote in a May 3rd, 2018 post, A Letter to My Brothers, 2 “Many churches quick to teach submission are often slow to point out that women were also among the followers of Christ (Luke 8), that the first recorded word out of His resurrected mouth was 'woman' (John 20:15), and that same woman was the first evangelist." Moore continued, “I’m asking for your deliberate and clearly conveyed influence toward the imitation of Christ in His attitude and actions toward women."
Recognizing the disparity between Jesus’ teaching about women, and the treatment of women in many churches today, we need to be asking for the same consideration Beth Moore has asked for.
Recently, a friend, Lizbeth Meredith (see her recent guest post), sent me hope of this happening in a description of an interfaith prayer vigil for victims of domestic violence in Kodiak, Alaska. The vigil is a beautiful example of a group of churches making a concerted effort in supporting women in abusive situations, as they believe Christ would have them do.
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Sponsored by the Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center (KWRCC), the vigil is held every October. “It’s a time when the different faith communities get together. We read the names of every domestic violence homicide victim in our young state’s history. The spiritual leaders make sure their various congregations understand that they are resources for victims of abuse. There is no shame or blame for the victims. It’s a powerful experience,” Lizbeth wrote.
She graciously put me in touch with Beth Davis, Outreach Coordinator and Faith Advocate at KWRCC. “I advocate for clients who are victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault,” Beth told me in a phone call. “Our mission is to help women develop inner strength and achieve their fullest potential. We are dedicated to the prevention and elimination of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault by providing education and promoting community awareness.”
KWRCC provides resources and crisis services to the community, as well as a shelter for women and their children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. They support a 24-hour crisis line, give the women a space to heal with support groups and classes, and help them access other community services.
As part of her work, Beth offers resource information to twenty nine churches plus smaller groups that are a part of the active faith community. She explained that, because Kodiak is a small island, “Everybody knows everybody,” which allows for close communication and cooperation among the churches.
“Everybody knows everybody,” which allows for close communication and cooperation among the churches.
I asked Beth to tell me more about the vigil. “The prayer vigil is only about an hour long and includes several scripture readings, prayers, songs and hymns, and a message on what domestic violence is and is not. In the three years I’ve been here as Outreach Coordinator, I’ve tried to involve every major denomination as well as people and organizations that encounter victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. That includes state troopers, the Kodiak police department, law offices, the hospital chaplain, mental health providers, local business people … everybody and every agency we work with in supporting domestic violence and sexual assault victims.
The four-day training, which occurred three years ago, included people from “all kinds of spiritual directions,” and covered domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse, all within the faith perspective. Twelve churches were represented, with pastors, co-pastors and other church leaders attending. “People experiencing abuse don’t always go to their busy pastors,” Beth noted. “They may go to others in the church who are more available and with whom they feel safe. But it’s important to hear from the pulpit that their pastors are advocates.”
“We talk about psychological, spiritual, physical, emotional, and financial abuse … everything."
I asked Beth what subtopics are covered in “domestic violence.”
“We talk about psychological, spiritual, physical, emotional, and financial abuse … everything.
“Part of our contract with Safe Havens was to bring a couple of people in the faith community [to Boston] for more training a year later. I was able to bring a Catholic priest and a Russian Orthodox deacon who is also a teacher at the local Russian Orthodox seminary.”
“On the surface, most of us can agree that abuse is not good.”
“On the surface, most of us can agree that abuse is not good,” Beth said. “But, both the abused and the abusers are sitting in the pews. We need to be painting a picture in our churches of what healthy relationships look like. God has told us a lot about honoring and respecting one another. The Word teaches us how to relate, the Spirit brings conviction when needed, and we are called to walk humbly and compassionately with each other.”
To sum up, here are the main actions these churches have taken to support abused women:
1, Borland, James, Jesus's Countercultural View of Women, https://www.crossway.org/articles/how-jesus-viewed-and-valued-women/
2. Moore, Beth, A Letter to My Brothers, https://blog.lproof.org/2018/05/a-letter-to-my-brothers.html
Do you have a divorce experience to share? Have you been shamed by a church because of your divorce? Or encouraged? There are hurting people who need to hear your story, who need to know they are not alone, and who need to be encouraged. If you are interested in sharing your story, email Linda for guidelines: Linda@LindaMKurth.com
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As long as you are hiding from your pain, you're hiding from helping other people.
Kari Oberbrunner - Author, speaker, coach.
If you're interested in sharing your story of divorce and the response of other Christians, email Linda at Linda@LindaMKurth.com for guidelines.
Linda's memoir in progressGod, the Devil and Divorce
A Transformative Journey Out of Emotional and Spiritual Abuse