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Dear Church: Some of your sheep are suffering

Unsplash/Sydney Sims

Dear church, your body is suffering. There are women (and men) in your church right now who are in abusive relationships and have nowhere to turn, not even to you. Statistics tell us that 1 out of every 3 women, and 1 out of every 4 men, have experienced intimate partner violence. It would be naïve of us to think that this only exists outside of our walls. In reality, it is within your walls and in your pews. Some of your sheep are suffering.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and I urge you to consider the women, and men, in your church—your flock—who are in danger every single day in their own homes.

They are silently trying their best to survive. They hold on as long as they can and try to live out the teachings of the church, adhere to the scriptural mandates, and honor their commitments. But literally, their lives are in danger! But where do they turn? Can they run to you? Are you a safe space? Will you hear them, believe them, help them?

Statistics, again, tell us we need to hear the abused, believe them, and be ready to do something. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) there are more than 20,000 calls made every day to domestic violence hotlines. Intimate partner violence is about 15% of all violent crimes.

Dear church, I am not being critical of you. I love you. I just want you to see the hurting, the silent, the vulnerable. I offer you some things to consider.

First, many women (I focus on women, but we know men are also abused) are told by the church to stick it out, to submit more, and/or to be more sexually available. These women have cried out only to be told to ‘take it’ and to endure it.

Second, they are told God hates divorce, and He does! But let’s also consider the other things God hates. Proverbs 6: 16-19 “There be six things which the Lord hateth; yea, seven which are an abomination unto him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood; An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief; A false witness that uttereth lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” God hates divorce AND He hates the actions of the abuser. If you are pushing a woman back to the abuser, you are elevating the institution of marriage over a woman’s safety, and maybe even over her very life.

Third, protect the abused. When the church pushes this issue to a ‘shelter’ or fails to believe the abused, this often just enables the abuser to continue, and maybe even escalates the abuse, as he knows the church is not standing by her, and by default is standing behind him. When you do not believe her, it sends the message you believe him—and if he is willing to abuse his wife he might be willing to lie about it. Most abusers are skilled manipulators.

When they reach out to you, please reach back for them. Church, if your women cannot come to you, to whom should they turn?

Kathleen Patterson, Ph.D. is a professor at the School of Business & Leadership, Regent University, and serves on the board of CareNet.

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