A PASTOR’S ROLE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Carol J. Adams, is author of Woman-Battering, a pastoral counseling book, and a teacher at Perkins School of Theology, Texas, where she teaches a course on sexual and domestic violence. She said she is angry at seminaries that graduate pastors untrained in domestic violence issues. The following article comes from seminars she presented to pastors a few years ago. (To view photo illustration click on: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carolyncholland/2397849702/ )
One pastor attempted to speak with a woman he knew was experiencing domestic violence, but she “didn’t want to talk about” her marriage problems. She is now divorced.
Another pastor had a woman approach him about her abusive relationship. He made arrangements for her to go to a local woman’s shelter, but she returned to her husband instead. “I was almost feeling kind of guilty. Could I have done more?” the pastor wondered. “But I left the door open and will help her find a safe place if she needs it.”
A third pastor realizes people involved in domestic violence are experiencing a spiritual crisis. “Sometimes people come to church asking how domestic violence relates to their marriage vows, and wanting to know what to do about it. But I’ve never dealt directly with a parishioner.”
“Pastors instinct is to do couples counseling,” Carol J. Adams stated. “They are trained to do so. But in domestic violence this is a big no-no. The pastor is trained to be reconciling, a method often enabling violence to continue.
“Battering is the batterer’s responsibility. Couples counseling implies she is responsible too. It endangers her. It is not a safe place. If she tells the truth, she gets hurt; is she lies, she doesn’t get help.”
Pastors who advise a battered spouse to remain in an abusive relationship unwittingly put her and her children in danger. Pastors sometimes make the assumption that a marriage should be kept together “no matter what the cost.” At other times they remove the focus from it being his responsibility for his actions to how she provoked him to batter.
Sometimes they trivialize or minimize what has occurred. And some pastors try to “case manage” her life for her by taking over all the decision making; again making the assumption that this marriage should be kept together “no matter what the cost.”
Each and every of the above actions endanger women. Every 9 seconds a woman is battered by her spouse or companion; each day four U. S. women die. 75% of these deaths occur at the time the woman leaves the relationship.
“When Jesus had the opportunity to stop or prevent suffering, he did. Often, the suffering were women,” said Adams.
While both religious and secular people understand divorce as a breaking of the marriage vows, where domestic violence is an issue it is the violence, not the divorce, which destroys the marriage covenant.
“The violence, that’s the real sin,” said Adams. “A loving God does not want anyone to die of love and commitment.”
Adams has “mantras” that include that safety is a priority. Domestic violence is a chronic problem with crisis moments. “The crisis is the battery incident, the chronic problem is the control and behavior issues.”
Domestic violence is about control, a pattern of behavior involving violence, control, and subtle forms of abuse. “It is not conflict run amok, but an issue of power and control. Even the ‘nice’ phase is a tactic to get women to comply,” said Adams, who acknowledges we live in a society that accepts on a deep subconscious level that women are the property of men.
For the controlling partner, the victim will always do something wrong, and the “something wrong” doesn’t matter, only the control does.
“My bottom line is safety first,” Adams emphatically restated.
There are three steps in pastoral dealings with domestic violence. First, the pastor must process information received from the couple. “Talk with each partner individually. Focus on behavior, not on personality characteristics,” said Adams.
Second, use a practical approach of measuring safety. “The minute she says she’s battered, refer her to a shelter.” Pastors cannot provide safety, but secular agencies, particularly women’s shelters, are designed to do this. Pastors need to work with the secular world, where the local Woman’s Shelter can give safety the church cannot provide.
Doing these two things frees the pastor to approach the involved parties on theological issues. “Clergy get in trouble because they give a theological response when the practical is needed,” said Adams.
Third, churches can become a part of a cooperative community that states “Battering is wrong and you have to stop.” All appropriate secular resources should be involved in domestic violence situations, said Adams.
“To err on the side of disbelief of the woman is to err on the side of danger,” stated Adams. “This is not a matter of choosing sides but of meeting needs.”
Battered women need to plan for safety and to have the backing of a community that holds her abuser accountable, because she cannot.
The batterer needs to stop his violence. Battering continues through intermittent rewards. Therefore, the perpetrator needs consistent aversive consequences of his behavior. They have broken the law and the law must be invoked. Pastors can remove church rewards by making him accountable instead of supporting the batterer.
Both partners need a just relationship and a restoration of family relationships if possible. If this not possible, they need to mourn of the loss of the relationship.
Pastors should be aware that expecting action might result in defining the battered woman’s struggle for survival as inaction. “I was so frustrated with her decision to return to the abusive relationship,” one pastor said. Adams replied that leaving or achieving safety is a long-term process. (The typical battered spouse leaves an average of seven times before finally not returning.)
Pastors can work toward the prevention of domestic violence by preaching on what love is, educating youth, and incorporating anti-violence statements in wedding vows. The church can model safety through its members. How the church deals with domestic violence as Christians is critical.
Because a pastor is trained to be reconciling (an approach enabling the continuance of violence), he finds it difficult responding in the confrontational manner essential in stopping a batterer’s controlling behavior.
“Battering is the batterers responsibility,” Adams emphasized. “Domestic violence is about control. It is a pattern of behavior involving violence, control and subtle forms of abuse. It is not conflict run amok, but an issue of power and control. Even the ‘nice’ phase is a tactic to get women to comply.”
Adams acknowledges we live in a society that accepts, on a deep subconscious level, that women are the property of men. For the controlling party, the victim will always do something wrong, and it isn’t the “something wrong” that matters. Only the control does. What matters to the batterer is the level of control he has over his chosen victim.
Both religious and secular populations understand divorce as breaking marriage vows. In the presence of domestic violence, however, the violence, not the divorce, destroys the marriage covenant. “The violence, that’s the real sin,” said Adams. “A loving God does not want anyone to die of love and commitment.”
“When Jesus had the opportunity to stop or prevent suffering, he did. Often, the suffering were women.”
It is not a matter of choosing sides, but of meeting needs. Batterers need to stop; battered women need a plan for safety and the support of a community that holds her abuser accountable, because she cannot. Both need a just relationship, and a restoration of family relationships if possible. If not possible, they need to mourn the loss of the relationship.
Churches can become a part of a cooperative ministry that says battering is wrong and it has to stop. In making a decision, to err on the side of safety is better than to err on the side of danger. However, there are cautions. Read what might be considered a controversial post:
CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS has two categories with posts on abusive families:
I do hope these are helpful for you.
Carolyn C. Holland has facilitated several groups for adults abused as children. She also wrote a grant for and administered a Pennsylvania Children’s Trust Fund program aimed at decreasing child abuse by healing parents who were themselves abused. She is also a pastor’s wife.
To read another post on child abuse and domestic violence, click on THE WELL-ADJUSTED CHILD.
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