Written by Kudakwashe Nyakudya
Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA) usually happens in private directed towards an adult and or a child victim. It also happens in systems that uphold the oppression and inequality of women. DVA secretly devastates the church community by devastating its smallest unit, the family.
Responding to it therefore needs a defiant community approach, that is led by phenomenally bold and resilient church leaders, who are dedicated to openly address the tough realities of DVA, instead of managing the ‘status quo’. This need is especially indicated by the high level of its incidence, which is also known to result in the death of at least 2 women per week in England.
Available research by the Methodist Church shows that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in the church are victims. In the same study it is reported that the response of church leaders is influenced by their beliefs; and that they see a conflict between the church’s mindset on marriage, redemption, endurance, and forgiveness – and that of dealing with violence and abuse. Hence they would assert for perpetrators to be forgiven, and for marriages to be saved, rather than for victims to flee from their abusers.
In addition a research by Hidden Hurt shows that only 13% of more than 900 victims, were understood by their church and received relevant support. A similar research by USA based Father Dahm of the Roman Catholic Church also shows that 84% of parishes do not have a ministry for survivors of DVA; and that 71% of the participants in the survey agreed that the church’s teaching on divorce is an obstacle to safety for victims & survivors.
The authority of church leaders is of utmost importance. They are the ones who set the vision of the church – its working purpose and duties in the community. They tend to preach on the pulpit every Sunday – the most common place for victims and survivors to be instructed on how to live their lives based on biblical teachings given. They are involved in pre-marital counselling. They also teach about the moral and social codes founded on religious beliefs.
The authority of the teachings from the sacred text of the bible is also of importance, but the value of this later importance is asserted by the church leaders through sermons and teachings, mentorship programmes, and the application of religious codes. If the heart of the leaders is in the right place – the heart of God – then their leadership authority and the authority of the teachings they derive from the bible will serve for the good of all victims and survivors of DVA.
In many cases (including my own personal experience) the decisions of Christian victims and survivors to their experiences are determined by the influence of their church leaders, as well as the authority of biblical teachings they have lived by. They also approach their church leaders about their plight, first and foremost, before even imagining to contact agencies outside the church.
In return, the responses of church leaders to the reports of DVA form a model which perpetrators enforce onto victims and survivors in the home. In most cases these responses empower perpetrators to continue or even increase their abusive behaviours, while victims and survivors are silenced, condemned, becoming victims of the church too. The result is that they usually become dis-empowered to find help, unless they then decide to involve outside agencies – who often become the “Good Samaritans” for them.
This story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, often shows us a clear example of how church leaders could choose not to use of their authority in cases of DVA. A man was robbed travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. The Priest and the Levite, both man of religious authority, saw this man on the road but both passed by on the other side of the road without helping him.
A Samaritan – the unlikely person to help – took pity on the man, bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, put this man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him there. The next day this Samaritan paid the inn keeper to look after the man, and promised to pay any extra expenses after he got back from his travels.
If the Priest or the Levite had taken the disposition of the Samaritan, then they would have set an example for the rest of the ‘church’ to follow. But they decided to ‘bury their heads in the sand’ and moved along, ignoring the needs of a vulnerable man.
The value of church leaders is in their opportunity to serve people by instituting and preserving what is right and just, as is mentioned in scriptures like Psalm 89 that justice and righteousness are the foundation of God’s throne (authority). In this regard the role of leaders is not only to read the bible and lead worship in church, but also for the right execution of justice for the needy – including victims and survivors of DVA.
Righteous justice is not only about the punishment of the offenders, but most importantly about the restoration and replenishment of goodness to the lives of victims and survivors. In the few instances where we have seen positive responses to DVA by national church leaders, they couple these two aspects.
Perpetrators are made accountable for their actions, and reported to the police and social services. Victims and survivors are assisted spiritually – to find inner healing, recovery and restoration, as well as aided with practical resources. This method fosters the ideals of justice and righteousness.
The outcome is that victims and survivors are empowered to rebuild their lives back to goodness with the knowledge that their church leader and community supports their freedom from DVA and any other oppression. Perpetrators are kept away from victims with the knowledge that in these church communities their abusive behaviours are not tolerated. Therefore benefits to victims and survivors stretch over the long term.
The above method is plausible as couple’s counselling and approaches of marital counselling are the wrong solution where DVA occurs in a marriage. This is because these approaches tend to make the victims and survivors share the accountability of the abuse with their perpetrators, yet perpetrators are entirely accountable for all their behaviours. They choose to abuse.
In addition victims and survivors often live in fear of their perpetrators, hence they would not be open about their plight in an approach that forces them to work with their perpetrator. Marital counselling in a way masks the real issues that need to be exposed, and tackled.
Statistics show us that about 87% of victims and survivors do not receive the assistance they need from their church leaders and community. Good church leaders then become trail-blazers for such an expansive opportunity. They are the fearless to chart a new course of resolution, where existing strategies have not been effective to the advantage of the victims and survivors.
There is a desperate need for creating solutions that are good for our generation, and for generations after us. Doing this passes on corrected standards on the value of women, while teaching the right and just perceptions about healthy relationships to children. Great authentic church leadership also becomes a vehicle for social change, for the role of the church can be of positive benefit to the greater society.
© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2016. All Rights Reserved.