This past week I have communicated with many pastors around the country who wanted my opinion on the situation involving Baltimore Raven Ray Rice and the despicable act of violence captured on the now infamous video. Overall the questions were thoughtful and focused on the need to address domestic violence in the culture at large, as well as, the church. While it is a shame that it takes something as public and graphic as these recent events to rouse us into a responsive posture it is however an opportunity to remind those of us who serve as pastors the needs around us. So, here are a couple brief suggestions for what a pastor can learn from this past week.
This is not an Isolated Incident
Listen friends, the force used by Mr. Rice is indicative of the larger reality in our culture that women, in particular, are suffering under the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse of men. The old adage goes, “out of sight, out of mind” but please remember that events like these occur everyday in our communities and in our churches. It is believed that one in four women will experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner, and to our knowledge there is NO distinction between those inside the church and those outside our church. In other words there is a good chance that women in your congregations are suffering under the weight of abuse and that men in your congregations are perpetrating acts of abuse.
For more information on the severity and impact of abuse check out this fact sheet from the folks at Faith Trust.
Recognize Our Blind Spots
Jackson Katz, a researcher and advocate for abuse prevention refers to something he calls the bystander principle. In short the idea is that men’s violence against women is a men’s issue, and not primarily a women’s issue. Here is a link to his powerful Ted talk on the topic.
Because men are the primary perpetrators of all violence it falls upon men to address this problem. In other words, if 20-25% of men are committing the overwhelming amount of violence against women than that means there are 75-80% of us who are not. It falls upon us to call attention to the problem, to reject any notion that violence against women is acceptable under any circumstances, and to hold men who use violence accountable. Most pastors who take to the pulpit this week will be men and they have a tremendous opportunity to cut through the clutter of sports, media, and celebrity and make a clear statement regarding violence against women.
Take a Stand
I was preparing to speak at a biblical counseling conference last year on the topic of domestic abuse, and I asked a victim advocate friend of mine what she felt was the most important thing I could say to a group of pastors and biblical counselors. She thought for a moment and then said, “Chris, could you remind them that domestic violence is a sin?” The reality is that many who work in domestic violence prevention, and victim care have serious doubts as to our view of domestic violence. Our actions, or should I say our lack of action, have led many in the world around us to conclude that we either don’t care, don’t understand, or perhaps even condone men’s violence against women.
A study was done several years ago among Christian survivors of domestic violence and of the most convicting findings for me as a pastor was that 95% of those surveyed never heard the words domestic violence mentioned from the pulpit. While you may never become an expert in domestic violence prevention you can be an outspoken advocate for the protection of women, and against men’s use of violence. May I suggest you start with my friend’s advice and simply but decisively proclaim that domestic violence is a sin.
Lastly, did you know that October is domestic violence awareness month? Your community may have events scheduled such as candlelight services, or awareness rallies that could expand your network. October is also a great time to bring in a guest speaker to your church like a local Christian police officer, shelter worker, or pastor who may work in the field ; )
I know you’re busy but may I suggest a couple resources?
First, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s book (Is It My Fault)is a great introductory resource for the topic.
Second, I always recommend resources from my friend Leslie Vernick at http://www.leslievernick.com
You can also check out my website at http://www.chrismoles.org
What do you think?
What role can pastors play in domestic violence prevention and awareness? How may church involvement and awareness impact our communities in this area?