Domestic Violence Goes to Church

AP photo of St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Knanaya Church, Clifton, NJ

AP photo of St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Knanaya Church, Clifton, NJ

Yesterday, a woman died in a New Jersey church, apparently having sought sanctuary there. Her attacker killed two other members of the congregation in the attack, shot two other members of the congregation in the attack, one of whom later died, and one of whom is in critical condition.

Sometimes, domestic violence shows up right in the narthex.

Our thoughts and prayers are with this bereaved congregation.

Let’s hope our ongoing actions and commitments will be, as well. Churches, pastors, would-be pastors, Christian educators, the entire Christian community, the Church, need to be concerned about domestic violence, and actively involved in the effort to end it, for lots of reasons. Because it is in the world in which we live, because it is a source of suffering, because it creates situations in which people need comfort and healing and confrontation and repentance and transformation, all the things God offers, and that can (we say, we hope) be encountered in the community that gathers around that offer.

Because domestic violence is a gender issue, because it draws its energy from the messages in our world that men are supposed to dominate women, or at least some women, at least their women; and from the other messages, that glamorize and valorize violence in the cause of combatting evil and just doing what’s right (like, just making that woman do what she’s supposed to do). And because those are messages the church is in a position to challenge, with its Jesus-lessons of the great among you being servants rather than tyrants (Matt. 20:25) and not responding with violence (Matt. 5:44, e.g.). And because those are messages the church should challenge, though it hasn’t always lived up to that calling, and has even turned the good news it is called to preach to the captives into exhortations to return to abusive situations.

But then there is the frankly practical reason, that all the ramifications of domestic violence affect churches and church members directly. Domestic violence comes to church. Our sanctuaries are not always, really, safe spaces, even when we have done all we can to make them that way. They certainly will not be when we have done less than that, because we thought, mistakenly, that domestic violence was one of those problems that would respect the magic threshold of the church.

[One exceptional pastoral and institutional resource is Marie Fortune’s Faith Trust Institute, which is dedicated to mobilizing faith communities to end sexual and domestic violence. The PC(USA)’s Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence Network offers a collection of resources online. The local organization LIFTED (Louisville Task Force to Eliminate Domestic Violence) publishes an online packet to help clergy make congregations safe spaces at the MENSWORK website.]

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3 thoughts on “Domestic Violence Goes to Church

  1. I have found that the church for the most part as been in the dark when it comes to this issue. I don’t think anyone could have done anything in regards to the story at hand. YES his issues were ignored, and could be his family was in denial. That seems the norm in these circumstances. Churches to often when faced with this tend to try to be neutral, and sadly I have seen this way to often. WHen I first experienced this, and then found out how widespread it was…I felt betrayed.

    Thank God for Marie Fortune and others like her that speak about this!

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