Thursday, October 20, 2011

Equipping Our Faith Communities to End Domestic Violence

When I was in high school I can remember watching my mom standing out in the driveway with a man our family knew as he screamed at her to tell her where his wife and kids were. I can remember being frozen in the kitchen, unable to move, just watching out the window waiting for him to hurt her. I can remember him driving off and my mom walking into the kitchen looking as though she was going to collapse from the exhaustion. And now I look back and I wonder if I was so scared for my mom just in that single interaction, how much fear did that woman and her kids live in every day?

In college, I keep writing and rewriting this story that stemmed from the image of a young girl holding her mother in her arms as her mother died from a bullet wound inflicted by her father. It was an image I have carried with me since I was very young. Our family was touched by a murder suicide when I was four, and I can still remember my mother explaining what happened to my foster sister when I asked what happened to her parents. My mother told me that my foster sister held her mother as she died after watching her own father shoot her mother and then himself. So since I was four years old, I grew up in a world where murder suicide was a reality.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month, and I thought it was really important that we ask the question of how our churches are responding to the reality of domestic violence in our communities. In my Christian Ethics class taught by Dr. Traci West, we watched a film about domestic violence and the church. And in class, I could hear the sharp intakes of breath by students upset by the statistics we were hearing, and almost enraged when we heard the story of a woman whose church elders asked her why she couldn't just go back to her abusive husband when he was so desperate to have her back. Yet how few of us can go into our churches and see any evidence that OUR church would act differently? How many of us have ever heard our pastor just mention that domestic violence is a sin in a sermon? How many of us have information for our local shelters in our bathrooms at church? How many of our UMW's lead worship services or educational programs for our churches on issues of domestic violence?

Too often we think that everyone knows that domestic violence is wrong now; yet I sat in class this week as we did a role play of what we would do as pastors if a woman came to us and told us that her husband hit her and listened to a classmate ask questions that blamed the victim! I don't think the student realized that the questions blamed the victim until Dr. West pointed it out, but such is the insidious nature of domestic violence. And so we must better equip people in the pews and create communities in which domestic violence is eradicated. In my own life, I have not experienced domestic violence in my household, and yet from the age of four I have known murder-suicide in the case of intimate partners to be a very real thing. All of us have been touched by intimate partner violence in some way, and so we are called to speak out against this injustice in the sanctuary and at home.

This post does not begin to address the complexities of domestic violence, but I wanted to start a conversation here. Two resources I find useful to begin to educate ourselves and our congregations are:
  • Nancy Nason-Clark's Rave Project (Religion and Violence e-learning), which includes games for youth focusing on identifying and resisting intimate partner violence
  • Marie M. Fortune's Faith Trust Institute

Please feel free to comment below or write on our Facebook page to share resources we can use in our faith communities to talk about intimate partner violence and ways we can eliminate it.


Shannon Sullivan is a seminary student at Drew in Madison, New Jersey, and is pursuing ordination in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She is also a member of the OnFire leadership team. She blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.

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