As public outcry demands that the NFL reform its culture in regard to domestic violence, wouldn’t it be great if during this Domestic Violence Awareness Month we could demand that religious institutions reform also? The sad fact is that religious institutions have usually been more harmful than helpful to the cause. As a pastor who has been speaking out on this issue for over 20 years in Iowa and California, countless women have told me that when they sought help from clergy they were counseled to try harder to please their mates and to bear their suffering silently (like Jesus did) and ultimately remain in the abusive situation because it is the will of God for them to do so. For every Ray Rice that gets suspended, there are hundreds of clergy who deserve to be suspended for such life-endangering counsel.
Far too many survivors of domestic abuse report that they have never heard anyone in their churches say that they deserve to be safe, that God does not will for them to be abused and that domestic abuse and dictatorial relationships are not okay.
The church has often proposed a hierarchical model of family where the husband is encouraged to exercise power and control over his family instead of developing healthy partnerships of mutuality and respect. Some of the greatest damage women suffer is the direct result of men coming home from church believing that they need to make their wives “submit” to their will.
If you are involved in a church or other religious institution you can help. You can learn to recognize the signs of domestic violence and learn how to provide a loving response. You can check out your church’s teachings about what makes for a healthy relationship and you can make sure that your clergy receive adequate training in responding to domestic violence because for most of us, our seminary training was woefully inadequate. Please hold your clergy and accountable if you hear them spouting off messages that give license to abusers for their behavior.
Hooray for the NFL in recognizing that it was on the wrong side of the issue, now let’s advocate cultural changes in the institutions that affect more people’s lives than any other.
Article by Iowa Pastor Dave Clark in Redlands Daily Facts.