Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not in My Church

Last year, Renewal House hosted an event in partnership with the Department of Public Health entitled “A Call to Action.” The idea was to bring together members of those Unitarian Universalist churches that support the UU Urban Ministry and Renewal House to discuss how communities of faith could support victims and survivors of domestic violence within their congregations and communities.

It seemed like a fun, interesting and engaging topic to me. I like this work. I find it challenging and overwhelming at times, but I always feel as though I am doing something meaningful. So providing a forum where compassionate people could share with each other and figure out how to more fully engage their communities in this area felt hopeful to me. Plus, the notion of a group of people from across Metro Boston who saw themselves as vehicles for ending domestic violence and supporting victims/survivors -- and even batterers -- in getting the support needed to live healthy, whole lives – well, it took some of the pressure off of me. Having more resource to turn to is a real blessing, particularly in work that can sometimes be isolating and emotionally draining.

The event went well. We had a nice conversation, and people were interested and engaged. However, the attendance was small, with only six of the UU Urban Ministry’s 55 member churches represented that day. I do not mean to rebuke these churches and individuals, as there are many possible reasons for the small turnout. Sunday afternoon events are often in conflict with competing events, for example, and the topic may have felt intimidating or too heavy. Given how busy people are, a workshop on domestic violence may have felt like just the thing to drop from a packed schedule. But it did make me wonder how to engage more people in this work in a way that feels easy and inviting.

During “A Call to Action,” we had folks divide into small groups to discuss ways they could engage their congregations in the subject of domestic violence and/or supporting victims and survivors in their communities. The attendees came up with some good ideas and there was great conversation. However, many of the groups kept getting “hung up” on the idea of accepting that batterers and victims could actually be members of their churches. People often find it difficult to imagine batterers sitting next to them in the pews – or even victims/survivors who may feel silenced, ashamed or embarrassed and unable to share their story.

The truth is that statistics indicate that members of faith communities are victims of domestic violence at the same rate as those who are not. One in four women and one in nine men are victims of violence in the home. Domestic violence affects people of all races, classes, genders and sexual orientations.

The imperative for all of us is to recognize that even the men and women who seem the most “together” in our congregations and communities can be victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. Victims need a community of healing. Batterers need a community of accountability. And what better place to accomplish this justice work than in the context of a faith community, where we believe transformation is possible – not only for the people to whom we minister, but also for ourselves.

Domestic violence is occurring in families within your congregation. It is up to faith communities to determine how to address this reality and provide space where victims and perpetrators can share their stories and receive the support they need in a context of hope, healing with the possibility of transformative justice.


  1. I'm sure some of the churches did have a conflict, but churches also have a hard time with this taboo subject. Rev. Al Miles wrote a book to pastors, and he is often asked to speak at churches about domestic violence. He comments on the resistance towards this subject. He even speaks about how he will be invited to churches to speak, and guess who will not be present? The pastors!

    I personally don't understand the fear of this issue, and I realize alot of people claim, 'not in my church'. They hear stories of victims, and say 'that would never happen in my church'. When you have pastors that seem to fear dealing with this issue? How can they be so sure? I doubt they would check it out either, because they just know it would never happen in their church.

    There is alot of ignorance around this issue, and when you point it out? You are asked to give benefit of doubt, or told you are doing things outside the will of God. It saddens and frustrates me at times. They don't realize they are truly harming both parties instead of helping them.

    I have found when you educate them a little as to what domestic violence is, and then show a visual with behavior in action. They start to put the peices together. I have taken a couple of shows that my readers found online that showed true abuse, and pointed out the behaviors that are spoken about. I did that for wife swap for the woman abuser, and super nanny for a emotional male abuser. It seemed to widen people's prospective. I think at times it helps to see the behavior in action.


  2. Thanks Hannah for your comment – sorry that it has taken this long for me to reply. I am familiar with Rev. Al Miles work and actually recently spoke with him about the experience of GLBT survivors of domestic violence and what clergy should know about responding to this particular population.

    I agree with you – when the dialogue is opened – true learning and transformation can happen. And when folks receive knowledge about domestic violence it is harder for them to deny or ignore it.

    I too am saddened when people believe that the “will of God” is for someone to be a victim in his/her own home. My God would never want anyone to live with fear or threat of violence. And in fact in my mind my God would also weep with and for the victim.

    Yes – we use videos as well – and these are helpful in order to see how the abuse unfolds. And it is interesting when it can be something like “Rocky” for example where he will not take ‘no’ for an answer. For many folks this movie is well loved and the character of Rocky is endearing – and yet his pattern of forcing his way in to a woman’s life and apartment – is, in fact, abuse.

    I’d love to know more about you and how you come to this work. Thanks for taking the time to respond and thanks for your commitment to educating folks on domestic violence.