Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why is it Important for People of Faith to be Involved in Domestic Violence Work?

A reporter from the Boston Herald asked me that question yesterday afternoon. The reporter is working on an article highlighting the Restorer’s Ministry, a new hotline led by three women from the Grace of All Nations Church in Dorchester. We have been supporting the training needs of the three as they seek to live out their call to serving individuals and families struggling with issues of domestic violence in their community.

What I appreciate most about the Restorer’s Ministry model is that it is a volunteer ministry. Each of the women answering calls on the hotline have a particular desire to work with this population because of their own experience with domestic violence and the importance of faith in their own healing. Reaching out to others to offer help, resources and prayer is a true gift. Many of the domestic violence services offered these days are connected to hospitals, clinics or the legal system – institutions that, for a variety of reasons, do not feel accessible to some families. Having a faith-based hotline that is simply and straightforwardly offering supportive care without any judgment or other restrictions is a true gift.

When I offered the training to this congregation (which included approximately 20 individuals) I thought I needed to explain to them the reality of work in the domestic violence field and all of the nuances of working with victims, survivors and perpetrators. And what I realized within the first 15 minutes of the training is that these individuals already knew what services were out there – and they even knew what the limits were to those services. They already knew that there are victims and survivors and perpetrators in their congregation, and that each group has special needs. Almost all of the women in the training (and some men) were survivors of domestic violence themselves and/or witnessed their child or loved one struggle in a violent relationship.

I think of it now and realize that Grace of All Nations Church and the Restorer’s Ministry have a unique opportunity. In many ways, they are getting back to the roots of the domestic violence movement, when people realized support must be given to those struggling in violence and abuse. And so these individuals opened up their homes and their lives and their communities to people who needed their help. Now the domestic violence movement has evolved into a system that, in many ways, is controlled by government funds and policies. Of course, there are programs and agencies that are doing what they can to develop new models of reaching out beyond the staid structures, but there are limits to any effort that becomes a codified system.

Renewal House’s connection with Restorer’s Ministry has helped me to imagine more deeply what we could be doing for not just victims and survivors of domestic violence and their children, but also for the abuser/perpetrator. For all of these individuals need services and support. And it seems to me that the current model does more to separate the family and demonize the abuser than call them into “right relationship” with one another.

Early on in my work at Renewal House, I attended a training led by Rhea Almeida about her program in New Jersey and her efforts to provide opportunities for restorative justice. I continually think about that model – and those who say “only someone like Rhea can do that work.” The opportunity Rhea offers for families to share the reality of domestic violence and, together, create a path to healing and wholeness is revolutionary. It does not mean that the family is reunited; rather, through the process of separation they all get a chance to tell their stories in a community of both support and accountability. This model is what I hope Restorer’s Ministry and Renewal House both achieve as we seek to be people of faith in a world that, in many ways, is “fallen.” In my mind, that is the importance of faith communities and their contributions to the work of ending domestic violence – we have the opportunity to serve all members of the family as they seek to heal and make better choices in their lives. That, I believe, is the social justice work that people of faith are poised to do together.

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