Friday, October 5, 2012

A Shift in Response

From Dr. Nancy Nienhuis, Dean of Students and Community Life and a faculty member at Andover Newton Theological Seminar (ANTS) in Newton Centre, MA.  Dr. Nienhuis is a participant in Partners in Faith and teaches the course "When Home is a War Zone: Pastoral Care and Theological Issues in Domestic Violence".

The theological responses of religious leaders to abuse are often a critical factor in victims’ willingness to leave abusive relationships, and thus in their ability to survive. Yet too many religious leaders act as roadblocks, reinforcing beliefs and theologies that encourage victims to stay in abusive relationships. When a pastor encourages a victim to “pray harder,” or “be a better wife,” or “don’t make him mad,” these responses blame the victim for the violence and make it her responsibility to change it.  These responses encourage victims to stay in dangerous situations.  But the influence of pastors can be a powerful source of healing for survivors as well, in fact, their responses can even set victims free to leave abusive relationships. A few years ago I was teaching a class on domestic violence with a colleague.  A woman in the class told us how she had repeatedly gone to her priest seeking help from her husband's abuse. The priest told her that marriage was a sacrament, and she was bound to it. Eventually a new priest came to her parish, and she somehow gathered the courage, once again, to go and ask for help. This particular priest told her, "The first time your husband hit you, he violated the marriage sacrament and you were no longer bound by it." The woman looked at us and said, "It was like he opened my prison door and I walked through." That's the kind of power faith leaders can have for victims of violence.

Visit for a variety of faith responses to Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and DV Awareness Month!

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