“Home should be a sanctuary, a refuge from the cares and concerns of the world. But for too many, home is just the opposite. Instead of a place of peace and harmony, it is a battleground where words and fists damage body and soul,” write Kim Ebersole. director of family life ministries, Church of the Brethren.
Most of us would like to believe that domestic violence is a rare situation that only takes place in families much different from our own. However, national statistics indicate that one in four women in the United States will experience domestic violence. Over the years, there have been countless surveys that continue to tell us that domestic violence takes place in every ethnic group, every social class, within every racial group. Sometimes it is more visible to the community and sometimes it is deeply hidden within the family. Most of the community has no idea what is happening, or if they see the signs they don’t want to believe that it is possible. Many don’t know how to help.
What can the church do? First and foremost, the church should be a safe place to openly discuss this issue. Pastors can preach on the issue, or use examples of abuse in their sermons. Adult church school classes can talk about the issue and study biblical texts about healthy families and healthy relationships. Prayers and vigils can be offered for the general public, but also to victims and their families. Outreach and mission activity can support the local domestic violence center, like the Family Abuse Center. Congregations can show the community that they know that domestic violence exists, that they are willing to talk about it, and are willing to listen and support victims.
Most importantly, congregations can look for the signs of domestic violence. Families that seem isolated from others are often homes where secrets are kept. Notice when a wife doesn’t come to church for a period of time or wears dark glasses periodically to cover up bruises. Remember that most abusers know to beat someone in the middle of their bodies so that clothing covers up the bruising. They know that strangulation generally doesn’t leave marks. Look for fearfulness. Listen for signs that the abuser has all the power and control in the relationship, leaving the other party weak and vulnerable. Ask if you can help. Frame your questions with gentle words. “Is your relationship a healthy relationship? Do you feel threatened or afraid?” Reassure the person that you are available to listen. Respect her right to privacy and don’t make her more vulnerable by disclosing her situation publically. Know who to go to for help in your community.
Finally, know what resources are available in your community. A woman and her children who are abused need the safety of a secure location that limits access. They may need financial support to live independently, coaching and mentoring for a job search and placement, ongoing legal assistance and much more. They need continued emotional support from their church family.
All churches pray for peace, but most of the time these prayers are for global peace in distant lands. Sometimes it is easier to be focused on violence and war around the world than across the street or within our own families. Peaceful homes are healthy homes where everyone is respected and everyone helps in the decision making process. There are no threats of violence or beatings. A five year old boy said grace recently at the shelter with the words, “Thank you for safety.” No child should have to worry about safety from the very people living in his/her own home. Peace begins at home.