The Sin We Hide From View

by | Jul 31, 2007 | Parenting

Domestic violence is an ugly problem—and it happens both inside and outside the church. We need to speak up if we hope to protect the victims.

Sandra Dickerson Murphy never told her church family about her abusive home situation. But week after week the then-18-year-old mother of two sat on the pew with black eyes and bruises. “No one would ask me about the bruises,” she says. “I was hoping that if someone would just ask me, that would open the door and I could tell them what was happening to me at home. But no one did, so I obeyed my husband and I kept quiet.”

Today her scars are impossible to ignore. In 1974 her husband pulled out a 12-gauge shotgun and fired it in her face. The blast left her permanently disfigured, but Murphy says she’s not unique. “Domestic abuse victims live with inner scars and sores as deep and oozing and disfiguring as any outward wounds we wear,” she says.

In the U.S. each year, more than 5 million incidents of “intimate partner violence” occur against adult women, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Another 3 million occur against men, though experts say most abusers are male. Such violence leads to nearly 1,300 deaths annually, the CDC reports.

Christian sociologists believe domestic abuse is just as prevalent among churchgoers. “When pastors say it’s not in my backyard, we can say that’s not true; we have the data,” says Nancy Nason-Clark, Ph.D., a sociology professor at the University of New Brunswick who spent 15 years studying domestic abuse among Christian families in the U.S. and Canada.

In June she launched RAVE, Religion and Violence e-Learning (theraveproject.org), a Web site designed to assist religious leaders in responding to domestic violence. Although more seminaries discuss domestic abuse in their classes and some ministers consider abuse as biblical grounds for divorce, Nason-Clark says her research shows that churches and clergy, for the most part, have “not taken the problem seriously.”

“Most pastors that have not been sought out by a domestic abuse victim have never spoke against it from the pulpit or in premarital counseling,” she says, “or made it clear they are approachable and really willing to help.”

She and Murphy, who has been divorced from her abusive husband for more than 30 years, join a chorus of Christian counselors and sociologists in calling on church leaders to offer domestic abuse victims support and counseling, and to reject any doctrines that condone family violence.

“The rate of abuse in religious homes across North America mirrors [that of] the general populace,” says Nason-Clark, co-author of Refuge From Abuse: Healing and Hope for Abused Christian Women. “However, women of faith are more vulnerable when they are abused [because], according to our research, they are less likely to leave, often look first to the church for resources and wait longer to seek help than other women. That is why it is so critical that pastors are trained to respond to this issue.”

‘Zero Tolerance’

During her early years as a pastor’s wife Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary professor Catherine Clark Kroeger, Ph.D., says she once found herself driving a young woman across icy roads to help her escape an armed and abusive husband threatening murder. But despite the apparent danger, Kroeger says she felt a nagging sense that she might be undermining the sanctity of marriage by helping the woman leave.

“For many evangelicals the uneasiness associated with confronting abuse in Christian homes springs in part from their perplexity in interpreting certain biblical passages,” Kroeger says.

After studying Scriptures addressing submission and government in Christian homes, Kroeger came to believe that there is no place for abuse in Christian homes. “Over a hundred times the Bible says that abuse—whether physical, verbal, emotional or sexual—is wrong, and within our church we must have zero tolerance for such conduct,” says Kroeger, who has written extensively on domestic violence and the church, including in the book No Place for Abuse, which she co-authored with Nason-Clark.

Today Kroeger leads Peace and Safety in the Christian Home, an organization she co-founded to assist victims of domestic violence and help train Christians who counsel them. “We must proclaim intolerance of domestic abuse from the pulpits, teach it in Bible studies and talk about it in small groups,” she says.

Although many ministers say they feel ill-equipped to address domestic violence, Kroeger says abused Christian women typically turn first to their pastors for help. “It takes enormous courage for a woman to admit she is being abused,” Kroeger says. “We know that if the first person she turns to does not know how to respond or questions her, and if she is not believed, that woman is much more likely not to disclose the abuse to anyone else.”

Janet* says she never considered telling her church family about the punches and shoves that sent her to the emergency room several times and eventually forced her to relocate and get a divorce. “What do you do?” she says. “At the potluck, you say: ‘Please pass the salt. Oh, and by the way, my husband beat me again yesterday, and this time I really did think I was going to die’?”

As a child, Monica* did tell her California church and the teachers at her Christian school that her stepfather beat and raped her and occasionally held a gun to her head while playing Russian roulette. But she says they thought she was being imaginative, so they encouraged her to honor her father and mother and not lie.

When she grew up, history began to repeat itself. Monica married an abusive man and at church, she says, “no one believed he did anything and pretty much made me feel it was my fault.”

At couples counseling sessions with their pastor, she says she was told her marriage would be better if she were more concerned about what her husband wanted. But when they were alone, she says her husband told her he could kill her and make the church believe it was her fault.

“I wish the church would have at least listened and understood,” she says.

“Honoring your father and mother, honoring your spouse gives no grounds to let someone beat … you. I was led to believe that somehow it was God’s will what was happening to me. For a long time I hated God. [I] … didn’t want anything to do with that kind of God.”

Now single and raising a daughter on her own, Monica receives counseling through a local women’s shelter. She sends her daughter to church but won’t attend herself. She takes psychology courses at the local college hoping to someday work with abused children. “A part of me will always be that little child begging to be believed and seeking an open mind, a willing heart … and some safe place,” she says.

CHARISMA NEWSLETTERS

Stay up-to-date with current issues, Christian teachings, entertainment news, videos & more.

The latest breaking Christian news you need to know about as soon as it happens.

Prophetic messages from respected leaders & news of how God is moving throughout the world. 


MORE FROM CHARISMA

Prophetic Words: End of Year Prophecies to Guide You into 2023

Prophetic Words: End of Year Prophecies to Guide You into 2023

Chris Reed's Prophetic Word Over China: Unprecedented mass protests are unfolding right now across China. The country is seeing the largest pushback in decades, following their "zero COVID strategy" still in place today. China's Communist Party has continued to...

Declaring a Great Awakening Among Prodigals

Declaring a Great Awakening Among Prodigals

Read Time: 1 Minute 23 Seconds It’s a shocking statistic! More than 80 and up to 90% of children who grow up in church are leaving the church once they reach 18. Sadly, only 40% return, according to Focus on the Family. I believe, with prayer, we can defy those...

Bible Verse of the Day, Dec. 8th: Advent Season, Isaiah 11:1-10

Bible Verse of the Day, Dec. 8th: Advent Season, Isaiah 11:1-10

Isaiah 11:1-10 And there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the...

Marilyn Hickey: God Can Heal Your Emotional Wounds

Marilyn Hickey: God Can Heal Your Emotional Wounds

Read Time: 2 Minutes 2 Seconds Have you ever broken a bone? If so, you know what it’s like to go through a painful healing process. Consider what that might feel like in the spiritual realm. Sometimes we can get broken in various ways in life, but God wants to “set”...

COGIC Bishop Derrick Hutchins Sr. Dies at 65

COGIC Bishop Derrick Hutchins Sr. Dies at 65

Read Time: 1 Minute 59 Seconds Bishop J. Drew Sheard and the General Board of the Eastern Florida Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ announced Tuesday the death of one of its most beloved leaders, Bishop Derrick Hutchins Sr. Hutchins was 65....

RECENT ARTICLES

Don’t Criticize Charismatics

They are saying the charismatic movement is divisive. Whenever people get involved in the "new emphasis," there are disruptions in the status quo. Red flags go up. Lines are drawn. I would ask: What...
Jonathan Cahn Reveals the Mystery of the Molten Beast

Jonathan Cahn Reveals the Mystery of the Molten Beast

Read Time: 6 Minutes, 42 Seconds Is it possible that ancient entities known as "the gods" have returned to our world? Could these gods actually be the unseen movers and catalysts of what's happening in America and the world today? Could they lie behind the current...

Shining the Light of Jesus in Hollywood’s Darkness

Shining the Light of Jesus in Hollywood’s Darkness

Read Time: 3 Minutes 37 Seconds Most made-for-TV Christmas movies are like eggnog and sugar cookies—way too sweet, yet extremely addictive for a lot of viewers. But these Hallmark-style movies—the ones with predictable love stories that always end with jingling bells...

Prophecy: Goodness Is Following You, Turn and See

Prophecy: Goodness Is Following You, Turn and See

Read Time: 1 Minute 51 Seconds At a recent gathering where a member was struggling, I heard and declared by the Spirit of the Lord, “Goodness is following you, TURN and see; embrace His goodness in this moment and watch the shift!” There was an immediate shift and...

Man Who Spent 23 Minutes in Hell: You Came From God

Man Who Spent 23 Minutes in Hell: You Came From God

Read Time: 2 Minutes 25 Seconds If you search the phrase, “where does life come from?” the first explanation reads: “The origin of life is a result of a supernatural event—and readily arises from nonliving matter in short periods of time, today as in the past.” The...

Raise Your Praise!

Raise Your Praise!

These are the days that may leave you feeling defeated. You may be wondering when these present trials will end or how can you strengthen your faith for the battle as you wrestle against powers and principalities that come against you, in addition to the challenges...

Pin It on Pinterest