In previous posts we’ve discussed what domestic violence is and isn’t, how churches should respond to domestic violence, and how to interact with domestic violence victims. Some houses of worship may believe that these are the only two parties that need to be involved when abuse comes to light. Well-meaning pastors may attempt to counsel both the victim and the alleged abuser, often together, in a setting where the victim cannot safely share the facts of the situation. This may serve to empower and embolden the abuser. It may endanger the victim further. Churches should not try to handle domestic violence on their own; they need to know who to call for help.
Church leaders may feel that they have an absolute duty to try and make peace in an abusive situation. They may call in trusted church members to pray for the couple or to try to lead them to repentance. But the very first question that needs to be asked, as we’ve said in previous posts, is this: is she safe? If she is being abused, she is not safe. Abuse is founded upon power and control and it escalates. It is often deadly. The many stories of assaults and murders featured on our Facebook page are a tiny fraction of the violence suffered by our friends, relatives, and neighbors in America every day.
Can the church help the victim develop an escape plan without the abuser’s knowledge? Can the church move the victim, and possibly children and pets too, to a location where the abuser isn’t likely to find them? Can the church respond in the middle of the night when the pregnant victim’s being choked in the bathroom? Can the church arrest the perpetrator and hold them accountable? Can the church issue a protection order, help prepare a victim impact statement, and mandate that the abuser participate in an intervention program? The church may be able to assist with the basics, yet almost all churches are going to lack the training and knowledge to provide the entire spectrum of services that a victim might need.
The limited resources, expertise, and authority of the church are exactly why church leadership needs to know who the local experts in these areas are. Forming these relationships ahead of time means that you know what to do and who to call when you learn of domestic violence. You may need advice only or you could be calling 911 because a husband’s come into the service to find his estranged wife and now has a gun to her head. You might want to learn more about the dynamics of domestic violence or how to respond to abuse within particular cultures. It is imperative that you familiarize yourself with available contacts at your local law enforcement agency and local domestic violence advocacy organizations and/or shelters so that you can act swiftly.
Most medium to large sized law enforcement agencies have some sort of community resource officer. These officers serve as a liaison; it is their job to build relationships with the community. Many of them will come speak to your group about topics of concern. Some will provide training. They are prepared to answer tough questions and are generally well-networked themselves. Smaller departments may task their chiefs, command staff, or certain officers with maintaining ties with locals. Strike up these conversations with the police departments in your area. Know names and phone numbers. Know exactly what the police want you to do in given situations. You should always call 911 in an emergency, such as when someone’s life is in danger, and there are other times you might simply need to pick a police officer’s brain for ideas.
In the Seattle area, we are blessed to have some amazing domestic violence advocacy organizations. On the Eastside, we have LifeWire. The greater Seattle area has New Beginnings, Northwest Family Life, Consejo, and DAWN among others. A county north of Seattle there’s Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County. We have specialized agencies for the disabled, for the gay community, and for certain cultural groups. Some groups provide brochures and information in many languages as well as translators. These agencies often employ the talents of both paid staff and trained volunteers who are accustomed to working with diverse clients.
If your church is located in the greater Puget Sound area, domestic violence services abound. All major agencies have hotlines and connections to emergency shelters. These are the people you want to get to know. If you live in an area where there’s not a local domestic violence shelter or agency, there will often be one in the county and resources at the state level. Reach out to these agencies and develop action plans. Get to know them. Call their business line. Send an email to their director. Invite them to speak at your next church council meeting. These are experts that you definitely want to be familiar with. In doing this, you’ll likely find that your church has talents and resources that they need as well.
Churches should be leading the charge to end domestic violence. This starts by taking it seriously when it happens to people associated with the church and in our own families. We want to be as compassionate as we can, as effective as we can, and as safe as we can when we learn of abusive situations. There is no cookie cutter approach to domestic violence. It takes many forms– psychological, financial, sexual, physical– and each situation is unique.
While it’s helpful to know the strengths in your own congregation and at affiliated churches, the importance of having trained, objective allies outside of the church cannot be overstated. We strongly encourage you to make a list of law enforcement and domestic violence agencies in your area and start establishing those communication channels today. These initial forays into the who’s who of the advocacy community may seem like small steps yet they could well lead to powerful, community-changing coalitions that save lives. It all begins with those first steps.
©2020 Christian Coalition for Safe Families
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This article is Part 4 in a series about how churches should respond to domestic violence.