Ask yourself this question: is domestic abuse a problem in your congregation? Your instant reaction might be ‘of course not’. But do you really know the answer?
Lockdown has heightened our awareness of the issue. In the UK, national domestic abuse charity Refuge reported that in the early stages of the lockdown, traffic to its website rose by 150% with a 25% increase in calls to its national domestic abuse helpline (Refuge, 2020).
Don’t think churches are immune.
In 2012, The Evangelical Alliance surveyed more than 17,000 churchgoers and found that an astonishing 10% of women had experienced physical abuse from partners/spouses and 7% of men admitted being violent (Aune & Barnes, 2018).
These are hard stats to swallow. It’s easy to dismiss the issue as something that happens in other churches. But would you know what signs to look for, anyway?
Here at Cinnamon, we want to help churches respond to the real and pressing needs in their communities. We’re so pleased to be partnering with two great organisations, ONUS Safe Church and Black Churches Domestic Abuse Forum, who can help churches shape their response.
Don’t wait until tragedy strikes
“We all like to think it’s not happening in the church, but it is,” says Kim Bacchus, a survivor of domestic abuse who has been involved in the founding of the Black Church Domestic Abuse Forum.
“I spoke at a church and the pastor said to me ‘of course this isn’t a problem in my church.’ But I’d just been speaking to a member of his congregation who’d been in an abusive relationship for years. I felt traumatised. It’s a mixture of ignorance and denial.”
Kim spent years hiding the violence. “I was in the abusive relationship for ten years, because I was focusing on survival. I was praying that someone would ask me something.
“I eventually left because it dawned on me that my son was my priority. I left for him. I grew away from the church, who were supposed to support me.”
Why don’t churches respond?
Our churches are our families, and families like to deal with their own issues. But domestic abuse isn’t a ‘family issue’ it’s a ‘criminal justice issue’ and the reality is our best intentions can actually make situations worse.
“The consequences are frightening, really dangerous, if you don’t have the right systems and contacts,” explains Kim.
“In some church networks, everyone knows everyone. Typically, you may send someone experiencing abuse to another church. But because everyone knows everyone, they may not be safe there, either.”
Kim’s comments are supported by the chilling statistic that two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone (ONS, 2018).
Get specialist support
When we don’t fully understand an issue, it’s easy to run from it. But you don’t have to do it all on your own. There are some great resources out there from Onus Safe Church and the Black Churches Domestic Abuse Forum.
“Training is so important,” confirms Kim. “It’s not about having all the answers, it’s about knowing what do to. It’s about changing mindsets and changing thinking. If you knew the signs and understood it would bring a different dialogue.”
You may think that having a response to domestic abuse is an ‘optional extra,’ but research shows that churchgoers are much more likely to seek help from pastors than other agencies. And they usually reach out when the situation has reached a critical point (BCDAF).
If someone were to come to you – would you know what to do?
We build safeguarding into our training strategies; we have health and safety policies; but what about domestic abuse?
As churches we have a duty of care. Women of faith who are victim-survivors of domestic abuse face conflicting emotions relating to fears for the safety of their children, their relationship to their church community, and their own interpretations of spiritual redemption.
As a result, many stay silent for fear of being misunderstood or rejected (Abrahams et al, 2019).
If we truly believe in freedom in Christ, then domestic abuse is an issue we need to speak out on. Breaking taboos starts with raising awareness and creating dialogue.
Every church has their own culture – but abuse needs to be addressed however you do things.
Change starts when people step out of their comfort zones to confront difficult issues. Jesus wasn’t afraid of breaking taboos, and neither should we be.