The world is in lockdown, and this will be hard on relationships, parenting and some peoples’ mental health. However, this time might be particularly challenging for women in abusive relationships.
The church has consistently failed these women, but here is an opportunity to get it right.
Most churches have a live stream and video conferencing in place to continue worship services, but they might also need to think about how they can provide pastoral care during this crisis.
The church might still be the first port of call for a lot of women who are dealing with abuse. Lockdown means she is now left at home with the full fury of the abusive partner, with no respite.
Most pastors don’t have the skills to deal with abuse. Dealing with domestic violence was just not a part of their training. However, as the leader of the congregation, there are certain things required of them.
Sometimes the church fails victims because they become attached to the outcome. For example, guilt is determined by whether or not the leadership believes the woman. In some instances, she is seen as sinful, and unsubmissive, a lying woman who causes shame to her home. Sometimes women are sent home with a list of scriptures, and are expected to conform to the wrath of the abuser.
In most cases, women take a significant risk in talking with you about the abuse. She knows that it is a good sign that things might get worse for her. She shares with you because she believes you to be someone who could help her.
Please don’t let her down again by making your opinion the guide to the help she receives.
Educate yourself about abuse. Use this downtime to read, do online training and workshops so you can better understand the mind of the abuser. Learn what it takes to hold them accountable and support the victim at the same time.
Your opinion shouldn’t matter; your duty is to safeguard. Therefore, you should act promptly to secure the needs of the woman and vulnerable children.
Learn to listen impartially and be honest when you’ve come to the end of your skillset. Know when its time to refer people to appropriate support: domestic abuse helplines or women’s aid.
Find ways of making the church safe for her
I heard of one radical church where the pastor asks the abuser to go to another branch because the woman and children consider that church their safe place. That is wise and appropriate measures; the woman perhaps has had to leave home and is dealing with a lot of change, if she finds a church that is safe, this space should be protected even with virtual services.
This is where the failure continues – most congregation are not sure how to hold the abuser accountable. Because of their ignorance, the conversations often sound like this. Let’s forgive the abuser, let’s promote him, give him things to do in church and give him lots of special treatment. When you do this you are sending a message to the victim. It says we don’t believe you, and we are going to love our brother.
Holding the abuser accountable is loving when you challenge him and insist that he gets help. You love him into the kingdom.
Praying with him alone won’t help.
The abuser and damage control
The abuser will try to get people in their corner by rushing to tell their story first. The story will be a lot of near truth coated with a lot of lies. They tell their story to hook their sympathizer, who then sometimes become their most prominent supporter and who sometimes helps them to continue the abuse.
Abusers often thrive in church settings because people are often so removed from the real world. Hiding behind scriptures they make decisions that hurt people.
When a woman leaves because of abuse, it’s often not a forgiveness issue. Two women every week die at the hands of her abuser. Mercy has nothing to do with the problem. The abuse won’t change if she forgives. Often if she acts on the advice to reconcile and return home, when she does, this could be more detrimental to her safety than before.
Your encouragement gives the abuser support and bolsters his courage to the detriment of the victim and sometimes the children.
Sometimes forgiveness might mean she has to leave and stay safe.
Often when women are encouraged to forgive the person urging the forgiveness usually don’t care and isn’t invested in the health, wellbeing and safety of the woman. They want a neat outcome that caters to their view of things and their application of scriptures.
Examine yourself and be honest with why you are encouraging forgiveness.
Listening is a gift, but it’s also a skill that you can learn. Because someone teaches the word with eloquence doesn’t mean that they know how to handle a situation when a woman discloses abuse.
The abuser might be their friend and is ‘nice’ therefore, they struggle to listen impartially and hold the perpetrator to account.
You fail Christ
- You fail Christ over and over when you fail to minster appropriately to the brokenhearted. When you consistently shut them out or send them in situations that are volatile and harmful.
- When you encourage the victim to stay and to be more submissive, forgive, cover her husband, it’s her cross to bear.
- You fail these vulnerable women, and you fail Christ.
- You misrepresent Him to the masses when you fail to appropriate measured responses to these request for help.
- You fail when you don’t train your staff to hear the victim and respond in a timely way that takes into account the gravity of the situation.
- You fail when the church has the final say over whether the women are to be believed or not.
- You fail when you do not hold the men accountable and put measures in place to protect the vulnerable.
- You fail when a woman feels forced to leave the church for her broken heart to heal.
Partner with Christ
- You can partner with Christ once again and make the church a space place for the victim
- You can be an appropriate, confidential and safe place for the women to call and ask for support and guidance.
- You can be a fountain of knowledge leading your team with resources so that they can respond with swiftness and care when someone discloses.
- Consult with organizations that work with victims and ask them to be your guide, call and ask for directions and resources frequently. Keep up to date with change in legislation so that you can help appropriately.
- Move from the model of doing abuse prevention and awareness day once per year. Champion the cause of the victim. Let this permeates through everything you do in church.
- Move from the model where men get promoted, and women ostracised when they disclose.
- Move from the model where you as the pastor and your leadership team is the only place where you get help. Be intentional and put someone in your group who has the knowledge to deal with victims and can advocate appropriately for the needs of the vulnerable.
- Move from hiding behind scriptures. Those scriptures are not keeping women safe, not because they are not able to but because they are misapplied and used to continue the abuse.