Pressure Points (April)

With Dr. Bruce Hartung

Q: Family violence is a crisis throughout society that is destroying the very fabric of our families; yet the church and pastors remain silent. Why?  By [holding] this position, churches are not viewed as safe places — for victims or perpetrators — to reveal the pain of this sin and receive help. … If dealing with this epidemic is not viewed as God’s work [through] churches, then the church will become increasingly irrelevant in society.  It does not provide sanctuary for many in their deepest, darkest hour of need.  Instead, this issue and those involved in it are rendered invisible.  In light of the resolution [adopted at last year’s Synod convention] to address the issues of domestic violence and child abuse, how can we get our pastors to speak out from the pulpits in a united voice to help eradicate this pervasive sin?

A: You are correct that “family violence is a crisis throughout society.”

Here is some data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; an estHartung, Bruceimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year; the majority (73 percent) of family-violence victims are female; historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they knew; the cost of intimate-partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services; victims of intimate-partner violence lost almost 8 million days of paid work … the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity as a result of the violence.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)and its Safety, Health and Employee Welfare Division publish a “Domestic Violence Awareness Handbook” that is available online at http://www.usda.gov/da/shmd/aware.htm.  This handbook addresses the myth that family violence is rare: “Although statistics on family violence are not precise, it’s clear that millions of children, women, and even men are abused physically by family members and other intimates.”

Other resources are available from the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health (http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org) and the National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence (www.endabuse.org/health).

If our readers know of more good, accurate, and helpful resources, please let me know.

The data challenges any denial that we might have about the importance of recognizing this issue. 

Another reality is pointed out in the USDA handbook: “Reports from police records, victim services, and academic studies show domestic violence exists equally in every socioeconomic group, regardless of race or culture.” 

All of this makes your questions even more critically important.  Domestic and family violence happen, even in the midst of our churches.

I really cannot confirm or question your concern about the silence of the church at-large. 

But I do believe all of us need to be taking stands against violence of all kinds and, in particular, violence in the family.  Silence on matters such as this is not acceptable within the religious community.  There simply is no place for physical or psychological violence within the Body of Christ, or outside of it for that matter.

All our schools can help by making teaching on domestic and family violence a regular part of their curriculum.  Our congregations can help by becoming safe spaces where people can come and receive sanctuary and referral to appropriate social service agencies.  Our pastors, deaconesses, DCEs, and teachers can help by talking frankly about the characteristics and processes involved in domestic and family violence.  Our church body can help by highlighting this issue and producing quality resources.  We can all help by having open eyes and hearts and offering a willing hand to help those experiencing family or domestic violence.

Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation for Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at hartungb@csl.edu.

Posted March 27, 2008

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