Understanding the Obligations of the Church

Because the Bible does not teach that people may abuse one another, a church community can take several steps to provide compassion and comfort for domestic abuse victims.

EDUCATE YOURSELF

The first step in ministering to a victim of domestic violence is to become educated about this problem. The many issues surrounding a woman in this situation are complex and varied from victim to victim. Each victim must be approached as if she were the only person you are dealing with. At the end of this leadership unit, you will find a list of reading material. Check your local library or search online for more information.

FIND RESOURCES IN YOUR COMMUNITY

Second, find out what resources are available in your local community.

  • Is there an existing community shelter for abused women and their children?
  • Are there ongoing educational programs for victims and/or their abusers?
  • Where can the abuser be referred to for counseling?
  • Where can the victim go for counseling?

KNOW WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

Also, you need knowledge of biblical and church teachings about family violence. Here is a short outline you can follow, with Scripture references:

  1. Anger and violence are not in God’s plan for us (Proverbs 2:11; Proverbs 22:24-25; Proverbs 29:22; James 1:19-20; Proverbs 27:4; Galatians 5:19, 21; Psalm 11:5; Ezekiel 45:9).
  2. Love is what God requires of us. This love does not include violence or abuse (1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:19).
  3. God heals those hurts in our lives, taking care of us (Psalm 147:3; 1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 11:28; Psalm 46:1; Isaiah 40:29; Luke 12:7). 7

Plan for Prevention

Your church community can provide safety for women and families by following some of the guidelines listed below. Talk with your pastor, and church leaders, to see what policies are already in place concerning domestic violence victims, and how you could possibly help.

  1. Become a safe place—If you are privately ministering to a victim of domestic abuse or desiring to establish a more formal ministry to victims through your church, be sure that the victim or victims know that they are coming to a safe place. If a woman comes to you with this problem, ask specific questions to determine her safety, such as, “Does he know you are here now?” or, “When are you expected to be back at home?” A church could print posters and brochures with phone numbers of domestic violence shelters in your area. See more information at the end of this unit on hotlines and resources.
  2. Educate the congregation—Teach the members of the congregation as much as possible about the issues discussed within this unit, and from your own research about domestic and sexual violence. Include information in newsletters, on bulletin boards, and in marriage counseling and workshops. Consider sponsoring a seminar about violence against women to offer to your congregation and community.
  3. Speak out—Ask your pastor if he could speak from the pulpit against domestic violence. Use women’s events to raise awareness against domestic violence as well. Hold workshops on self-defense for women, and on self-esteem, that include information on what to do if you are attacked.
  4. Lead by example—recruit volunteers from among your women to serve and assist a local domestic violence crisis center. Or, after much prayer, research, and legal counsel, and with your pastor and church board’s approval, consider starting a safe house in your community for victims of domestic violence (see the next section for more on this topic).
  5. Offer space—talk with church leaders about offering space in your church building for educational seminars or weekly support groups, or as a place where supervised visitation of children can occur.
  6. Intervene—If you suspect that violence is occurring in a relationship, consult with someone on the pastoral staff, then carefully proceed to speak to each member of the couple separately, or call a professional to do so. Help the victim plan for safety. Let both individuals know of the community resources available to assist them. Do not attempt couples’ counseling, which may only endanger the woman further in the long run.8 A safety plan should include what items the victim needs to quickly take with her, such as cash, credit card, a copy of her driver’s license, car registration and insurance, phone numbers, clothes and personal items, medications, copies of children’s school and medical records, and any other important legal documents, such as passports, welfare ID, or restraining orders. Suggest that these items be kept in a safe place outside of the home that the victim can easily get to in a hurried escape. Remember, that counseling victims to safety is best left to professionals that you can help refer the victims to.

Suggestions When Considering a Ministry to Victims of Domestic Violence

Any decisions to start a ministry to victims of domestic violence, or creating a safe house for victims and children, should come only after learning all you can, and consulting with the pastoral staff of the church you are attending.  Even if you want to start a community-wide ministry, getting the approval and blessing of the local pastor is crucial to ongoing support of your ministry. By partnering with other churches, you may be able to work together to encourage victims and survivors in your church. Seek donors to help finance this outreach ministry.

Second, as stated previously, research and read as many resources as possible. Gather as much information as you can through the internet, books, and by interviewing other ministries to domestic violence victims and authorities on the topic.

Reach out to, and make connections with, as many professionals as you can from your community. You will find that these relationships will be instrumental when you need to provide referrals or send victims or survivors to them for more help.

Here are the most important things to consider when ministering to victims of abuse:

  • Safety for the woman and her children. This should always be the first and foremost consideration.
  • Accountability for the abuser. Don’t let an abuser reason away his actions or make excuses.
  • Restoration of individuals, and if possible, relationships.
  • When restoration is not possible, help in mourning the loss of relationship.9

As you start identifying women to minister to, keep their safety as the most important issue. You should never approach the abuser to hear his side of the story, especially without the victim’s permission, or if they are together in the same room.  One author advises,” Victims are most likely to be murdered by abusers when they are discovered attempting to leave the relationship. In similar fashion, many abusers commit new acts of violence after they are arrested and released.”10 Understand the laws and police protocols surrounding this issue.

Any ministry to victims of domestic violence offered through the church will be a support-type group, and not formal counseling, unless you have someone working with you in your church or community who is specifically trained to counsel these victims. Your goal would be to provide resources, to pray, and provide spiritual counsel, and to emotionally support and encourage these abused women through active listening, empathy, and keeping confidentiality.

Women need help on many levels when they are struggling against domestic violence and abuse. When the church steps up to become a safe place for these women, they can bring hope, healing, and health back into their lives.


Reflection Questions

What resources have you found in your community for helping to minister to domestic violence victims?

What are your goals in ministering to domestic violence victims?


NOTES

7. From “God Speaks Out Against Violence and Abuse” pamphlet, produced by World Evangelical Fellowship, Commission on Women’s Concerns, and Task Force on Abuse Against Women. Undated.
8. Adapted in part from the Nebraska Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition and the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, Seattle, WA. Used with permission.
9. Hislop, 222.
10. Identify, Understand, Intervene: Training Manual on Domestic Violence, The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, lcms.org/socialissues/domesticviolence, accessed October 4, 2018.


Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

“Fragile Soul: Ministering to Victims of Domestic Violence” is published by the National Women’s Department at women.ag.org, 2020. Permission granted to reprint  for personal use or within a teaching setting. Do not reproduce.