By Linda Bales
Domestic violence is now at epidemic proportions in the United States and around the globe. The church cannot be silent and must take decisive action to reduce the staggering statistics.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend occur yearly in the U.S. Other estimates climb as high as three million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime.
I was 16 years old when I first witnessed the results of domestic violence. My best girlfriend, Sharon, lived with her mom and step-dad, and it was my custom to go over to Sharon's house after school. We lived in a middle-class, suburban, white neighborhood in Ohio. Home-based violence was foreign to me. One day after school, I visited Sharon's house, knocked on the front door, and her mom opened it. When I looked at her, I could barely speak. Her entire face was swollen; her eyes, slightly opened, were surrounded by puffy black and blue skin. She opened the door and, with her meek voice, invited me in. Sharon took me aside and explained what happened. Her step-dad had gotten drunk and had beaten her mom unmercifully. Jaw broken, her mom's spirit was broken with one or two fell swoops. Sharon's mom was an avid church attendee. I wondered if her pastor ever spoke from the pulpit about violence in the home and whether her pastor ever offered respite for those who might be experiencing it. I wondered.
We know that overwhelming numbers of women and children in our churches and communities are being battered, raped, emotionally and psychologically abused, and physically and sexually assaulted. Abuse occurs in communities of every racial composition and every economic status, in rural areas as well as cities, in families adhering to every religion and to no religion. Silence will no longer shield us from our complicity in the violence nor from our failure to overcome it. We simply must do better!
The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church affirm the family as "the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity." Clearly violence and abuse cannot be tolerated within such an understanding.
Please visit the Web site of www.faithtrustinstitute.org, based in Seattle, to find out how your congregation can make a difference and save lives.
A new DVD, "Pastoral Care for Domestic Violence Case Studies for Clergy" is now available and featured on this Web site.