Nita, a vibrant, beautiful young woman loves her church and she loves serving. She’s been in church all her life. She was born and raised in the Christian faith and considers her relationship with God the strongest one she has. Second on that list is her charismatic and friendly husband, Shawn. Nita and Shawn have been married for eight years. They were high school sweethearts and went off to college together. They enjoy serving in the Young Adult Ministry and Worship Team at their Church. Their pastors often ask them to host guests that come into town.
Today is a wonderful day for Nita and Shawn because they will find out the sex of the baby that Nita is pregnant with. The couple is so excited to be adding to their family and both sets of parents are elated as well because they will be grandparents for the first time. As Nita sat in the office, the doctor proudly shared that they would be having a baby girl, her heart sank. Though the expression on her face was one of happiness and excitement, behind her bright eyes were tears fighting to burst through her eyelids. The whole way home Shawn talked non-stop about how he couldn’t wait to be a dad and have a daughter that he knew would love basketball as much as he did, how he already knew what colors they would wear to their first Father/Daughter dance. All the while, Nita is lost in her own cyclone of thoughts as she emotionally ingested the reality that she would have a baby girl soon. Nita’s main concern: “how do I keep her from knowing how her dad is when he is angry.” It hadn’t been an issue since they found out she was pregnant, but before then Shawn would become abusive when he was angry. Nita believed that he loved her, but she wished he had a better handle on his anger. When they arrived home, Nita told Shawn she was tired and was going to lay down, he was okay with that because he wanted to call his family and tell them the good news. Before she could get the room, she closed the door and tears exploded from her eyes as she thought “I don’t want my daughter to grow up like me…”
Now there are a number of subjects that are tip toed around in the church: money, sex, and domestic violence (or relationship violence) are some examples. Like Nita and Shawn, there are many families in the church that appear to be doing well, but behind closed doors, their lives are distinctly different. In 2013 Christianity Today cited a survey which reports that of all the discussions not taking place in the church, domestic violence is one of them. The report validated the argument that the church and church leaders are often silent when it comes to addressing this issue that can cross generations as in Nita’s case.
In other research, it is found that when church leaders do join the conversation and “help” survivors of abuse they often instruct women to be more submissive, forgive, change their behaviors, and pray more. There is still an expectation to stay in abusive relationships despite the documented effects that the abuse has on members of the family. Unfortunately, studies show that relationship violence is just as common in the Christian home as it is anywhere else. Some research cites that about 25% of Christian homes have reflected abuse of some form. Some of the reasons for this lack of attention to the matter is often because leaders feel untrained and incompetent to help, while others are naive to how important the matter may be in their congregations.
So what do we do Maggie? Are you saying that survivors of abuse should up and leave their partners? Here’s what I propose:
• While statistics show that attempts to leave a violent relationship can be fatal, one thing we can do is stop pretending and masking the realities that are facing families today.
• Stop having hushed conversations and start equipping one another with the resources, empowerment, and agency needed to obtain help. While God hates divorce, he loves his sons and daughters and would not want any of them abused in any way.
• Stop minimizing abusive behavior and seek help for anger management issues, and other emotional issues that result in abusive behaviors.
• Stop being permissive of those that exemplify behavior in abusive ways and hold them accountable to get help.
• If you know of persons that are experiencing and surviving abuse, support them and seek out information that will be helpful to them, as well as cover them in prayer and seek God’s wisdom as to how you can support them.