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Preaching About Sexual and Domestic ViolenceTelling the Truth: Preaching About Sexual & Domestic Violence

Virtually every congregation in North America has victims, survivors, or perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence in its midst. Pastors and church members unambiguously support marital and family bonds, but many lack the skills and experience needed to help both the abused and their abusers to recover. Telling the Truth gathers the wisdom of experts from across disciplines and denominations - including Wendy Farley, James Poling, and Marie Fortune - to provide pastors and laity with the theological and ethical grounding from which to preach, teach, and minister to both the abused and those who have victimized them.

Presenting practical, hands-on resources, and encompassing biblical and theological perspectives, pastoral helps, and preaching strategies, this comprehensive volume also provides several sermons as effective models for ministering to victims and perpetrators alike.

When faced with domestic violence, many seek guidance and solace within their faith. This section offers resources that address how various faiths address the question of domestic and other violence.

Domestic violence occurs in all cultures and religious faiths. The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence notes that abused women often feel abandoned by God. Christian women often feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships by scripture mandating them to submit to their husbands or turn the other cheek. Jewish women may feel pressure to not bring shame to their community by revealing the abuse in their marriage, or that it is their responsibility to maintain shalom bayit, or peace in the home.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in November, 2002 that recognized that victims of abuse may ask: How do these violent acts relate to my promise to take my spouse for better or for worse? The statement continued: The person being assaulted needs to know that acting to end the abuse does not violate the marriage promises.

Jewish Women International notes that domestic violence occurs in 15%-19% of Jewish homes.

The Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) Domestic Violence Forum describes the situation as follows:

"Domestic Violence is a disease like none other; the effects on families and communities are time and again proven to be catastrophic. Muslim institutions and organizations have been silent too long on the topic and we are losing a generation of our youth and families to the effects of abuse in the home. We have to step out of our Masjids and tap into our communities, for those Muslims who are truly at risk are invisible to us and we are losing them. InshAllah, this will be a first small step in aiding those who are ready to step out and embrace those of our Ummah who are most in need."

Abused persons may find strength in their religious faith and community. If they are comfortable doing so, they may talk to their religious leaders about their situations and ask for spiritual support. They may also find support from friends in their religious community or by reading some of the materials listed in this section. As a religious leader, it is important to have special training on domestic violence issues, so that you do not offer poor advice to paritioner or make them uncomfortable or upset. Advice to stay with an abuser and keep the family intact at all costs, advice that it is God,s will for them to stay in the abusive relationship, or advice to seek couples counseling may be religiously appropriate, but could be very damaging to a victim and their safety.

Keep in mind that you can be a key source of referrals to a therapist, counselor, or other professional who is trained to deal with domestic violence issues, while at the same time using your own religious faith to help cope with abusive situations.

Portions adapted from People's Law Library of Maryland at www.peoples-law.org © Maryland Legal Assistance Network MLSC, 1999-2003.

Guidelines for Spiritual Leaders Responding to Victims of Crime

Remember the Goals:
  • SAFETY for the victims
  • ACCOUNTABILITY for the abuser
  • RESTORATION of individuals and IF POSSIBLE, relationships, or
  • MOURNING the loss of the relationships
DOs and DON'Ts in battering relationships:

  • DO believe victims. Their description of the violence is only the tip of the iceberg.
  • DO reassure victims that this is not their fault, they do not deserve this treatment, it is not God's will for them.
  • DO give referral information; primary resources are your local domestic violence programs and the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can find your local domestic violence program under RESOURCES BY STATE in the left menu column.
  • DO support and respect their choices. Even if they initially choose to return to an abuser, it is their exercise of free will, and they have the most information about how to survive.
  • DO encourage victims to think about a SAFETY PLAN. This is both a practical exercise and helps them stay in touch with the reality of the abuser's violence. Safety planning is a process that is ongoing.
  • DO protect confidentiality at all times.
  • DO NOT give information about a victim's whereabouts to the abuser or to others who might pass information on to the abuser.
  • DO NOT discuss with the parish council/session/elders who might inadvertently pass information on to the abuser.
  • DO assist with any religious concerns.
Thanks to The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, Seattle, WA.

Recommendations for the Faith Community

  • Recognize that the victim, no less than the victimizer, is in need of aid, comfort, and spiritual ministry, and faith-based congregations and organizations should provide assistance to victims whenever possible

  • Courses on crime victimization and crime victim assistance should be established in clergy educational institutions and theological seminaries, including both worship and pastoral counseling courses

  • Continuing education on crime victimization an crime victim assistance should be provided for all clergy and religious leaders, including chaplains in hospitals, police departments, and the military and other individuals within the faith community who may come into contact with victims

  • Religious institutions at all levels should cooperate with victim assistance agencies and organizations to offer joint services to victims of crime and to disseminate publications on crime victim assistance

  • The clergy should provide training for victim assistance providers, criminal justice officials, state victim assistance administrators, compensation program directors, and other public officials about the important role they can play in assisting victims

  • Requiring clergy to report suspected cases of child abuse should be seriously considered by religious institutions and governmental agencies, and appropriate policies should be developed to ensure the protection of children. Even in cases involving confidential communications, the clergy should hold the needs of children paramount and recognize their moral responsibility to help and protect children

  • Communities of faith should hold clergy and other religious leaders in positions of trust within their congregations accountable for crimes they commit, incluing sexual acts against adults and children. Policies and procedures should be developed to ensure that appropriate cases of clergy misconduct are referred to law enforcement agencies

  • Religious and spiritual leaers should be encouraged to use their pulpits to educate and sensitize their congregations about crime and victimization issues

  • Religious and spiritual leaders should be willing to serve in leadership roles on community crisis response teams providing services in the aftermath of mass violence and other crimes that have significant impact upon entire communities

Excerpted from: Office for Victims of Crime: New Directions from the Field: Faith Community and Victim's Rights and Services

Resources for the Faith Community

A Policy Statement on Domestic Violence Couples Counseling From the Faith Trust Institute (PDF)

Domestic Violence Sermon by Rabbi Cindy Enger (PDF)

A Commentary on Religious Issues in Family Violence, by Rev. Marie Fortune (PDF)

Ending Domestic Violence in Muslim Families

The Problem of Recalcitrance in Jewish Divorce

Educating Ourselves About Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community (September, 1993) - Rabbi Moshe Re'em

Jewish Women International. Jewish Women International, founded in 1897 as B'nai B'rith women, honors the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world-through education, advocacy and action. Guided by a vision of a safe world for women and children, each of our anti-violence initiatives promotes the highest form of tzedakah by helping women and children become independent and help themselves.

Do Jewish Men Really Do That?: Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community

Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Funding for Faith-Based Programs

Because they are so active and in-touch with the communities they serve, faith-based programs have historically been the first line of services to those in need. However, until recently, faith-programs were not eligible to apply for most federal funding.

Now, under White House directive, seven major government agencies have offices specifically created to build partnerships with (and thus provide funding to) faith-based organizations to expand social services to those in need. Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives exist with the following offices: Departments of Justice, Agriculture, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education and the Agency for International Development - to promote the Initiative.

There are several targeted areas where the government is actively seeking partnerships with faith-based programs including:

At-Risk Youth


the Homeless

the Hungry

Substance abusers

those with HIV/AIDS

Welfare-to-Work families

To help prepare faith-based programs to apply for federal funding, the government has set up several programs to help teach you the basics of fundraising and the federal grant application process.

Over thirty organizations have been funded by the Department of Health and Human Services' Compassion Capital Fund. These intermediary organizations provide training and technical assistance to help you get ready to go after federal money. They even have their own pot of money which they use to give you little grants designed to boost your abilities to qualify and apply for federal funding to provide social services in your community.

Technical assistance activities are offered free of charge and focus on strategic planning; financial management; board development; fundraising; and outcome measurement. Sessions include handouts, materials, and question and answer sessions. Most run about one full day plus a half day if you want to attend the Q & A sessions. Most include lunch for the full day seminar. These seminars are given nationwide. Check the nationwide training schedule.

If you plan to compete for federal grant funding, DO NOT MISS attending one of these free seminars! They can help with common questions such as:

  • Should be incorporate as a 501(c)3 first?

  • How religion-based can our program be and still receive federal funding?

  • What reports do we have to file?

  • How do we keep our federally funded programs seperate from our regular programs?

We attended these trainings offered by the Institute for Youth Development and found that just the handout materials and guidebooks alone were worth the travel and time!

Helpful Resources

What Congregations Should Know About Federal Funding for Child Care

Guidance to Faith-Based and Community Organizations on Partnering with the Federal Government

Health & Human Services: Funding Opportunities by Topic Area. This link contains information about some of the federal grant programs which are open to faith-based and community groups.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. The CFD is a government-wide compendium of all 1,499 Federal programs, projects, services, and activities that provide assistance or benefits to the American public.

HHS Grants Guide. This guide provides information on HHS grant opportunities for faith-based (FBO) and community-based (CBO) organizations. Each program has been rated according to the type of opportunity it presents to these small grassroots organizations.

Best Reviewed Publications for Faith-Based Response to Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence and the Church
A thought-provoking look at the true nature of domestic violence, including emotional, verbal, economic and physical abuse. Domestic violence is not simply a domestic issue but a public one, and as such churches should not simply be working to assist victims but also to help eradicate domestic violence from our society. This passionate and practical book seeks to help us in both tasks.

Sins of Omission: The Jewish Community's Reaction to Domestic Violence
In a congregation of devoted worshippers gathered for Shabbat services at the local synagogue, it may be difficult to accept how many wives go home with their husbands to ongoing physical and emotional abuse. In Sins of Omission, author Carol Goodman Kaufman offers a compelling investigation of the Jewish community's reaction - or nonreaction - to domestic violence. Concerned with the sins of the community more than the sins of the abuser, Goodman Kaufman finds that the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis and community leaders are not doing enough and are not informed enough to help the abused women in their congregations get the support, protection, and guidance they need. Through her many insightful interviews with survivors of abuse, rabbis, and lay community leaders, the author takes a hard look at the Jewish community, its rules, regulations, and followers, and discovers the ways in which it helps and hinders victims of abuse.

Sexual Violence: The Unmentionable Sin
Marie Marshall Fortune, executive director of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, courageously examines a subject too long surrounded by silence, a silence she broke in this classic book. Part One focuses on developing an ethical stance so that religious communities can respond with effective compassion. Part Two provides a pastoral perspective for those who respond to victims or offenders.

Healing Violent Men
Domestic violence is a widespread, though largely invisible, problem, often exacerbated by the pastoral urge to keep the family together at all costs. Yet if that is not a solution, how should the church relate to batterers? "I believe that the Christian community, if it is to be genuinely a community of healing and hope, must attend to both the victims and the perpetrators of domestic violence," says David Livingston. Addressing the complex phenomenon of intimate violence against wives, lovers, and children, Livingston profiles batterers and battering and traces it to larger cultural pathologies. He explores the ambiguous role of religion and then offers practical advice for pastoral and programmatic efforts to embrace simultaneously the twin Christian imperatives of forgiveness and responsibility. "This book helps to meet a desperate need. Livingston suggests a radical redefinition of reconciliation that shifts the focus from the victim to the community and sets high standards for what reconciliation might mean for all people." James N. Poling, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Violence in Families: What Every Christian Needs to Know
Domestic violence is an often glossed-over danger in families today, and Christian families are not immune. The warning signs can be hidden or disregarded. Reverend Al Miles confronts the issues surrounding family violence, its causes, and possible solutions. He also discusses how all people are affected and can help address the issue. With an honest and down-to-earth tone, this book provides guidance and information for lay people as well as for individuals experienced with the complex nature of domestic violence.

God's Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence and the Rhetoric of Salvation
This book examines the relationship between the theologies of atonement and penal strategies. Christian theology was potent in Western society until the nineteenth century, and the so-called satisfaction theory of the atonement interacted and reacted with penal practice. Gorringe argues that atonement theology created a structure of affect that favored retributive policies. He reviews theory and practice in the twentieth century, and makes concrete proposals for both theology and criminal and societal violence.

Love, Honor & Respect: How to Confront Homosexual Bias and Violence in Christian Culture
A soldier is bludgeoned to death by a baseball bat. A college student is beat and hung on a fence to die. A young man in West Virginia is ran over several times after being beaten to death. Hate crimes against gays and those perceived to be sexual minorities are growing at an alarming rate. How has the church contributed to this atmosphere of violence and intolerance? What can be done about it?

For Better or For Worse: A Blessing or A Curse
For Better or For Worse: A Blessing or A Curse? is a book of hope, help, and healing for women of faith who are victims of domestic violence! Drawn directly from the experiences of formerly battered Christian women; this unique guide provides encouragement to women, men, and children. A resource guide for victims/survivors, batterers, clergy, counselors, social workers, educators, women's shelter staff, helpers, police officers, physicians, and any professional who desires to better understand women and men of faith who are experiencing domestic violence.

Christian Counseling A Comprehensive Guide
This proven course in pastoral counseling has been extensively expanded and revised by the author to include recent developments and research, new resources, and attention to newly urgent needs such as AIDS and eating disorders. Written with clarity and warmth, this volume builds on biblical foundations and reflects the author's practical experiences. Includes case references, and sections on personal issues (depression, anxiety, lonliness, anger & guilt), crisis, and developmental issues.

Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse
Practical guide addresses issues of faith for battered women--an invaluable resource for victims of domestic violence and the crisis centers that counsel them. You are a Christian woman, a woman of faith who has been abused by a member of your family...You may feel abandoned by your church; you may feel abandoned by God. Now more than ever you need your faith and the support of the community of faith to be with you through this crisis. [This book] is written to...remind you that God is present to you even now and that there are Christians who do understand your pain, your fear, and your doubt. It is written so that we in the Christian community can keep the faith with you during this time of your life. We will not turn away from you; we will not abandon you. We will walk with you as you seek to end the abuse in your life.

Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know
Domestic violence is as ancient as the family unit itself. And according to the American Medical Association, one quarter of American women will be abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Ministers can help care for these victims. Loving and sensitive support can make a tremendous difference to survivors as they struggle with the long and difficult process of healing and regaining trust in themselves and others. Often, however, pastoral caregivers possess the same misconceptions about domestic violence as does the uninformed public. Miles addresses the issues related to inadequate pastoral response to this pervasive problem. He explores the dynamics of abusive relationships and the role which clergy members can take to heal this painful situation.

In Times of Crisis and Sorrow - A Minister's Manual Resource Guide
In a single volume, In Times of Crisis and Sorrow: A Minister's Manual Resource Guide offers a practical and professional guide for dealing with grief, sorrow, crises, and other difficult situations in the life of a congregation. In addition to containing a wealth of new material, the book also draws from the best of The Minister's Manual,which has served as a well-thumbed resource and a source of inspiration for more than seventy-five years, In Times of Crisis and Sorrow: A Minister's Manual Resource Guide is a much-needed desk reference that takes an ecumenical approach and includes a wealth of illustrative examples and valuable material such as scripture readings, prayers, eulogies, sermons, and testimonials.

Healing The Masculine Soul : God's Restoration of Men to Real Manhood
In this newly revised and updated edition of Healing the Masculine Soul, Dalbey claims that there is hope for restoration, hope for healing because Christ has come to heal us. God is calling men out to a relationship with Himself and calling them out to authentic manhood. Our task is not to curse our manhood, but to redeem it, he writes. This refreshing, comprehensive picture of God's design for the masculine soul dares men to be as God created them to be not as society demands. Tackles tough issues, including work, sexuality, marriage, and fatherhood.

Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and Psychotherapy : Theory and Technique
Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and Psychotherapy presents an applied, insightful, and well-researched overview of the theory, practice, and ethics of integrating spiritual and religious themes and rituals into traditional therapy models. This well-conceived and immensely readable text examines common barriers and bridges between spirituality and mental health and documents the effectiveness of using spiritual practices and concepts in treatment. Most important, it encourages readers, through group activities and individual reflection, to consider their own spiritual belief systems and biases before engaging clients in therapy with a spiritual base.

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Last Updated: March 3, 2011