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30 August 2013

Domestic violence: in churches too

Domestic violence: in churches too

Deborah Hawkins' husband nearly killed her: three times. Chine Mbubaegbu finds that the Church needs to stand up for the broken.

On the first occasion, which took place in the first year of their marriage, Deborah's husband strangled her and left her for dead on the kitchen floor.

For Deborah's now ex-husband, the catalyst for the abuse was her becoming a Christian at the age of 18. "It wasn't just about a smack on the nose," she says. "He tore up Bibles. He tore down anything Christian that I had displayed. He lifted a crucifix off my wall and threatened to stab me with it."

The third attempt on her life started when she told him she wanted a divorce after having being subjected to years of torture from the man she had married.

"I told him I wanted a divorce," Deborah told idea. "He went berserk and dragged me from room to room, smashed my head against a radiator, strangled me and left me for dead."

After this, Deborah suffered a complete psychotic breakdown for a year. One day in that year, she found herself wandering the streets; and walked into a church, where she had hoped she would find refuge and love. "They told me: 'We don't believe in divorce. Go back to your husband.' I asked them if they really wanted me to go back to the man that had tried to kill me'. She said yes. That was the Church – no help at all. It was the harshest thing she could have told me at that moment."

There are thousands of women who go through the abuse that Deborah – who eventually left her husband – went through. Globally, women between the age of 15 and 44 are more likely to be maimed or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war combined, according to the UN.

In the UK, one in four women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, the Home Office has calculated. And that therefore includes women in the Church.

But traditionally, especially when trying to navigate biblical texts about marriage and often misapplying them within this context; some parts of the Church have not provided hope for women affected by violence.

Restored wants to change that. The Christian organisation wants to bring an end to violence against women, educating other Christians and church leaders in how to tackle the scourge. Because domestic violence happens in churches too.

"When we speak to Christian audiences about domestic violence, we often meet Christian women who disclose that they are being abused", The wives of church leaders and prominent members of local churches are not exempt," says Peter Grant of Restored. "The reality for someone married to or in a relationship with an abusive perpetrator who is a church leader can be horrific. On top of the terrible abuse they are suffering, they feel a responsibility to the church or ministry their partner is leading to stay quiet and continue to suffer."

Why are some parts of the Church not seen as salt and light in this area?

Mandy Marshall, who co-leads Restored, said: "Throughout history the Bible has been used by some to justify, perpetuate and propagate the abuse of women. The misuse of the Bible in this way not only gives perpetrators a false justification to start and continue abusing, it can cause those who are experiencing domestic abuse to be plagued with spiritual dilemmas about the abuse being inflicted on them."

According to Restored, Bible passages such as Ephesians 5:23 which says the husband is "the head of the wife" can be used to condone abuse, but only when applied unhelpfully. Instead, Restored encourage Christians to remember: “Submission cannot be forced, it must be chosen. Not submitting can never justify abuse.” The Church needs to speak more about the love and mutual respect that the Bible sees as the foundation for relationships.

Women like Deborah have suffered when the Bible has been used as justification for their abuse. “I don’t think you should hang scripture above someone’s head like some kind of ultimatum,” she says. “The woman who told me to go back to my husband was too quick to judge. She allowed the divorce angle to become a stumbling block instead of trying to understand my situation or trying to find me help. This is not someone who had committed a sin. This was someone who was the victim of abuse.”

Eventually, as she remained committed to her faith and to church, she did find help. “A fellow Christian woman told me: ‘God wants you to be an open door for Him and not a doormat. And that’s what you’ve become.’ I eventually found the strength to leave.”

It is vitally important for churches to talk about domestic abuse; to be the kinds of places that those suffering from domestic violence can find refuge.

Restored has come up with a charter for churches to commit to and display in their buildings to show their commitment.

1.Understands domestic abuse to be the abuse of a person physically, sexually, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, socially or financially within an intimate or family-type relationship and that forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. This can include forced marriage and so-called ‘honour crimes’.
2. Holds that domestic abuse in all its forms is unacceptable and irreconcilable with the Christian faith and a Christian way of living.
3. Accepts that domestic abuse is a serious problem which occurs in church families as well as in wider society.
4. Undertakes to listen, support and care for those affected by domestic abuse.
5. Will always place the safety of women and children as the highest priority.
6. Will work with domestic abuse support agencies, will learn from them and support them in appropriate ways, and will publicise their work.
7. Will play its part in teaching that domestic abuse is a sin.
8. Believes in a God of love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness.
9. Will teach what it means to be male and female, equally made in God’s image.
10. Will seek to appoint advisors to encourage the use of good practice guidelines 

  • “In churches too” is Restored’s current campaign to highlight that domestic abuse is also taking place within churches. Restored encourages churches to get training to know how to deal with domestic abuse and offers such training. Contact info@restoredrelationships.org for more information.
  • Deborah Hawkins tells her story in her book Dark Seeds 3am
  • If violence is to be ended then men need to be fully involved alongside women. First Man Standing is a Restored campaign which encourages ordinary men to respect all women, challenge each other and pledge not to remain silent about domestic abuse.

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