The Common Good
March 2007

A Church Problem

by Harvey Yoder LMFT | March 2007

In "Breaking the Holy Hush" (January 2007), Gail Martin makes the astonishing claim (attributed to Catherine Clark Kroeger) that "The rate of abuse in Christian homes is exactly the same ...

In "Breaking the Holy Hush" (January 2007), Gail Martin makes the astonishing claim (attributed to Catherine Clark Kroeger) that "The rate of abuse in Christian homes is exactly the same as in the general population." As a marriage and family therapist with a special interest in domestic abuse, I'd like to see the research behind that statement. The article's lead sentence includes a U.S. Department of Justice estimate of the number of women raped or physically assaulted by their partners, but no source is given for what is happening in Christian homes.
I know of several studies of childhood abuse that clearly do not support the conclusion that the rate of abuse in Christian homes is "exactly the same as the general population." I will never deny problems with abuse and domestic violence in Christian families and congregations, nor minimize the seriousness of any individual victim's trauma. But for the sake of the church's credibility, if not its reputation, I'd like to see some actual evidence.

Harvey Yoder, LMFT
Harrisonburg, Virginia

Gail Martin responds: In a recent article published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, sociologist Nancy Nason-Clark substantiates this claim by reference to the work of Bartkowski and Anderson using recent U.S. data from the National Survey of Families and Households and Canadian data analyzed by Brinkerhoff, Grandin, and Lupri. A study by Rene Drumm presented at the Society for Social Work and Research in 2005 found that the prevalence rate of domestic violence victimization was 19 percent amongst a sample of churchgoing women in the United States. Data collected by the Christian Reformed Church revealed that 28 percent of adult church members had experienced at least one form of abuse, according to the Journal of Religion and Abuse. These problems exist, unfortunately, even in families of faith. Here, however, they tend to be swept under the proverbial church carpet.

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