Faith leaders often serve as “first responders” to domestic abuse and sexual assault. Unfortunately, pastors and lay leaders report feeling ill-equipped to respond to these incidences in their congregations and communities. With your help, we can call on theological schools across the country to equip faith leaders to respond effectively to sexual and domestic violence.
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What does being a pastor have to do with preventing sexual and domestic violence?
It's hard to stand in front of a congregation and talk about domestic violence. But it’s essential.
It’s essential because too often in the past, religious traditions have been used to defend an abusive patriarchy, to bind victims to marriage commitments that are undermined by intimate violence, to encourage people to “offer up” suffering rather than change the conditions that cause it.
It’s essential because shining a light of the reality of domestic violence is a critical step in creating pathways to safety for those who are victims. It’s essential because speaking out about domestic violence as a violation of God’s love can give victims strength to seek a better way. It’s essential because naming domestic violence as evil can help call perpetrators to account – and perhaps to repentance and treatment.
The poetic prayers, songs, and laments of the book of Psalms were recorded to teach worshipers how to praise God, as well as to lament and grieve. When undergoing times of agony or when words are not enough, the Psalms can express the painful emotions for us, as processing emotion helps us to move forward with difficult choices.
Much of the Psalms were attributed to David, including the prayer of Psalm 55—a lament about suffering violence at the hands of a loved one. Many victims of abuse find themselves alone and abandoned by family and friends who become impatient and exasperated by their ongoing struggle with loving their abuser. Praying through a Psalm may be an emotional refuge during such a painful time.
As Job said of God, “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him…If only I could vanish in darkness and thick darkness would cover my face!” (Job 23:8-9, 17)
Victims of domestic violence – both women and men as well as children – often feel isolated, abandoned by family and friends who are uncomfortable or afraid of the topic, trapped by religious traditions that stress male dominance and the indissolubility of marriage and feel forgotten by God. Job knew that feeling.
When the abuse escalates, Hagar escapes into the wilderness and heads back to her home in Egypt. Even though she is pregnant and vulnerable to any number of dangers, Hagar risks everything in search of freedom. While on her journey home, an angel of the Lord appears to her and asks where she is going. When she explains her situation, the angel tells her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her” (Genesis 16:9).These words baffle me. Return? Isn't this the part when God is supposed to bring deliverance? What sense can be made of this?
How do we cope with a story in our sacred text in which God instructs a woman to go back to a situation of abuse?
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Sojourners is committed to partnering with theological educators to help end the epidemic of sexual and domestic violence in our homes, congregations, and communities. Help support this effort today!