intimate partner violence

Preaching About Domestic Violence Is Hard — But We Must

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It’s hard to stand in front of a congregation and talk about domestic violence.

It’s hard, because you never really know the stories of the people sitting there.

Who might have experienced domestic violence in their lives, in their home growing up, in a relationship during high school, on a college campus, in the home where they now reside?

Who might have experienced it last night? Who might have been told by their mother or religious leader that they cannot leave an abusive marriage because they would be breaking their vows? Who might have struck out at a partner? Who might have let their needs for control overwhelm their sense of self-restraint? Who might want to mask their violence with a smile or generous donations?

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.

Learning to Lament With the Psalms

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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.

Can Ephesians 5 Make Abuse Seem Normal?

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Intimate partner violence is a pervasive problem in our society. Moreover, while intimate partner violence affects men in addition to women, it disproportionally victimizes women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 47.1% of women experience at least one act of psychological aggression in their lifetime. This aggression can turn physically violent: 31.5% of women experience physical violence in their lifetime, while 22.3% of women are victimized at least once by a severe act of violence. Intimate partners also perpetrate sexual violence. About 8.8% of women are raped and another 15.8% are sexually victimized by a partner in their lifetime. Finally, 9.2% of women are stalked by a partner to the point of fearing for their physical safety.

Given this reality, it is important to recognize that at any given time members of our congregations are suffering various forms of abuse. Such experiences of violence and abuse, past and present, are part of the background that inform the messages that individuals take away from Christian discussions of relationships and marriage — including reflections and sermons on Ephesians 5.

When the NRA Writes Your Theology

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When it comes to the facts surrounding domestic violence (or intimate partner violence), the challenge presented in the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy remains as relevant today as it was more than 2000 years ago. In the U.S., “abundant life” competes regularly with the false prophets of violence. The terrifying rate at which women are dying at the hands of their intimate partners intersects with an entrenched American gun culture that has sold believers on the idea that more guns means more safety. In reality, women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other high-income countries.

Over the course of October, or Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an average of five women per day—155 total—will be killed with guns. Intimate partners will comprise the majority of their killers, and too many who embrace death over life will come from Christian congregations.

The recent shooting in Oregon marks the 294th mass shooting in 2015 alone, a terrifying number in its own right and a reminder of just how far America has enmired itself in the consequences of its gun culture. More than half of all mass shootings also include the death of an intimate partner and family member.


A silent and empty church, Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

Judges 19 is a story of intimate betrayal and the complicity of a larger community calling us to consider our own roles in our communities...The sheer horror of what this woman endured—including at the hands of husband and host—extinguishes the fires of my sanctified imagination. I can only conjure her screams. And I have no words to express them. One might look to God for a final word, but God is absent from the chapter, as this chapter and any mention of domestic violence is absent from too many pulpits.

Intimate Partner Violence and Guns: A Deadly Combination

Image via Burlingham/

Image via Burlingham/

From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun. That is more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined.

Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon. Of all the women killed by intimate partners during 2001-2012, 55 percent were killed with guns.

Hearing Tamar: The Role of Guns in Domestic Violence

Keys, a Bible, and a gun. Image courtesy Jorge R. Gonzalez/

Keys, a Bible, and a gun. Image courtesy Jorge R. Gonzalez/

It is frightening to consider that within the context of violence against women, little has progressed since the time of the Old Testament. Currently, 1-in-3 U.S. women will experience intimate partner violence throughout her lifetime. Even more frightening is that every month, 46 women are killed by an intimate partner with a gun.

Americans across partisan, personal, and religious lines are divided on the role of the Second Amendment in the public square. Yet no matter ones’ stance on gun control procedures, one fact transcends opinion: women are at a higher risk for intimate partner gun violence than men.

From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun — more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. The rate at which domestic violence turns to murder is a harsh reality — and when a domestic abuser has a gun, a victim is 12 times more likely to die than when the abuser doesn’t.

What’s So 'Domestic' About Violence?

How does bullying create and sustain a culture of domestic violence? Photo via Kamira/shutterstock.

I carry a purple purse. I actually bought it three years ago to treat myself to something new. Many women have complimented it, honestly to my surprise. Not that the purse is atrocious, but it does not carry a Gucci, Michael Kors, Coach, Chanel or any other label. It is just a purple purse that fits me and holds my essentials, and sometimes those of my children. Until recently I had not given any second thought to having a purse the color of Barney. Sorry I could not resist.

While reading all of the commentary about professional athletes and abuse, as if they are the only people who offend, I came across a public service announcement for the Purple Purse Campaign. What an a-ha moment. Finally someone gets it. It is one thing to give all of the stats blasting that one out of four women experience domestic violence or that twenty people per minute, men and women, are victims of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. It is astoundingly painful to know an estimated three women die each day because a “loved one” could not control himself. The facts are. The truth is.

However, as the Purple Purse Campaign purports, domestic violence is also withholding money or limiting financial freedom. It is verbal assault. Domestic violence is hindering access to family and social circles. Intimacy partner violence involves humiliating the victim. It is harassing people via social media, texting, phone calls or emails. Domestic violence or intimate partner violence can be a physical, mental, financial, emotional, sexual or psychological act. In other words, domestic violence is bullying.

A Legacy of Praying Women

Praying woman, EML /

Praying woman, EML /

Our shoulders touched slightly like links in a chain, kneeling around a small twin bed, our heads bowed, eyes closed: “ Our Father who art in heaven,” we mimicked, as mama kneeling at the foot of the bed, led us in prayer.

I was four, the second to the youngest child, and the other three were stair steps ahead of me. Hanging on to mama’s every word, we acted as though we didn’t take notice of the sorrow in her voice, the cries that lingered outside her bedroom door just hours ago.

Soon, she would lay in a Philadelphia hospital bed with stitches from the top of her chest down to her navel, and be told to kiss her five babies goodbye because my father had beaten her so badly that he burst both her lungs.

Decades later, I would sit across from her taking notes for Color Me Butterfly, as she told me the story:

I lay there listening to that doctor tell me that I wouldn’t make it through the night, she mused, her face drawn into the memory. I prayed, listened as God spoke to me, told me that I couldn’t let nary a soul touch me—not the doctor, the nurse, not even my own mother and chi’ren. He was gonna see to it that I walked out of that hospital, but I had to trust Him.

Now, as I think back on that day my mother stared into the abyss, as though she could still see the stitches that cinched her chest, I thank God that she was a praying woman.

It’s About More Than Football

NFL logo, Matt McGee,

NFL logo, Matt McGee,

When Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for only two games for beating his fiancée (now wife), it became a dramatic public example of the lack of accountability for professional athletes. Only when a video came out showing Rice punching his fiancée so hard it knocked her unconscious, and then dragging her limp body from the casino elevator, did the NFL take further action. As new incidents of domestic violence and child abuse come out, many are calling for Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign or lose his job.

But this epidemic is about so much more than Goodell, whose lack of leadership is typical in professional sports. It’s about more than one team, one league, or sports in general.