Religious Leaders Urged to Confront Family Violence

"We need to find ways to overcome denial" of domestic violence, a woman from Portland, Ore., told 52 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who gathered in Las Vegas earlier this year. "Stop the Violence: Heal Hurting Families" is a national training program organized by the ELCA's Commission for Women.

"Denial on the part of church leadership is a critical factor," according to Jean Martensen, director for studies and leadership in the Commission for Women. "Participants agreed that victims of violence are unlikely to confide in pastors who do not believe abuse occurs in their congregations or communities," she said.

A pastor in a local ecumenical meeting insisted there were no incidences of domestic violence there, one participant said. A young woman from his congregation told him that no one would tell him if someone is suffering from domestic violence, said the participant.

"The scandal of domestic violence should be addressed in sermons, Bible studies, prayers and educational activities, and resources are needed to serve as an invitation for persons suffering from abuse to seek help," said another participant.

The Rev. Harvard and Linda Stephens, Truth Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lanham, Md., view ministry to those suffering from violence as an important form of outreach. They emphasize that those fortunate to have been raised in homes free from violence have much to offer. "Wholeness can be the basis of important service and advocacy," said Linda Stephens. "People do not have to have the same experience of suffering in order to care for one another."

The Rev. Mark J. Nelson, Spokane, Wash., cited other examples of the need for churches to make critical links to the medical, judicial, and social service systems. "An emergency room doctor who sees the victims of abuse day after day was pleased to have a congregation become a partner in the efforts to heal the traumatic effects of domestic violence," he said. Nelson is assistant to the bishop for the ELCA's Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod.

"By listening to personal testimonies of abuse, panel discussions and speakers, participants learned that abuse can be mental, emotional, social and spiritual, as well as physical," said Martensen.

Participants examined a new domestic violence resource titled, "Women Healing and Empowering." The resouce is an eight-week Bible-focused support group program that can serve as a tool for community outreach and a healing ministry for women in their congregation, said Martensen. "The book helps congregations organize and host support groups for women dealing with past or present abuse," she said. It is available through Augsburg Fortress Publishers, publishing house of the ELCA.

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See Also These Other Domestic Violence Cover Stories:

  • Domestic Violence is No Longer a Quiet Secret
  • Men Get "Off Sidelines" to Fight Domestic Violence
  • Domestic Violence: A Community Problem
  • Men Who Beat Women Often Believe They Are Justified
  • Making a Difference: How You Can Help With This Issue
  • Related Books

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