By Lani Kallstrom, founder of Christian Coalition for Safe Families

Christian Coalition for Safe Families (CCSF) formed in early 2011, bringing together advocates, therapists, professionals in the criminal justice system, survivors of violence, pastors, and interested parties who are committed to the goal of raising awareness about Domestic Abuse in the Body of Christ.

In her post below, Lani reminds us, as people of faith, we are often the first responders to the crisis of domestic violence. She gives us concrete steps we should take to be ready to serve when violence strikes a family in our congregation.

The faith community – that is, the church – can do a great deal to help families avoid the all-too-common consequences of domestic violence: destruction of the family unit, housing instability and homelessness.

For families in domestic violence crisis, the faith community needs to be a place of safety, understanding, support, guidance, and resources that will help heal the problem, and certainly not add condemnation, judgment or poor advice to an already devastating situation.

To adequately respond to the needs of their congregation, faith community members and leaders should question and reflect on how they deal with domestic violence situations, asking questions of their community such as:

  • When a family in crisis brings their brokenness into the church leader’s office asking for help, is the church leader prepared to respond appropriately?
  • Is the church leader afraid to deal with the messiness of relationships?
  • Does the church leader have knowledge of community resources for the many needs that may present (shelter, food, clothing, bills, healthcare, counseling, DV advocates, support groups)?
  • Does the church leader understand the wisdom that when a couple is suspected to be in a domestic abuse situation, that church leader should never counsel the adults together?
  • Is the leader confident and wise enough to encourage separation, if necessary, to allow for safety and a period of healing?

Or does the church leader pull out the partial scripture “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) or “Wives, submit to your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22) and send the couple home with an admonishment to work harder on their marriage?  (Can you imagine how damaging it is to be sent home feeling like you are the problem, guessing that there must be a secret formula that will end the abuse, without having been given any insight or clarity about what is actually going on?)

And the children don’t miss a beat. 

They see it all; they hear it all. Even if the children aren’t home or are “asleep,” they know.  So they often become disillusioned by the church that won’t help, the church that didn’t help.  Or they may wonder, who is this God who is supposed to be their “father in heaven”?  Do all fathers act like their earthly father – even their heavenly father?  And why would God allow the abuse to continue? Why would their pastor allow it to continue?

So, how can the church help to strengthen the family? Church leaders and all members of the congregation need to take some important steps:

1)     As a church staff, learn about domestic abuse – what it is, in all its nuances, and what it is not. Visit http://ccsfhope.org/resources/ to find out more.

2)      Learn what resources are available in your community; keep a list of resources on hand. Download the King County Domestic Violence Handbook, “Why does she stay?,” “Symptoms of Abuse,” “Responding to Domestic Violence,” and other resources at http://ccsfhope.org/resources/. Visit the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website at http://wscadv2.org/ to find resources as a survivor, advocate or someone currently in crisis.

I will commit to using my voice to advocate (hand from NCSO)

3)    Take a stand against domestic abuse and advocate! Talk to your neighbors, friends and family, members of your faith community, and use social media and take part in awareness campaigns to advocate. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website is a great place to get ideas and start supporting survivors and those experiencing abuse right now.

4)    Address the issue of domestic abuse with confidence and authority from the pulpit. The church pulpit is often the place where society’s struggles are addressed, and most churches talk about God, His values, His character, and His desires for His people.  God absolutely does not want & never condones abuse in families. However, very few sermons directly address the issue of domestic violence. And when family relationships start to deteriorate, many churches don’t know what to say or do to help the families.

When a church leader addresses DV from the pulpit, several things happen.  When the abuser hears the message, the abuser begins to understand that he cannot use scripture or hide behind scripture to abuse.  He hears that the church leadership is wise to his tactics of abuse and that the church DOES know how to respond to the abuse.  When the victim hears the message, the victim hears that the church is a safe place to seek help, that she or he will be believed and that there are resources to help her or him.  This gives the victim HOPE.

Most importantly, the faith community can respond with wisdom, compassion and resources to families in domestic abuse situations.  This may sound like a straightforward fix, and yet it may take generations to heal the wounds and trauma of abuse. Even still, by addressing domestic violence openly, by providing a safe space and support to families before they break apart in crisis and become homeless, and by supporting those survivors who have lost their homes with counseling and financial support, the church can go a long way to help heal the problem of homelessness.