How churches can help victims of domestic abuse


I just re-blogged an article concerning churches helping abuse victims from Peace Works Blog . The blog was written by a pastor concerned about abuse in Christian homes. Unfortunate, he doesn’t seem to be updating it anymore but I still visit it from time to time to drink of his wisdom.

The article I re-blogged from him, What can a healthy church provide to victims of abuse?, ,was one that hits right where I live. Having been in the position of trying to get help from God’s people, and having been hurt in the process, I shared his article in the hopes that somewhere down the line, someone else will receive the help, and the Christian love, that they so desperately need.

A reoccurring story that I hear from other abuse victims is that, when they turned to their local church for help, their pleas for help were rejected, they were blamed for the abuse, they were sent back home to be further abused or they were disbelieved. Our family has moved around quite a bit so I’ve sought help in multiple churches. Sadly when I turned to church leaders in order to seek guidance for the difficulties I and my children were facing, I was more often than not, turned away. Contrary to what I had hoped to find, I found leaders who were not approachable.

It is hard for an abuse victim to find the courage to speak up about her life. It was hard for me. To find that, instead of encouragement, concern, and prayerful guidance, I received harsh treatment, was ignored, or sent away, was disconcerting. I was used to that type of behavior from him but from God’s leaders? It hurt.

Eventually I was listened to, and believed, and offered prayers and prayerful advice but it took several attempts. Practical help still eluded me.

I wanted to go through some of what Peace Works writer, Pastor Chris Moles, suggested that the church can do to help victims of domestic abuse. I appreciate that he suggested that church leaders Believe her. As he put it, When a woman in particular gathers the courage to tell her pastor what she is experiencing it is important that we believe her. Remember we are not gathering evidence for a court case; we are supporting a sister who is hurting. Belief validates her suffering and puts us in a position to help. My experience has informed me that we may be the first people to truly believe her story and her, genuine, response to that kind of hope will convince us of her sincerity. 

Yes, there are women, and men, who will lie about being abused but a God-fearing woman won’t. Being believed, and accepted, means so much. When you live in an abusive situation, the abuse beats you down. You’re often told no one will believe you and, in fact, that is often true. It’s terrifying to reach out for help. Will anyone believe you? What will happen if that information makes it back to the abuser? So, him encouraging churches to believe her is beautiful.

He also suggested that the church Support her. He went on to say that supporting her means that she be allowed to walk through her pain in community, surrounded by loving sisters who will comfort, pray for her, and hold her accountable to the process. Part of supporting her, Pastor Moles suggested was providing biblical counsel to her. Counsel which will include a process of healing and forgiveness in the context of safety. Ensure her that the church will not rush reconciliation but will promote her healing, while aggressively calling her husband to repentance, change, and accountability. While I know this will be a difficult subject for some churches, consider how your plan may include considerations for separation, and even divorce if necessary. For more information on a biblical approach to abuse and divorce please consider my friend Barbara Robert’s book Not Under Bondage.

I’ve read Barbara Robert’s book and, when the blog A Cry for Justice (which sprang the book I worked on with Pastor Crippen) was first getting started I worked with her for a while on the blog. I cannot recommend her book highly enough.

Further, Pastor Moles suggested that the church Consider meeting physical needs. For instance should we establish an emergency fund to help her and children if the abuser is unwilling to financially contribute to her well being? Should we establish safe houses within our congregations for temporary shelters? Are we prepared to offer rides or other services that may be needed? 

For some abuse victims, money isn’t an issue. For many others, it is. Sometimes she’s struggling because they simply didn’t have much, other times it’s due to financial abuse. To have the church say “We’ll help you –in this way or that–until you can get on your feet” would be amazing to the women and their children who couldn’t dream of getting to safety otherwise.

Lastly, he suggested that the church should be prepared to Confront the abuser: I believe the greatest means of serving victims is holding abusers accountable. WARNING. Unless you fear for her health or immediate safety and are taking her to a safe house, communicate to the victims your desires and intentions before you address her abuser.

Pastor Moles went on to suggest that, before talking to him, you tell her that you plan to and ask her permission. Confronting him without making sure she’s safe (usually away from home either for an extended period or permanently) is dangerous.

So that’s it in a rather large nutshell. It’s an excellent article and one I suggest you read and then pass on to your church leaders. Domestic abuse is alive in our churches. We must confront it and we must love and support the victims while doing so. To do otherwise, is to be the Priest and the Levite that ignored the victim and passed by on the other side of the road. And remember, Jesus condemned them.


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