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Ten Steps Religious Communities Can Take to Prevent Family Violence

What can religious communities do to prevent family violence?  They can do more than they think.  Consider the following steps.  If and when we decide to end family violence in our culture, this will probably be the path we follow.  Do we have the prophetic courage to take this journey?

1.    Acknowledge that abuse of women and children by spouses, boyfriends, partners and parents/caregivers is far more common than we like to think.  Accept that women and children in our own congregations are subject to humiliation, isolation, assault and sexual abuse.

2.    Accept a personal obligation to become informed about the violence that occurs in our intimate relationships, be it child abuse, dating violence, spouse abuse, or elder abuse.   We must stop asking questions like “Why does she stay?” and start asking “What can we do to empower her to stop him from hurting her?”

3.    Integrate violence prevention education in all your congregation’s programs, including pre-school programs, youth groups, marriage preparation, bible studies, etc.   This may mean forming a committee to address family violence issues.  When was the last time a group of men in your congregation dedicated themselves to study biblical prohibitions against abuse of women and children?  When has a group of formerly battered women offered a seminar to your youth group?

4.    Organize frequent worship services and encourage the clergy to speak out on family violence prevention.  Have a prepared statement against spouse abuse read at every wedding ceremony.  Ask your pastor, priest or rabbi to address family violence prevention often in his/her sermon.  Invite the staff of a rape crisis center to a special worship service where you pray for and bless sexual assault victims.  Invite staff from local domestic violence programs to make educational presentations.   Designate a day or month each year for educating and activating the congregation on this issue.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a perfect opportunity!

5.    Show sincere, compassionate support for victims of abuse.  In every educational program and worship service, let it be known that the congregation will provide comprehensive support and empowerment to those who suffer abuse and will call to repentance, atonement, and accountability those who cause the suffering.

6.    Be prepared to offer pastoral care and appropriate referral to medical, legal, and counseling services.  As your congregation openly discusses abuse and shows support for victims, people will come for aid and comfort.  Identify a leader in your congregation to serve as a resource.  Make alliances with local police, women shelters, child abuse authorities, and safety-focused therapists.  Do not refer for premature couple’s counseling.  Put the priority on the safety of the victim and holding the abuser accountable.

7.    As you gain experience and confidence in violence prevention, take the lead with other congregations in your denomination or faith.  Invite your leading rabbi, area minister, or bishop to your educational programs and worship services.    Discover what statements your religious leaders have made on the issue and ask for more energy to be invested in violence prevention.  Take action.   Encourage dialogue.

8.    Make your place of worship a "safe place" where victims of domestic violence can come for help.  Display brochures and posters which include the telephone number of the domestic violence and sexual assault programs in your area.  Place brochures for victim services in all your women’s rest rooms and replenish as they are taken.  

9.    Publicize the National Domestic Violence Hotline number: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

10.    Support, financially and otherwise, local domestic violence programs.  Shelters often need personal hygiene items, towels, bedding, clothing, toys, first aid supplies, TV’s, VCR’s, nonviolent videos, children and adult books.

(Adapted with permission from material prepared by Tom Conran PhD, Care and Counseling, 12141 Ladue Rd., St. Louis, MO 63141, 314-607-8401; tjc@earthlink.net)