Seeing the Unseen Victims of Domestic Violence in Your Church

DARBY STRICKLAND|GUEST Did you know that 25% of married Christian women are being abused by their spouses? How might that change your response when a woman in your church comes up to you seeking marital advice? Victims of abuse need you to be alert to their reality. How might knowing the prevalence of domestic abuse prompt you to engage women in your church differently? I know it is hard to imagine that domestic abuse is so common, let alone that it frequently occurs in your church. And, regardless of how often it is occurring in your church, if there is even one woman in your local church body that is being abused, she needs you to be alert to recognize her situation. Unaware of a Pervasive Problem     There are two main reasons we often do not detect the presence of domestic abuse. The first is that marital oppression occurs behind closed doors—it is typically not something we observe happening. Oppressors use coercion and punishment in private to control their spouse, while they manage a carefully crafted image in public. The Bill Cosby and Ravi Zacharias scandals help us to better understand an abuser's ability to deceive those around him. They behaved very differently in public than in private. People who perpetrate abuse are master deceivers. That means there are most likely abusive people in your church that you could never imagine were abusive. Many abusers do not fit the loud, aggressive, out-of-control personality that you might picture in your mind. The second reason why we do not recognize abuse is because the victim does not realize she is being oppressed. I have had hundreds of conversations with victims who themselves struggle to call abusive behaviors sin, let alone abuse. Victims of abuse know that something is wrong, but they often do not know what it is. They worry that they exaggerate, are oversensitive, are ultimately responsible for their spouse's anger, or do not remember things correctly when recounting an intense conflict. Their abuser blames them for how he treats them, and they come to believe the cruel and twisted accusations. Consequently, they live in a fog of confusion created by their oppressor. Because of their inability to comprehend that what they are enduring rises to the level of abuse, when abused women approach other women in the church, they will ask for advice or feedback...

Seeing the Unseen Victims of Domestic Violence in Your Church2022-05-04T23:28:13+00:00

Five Ways Women’s Ministries Can Care for Victims of Domestic Violence

Most likely, around 25% of the women attending your church are victims of domestic abuse.[1] When you see that number, is your first thought disbelief? Mine certainly was, and I am what some would call an expert in this area. But in ministering to the women in my church, I have sadly witnessed its truth firsthand. We struggle to believe that domestic abuse is in our churches for three main reasons. First, abuse is a hidden reality. It happens behind closed doors. The sinful tactics used by an abusive husband are inconceivable, in part because abusers strive to keep their deeds hidden in darkness (John 3:20). Second, abused women often do not identify as victims; they feel responsible for their oppression. Most women come to me for counseling about something else, such as anxiety, depression, or guilt. Oppressors confuse their victims to control them; a common by-product of sin is “disorder” (James 3:16). Victims often do not possess the clarity required to conceptualize what they are enduring is abuse. Third, we struggle to identify abuse because the oppressor usually attends our church. We have talked and prayed with him. We think we know him. In reality, we only see how he presents his public face. At home, oppressors are very different people. Even though Scripture warns us about deceivers (2 Timothy 3:13), we struggle to identify them among the people we think we know. Although we often are not aware of abuse, the Lord sees victims and is active in their rescue (Luke 4:18–19). I also believe that God calls us to join him in their rescue. Below are five ways the women’s ministry in your church could help identify and care for the sufferers in your midst...

Five Ways Women’s Ministries Can Care for Victims of Domestic Violence2022-05-05T00:03:55+00:00

You’ve Got a Friend in Me: Helping Victims of Domestic Violence

Nora[1] chuckled, but laughing didn’t stop her from crying. Her friend, Allie, had a knack for soothing awkward situations. She knew just what to say to lighten the mood. Nora knew Allie wasn’t uncomfortable; teasing was just her way to ease tension. Nora dabbed at her tears with a napkin and looked for the waitress, “I should go,” she said, “Rob will be home soon and he’ll wonder where I’ve been all afternoon.” The two women had agreed on this lunch date weeks ago. Nora had no idea her husband’s explosive outburst the night before would shadow their pleasant afternoon. His timing to hurl some rather choice insults—laden with words she would never repeat—was impeccable. His disgusting taunts still echoed in Nora’s mind. The shame of it all made her cry. Allie was a friend Nora could lean on. Sometimes she advised her in the worst way… “Nora, if you would just…” and then tell her to do something that implied she had control over Rob’s oppressive behavior. But nonetheless, Allie’s love for Nora was genuine. Women like Nora need friends like Allie. The circumstances of their abusive relationship are isolating. It keeps them at arm’s length from other people. To have a friend who respects them as an image bearer is invaluable. I’ve heard many victims express this need. If oppressed women could share how we can help, this is what they might say: Please, treat me like an adult. One characteristic of an abusive home is that the husband treats his wife like a child. In an oppressive marriage, he calls the shots and determines direction. He’s the king of his castle and his wife is there to serve his every desire. A woman in this kind of relationship loses agency; her God-given right to make her own decisions. Eventually, if she remains in the marriage long enough, she forgets how to make choices on her own. Everyone will stand before the Lord one day...

You’ve Got a Friend in Me: Helping Victims of Domestic Violence2022-05-05T00:06:23+00:00

How We Can Respond to Rachael Denhollander’s Invitation

I was not going to read Rachael Denhollander’s book What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics. As a wife, mom, and counselor, I did not feel like I had emotional bandwidth to engage with such a weighty, close to home topic. Like you, I’ve heard the statistics regarding sexual abuse. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “one in three women experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.” Like you, I realize there are no good options for a survivor coming forward. Like you, I realize even with all that Rachael has accomplished through coming forward, she still lives with the trauma and scars of the original abuses. Why would I read a book that reminds me of all of this? Against these odds, at the urging of a colleague, I picked up Rachael’s book and did not put it down until I had read every single word. I urge you to do the same. What is a Girl Worth? is the memoir of Rachael Denhollander. She describes herself as “wife, mother, follower of Christ, advocate, author, speaker. Part of the army that brought Larry Nassar to justice.” CNN referred to Denhollander as a whistleblower, but as you read her memoir you will see that she did more than blow a whistle. She sounded a fog horn and has not let up. Throughout this memoir, Rachael lets us into her world beginning as a young girl and through to the present day. She spares few details and the reader will come face to face with horrific evils (on multiple fronts). She does not do this to be indulgent or even to justify herself. Her memoir is ultimately an invitation. In the epilogue, she concludes with these words: So much work remains. So much evil to fight. So much healing to reach for. So many wounded to love. Consider this your invitation to join in that work. To do what is right, no matter the cost. To hold to the straight line in the midst of the battle. To define your success by faithfulness in the choices you make. The darkness is there, and we cannot ignore it. But we can let it point us to the light....

How We Can Respond to Rachael Denhollander’s Invitation2022-05-07T22:59:20+00:00
Go to Top