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domestic violence and religion

Domestic Violence & Religion
Religious teachings can serve as either a roadblock or a resource in addressing domestic violence.

Religious teachings or scripture are sometimes misinterpreted, distorted & misused to suggest that domestic violence is acceptable or even God’s will.

Christian women often feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships by scripture mandating them to “submit to their husbands” or “turn the other cheek”.

Jewish women may feel pressure to not bring shame to their community by revealing the abuse in their marriage, or they may feel that it's their responsibility to maintain shalom bayit, or peace in the home.

Muslim women may question the nature of God & may question the relationship of God to them if they're in an abusive relationship.

Abused women often feel abandoned by God.

Rather than offering resources & alternatives to
battered women, clergy have often advised women to return to violent homes & be “better wives”.

An informed, compassionate clergy person can contribute to the healing process of a victim of domestic violence. More clergy are getting the education & training needed to support victims in staying safe.


Responding to Domestic Violence: Guidelines for Pastors & Rabbis

Remember the Goals:

1. Safety for the woman & children

2. Accountability for the abuser

3. RESTORATION of individuals & IF POSSIBLE, relationships
OR MOURNING the loss of the relationships

DO’s & DON’Ts with a battered woman:

DO believe her. Her description of the violence is only the tip of the iceberg.

DO reassure her that this isn't her fault, she doesn’t deserve this treatment, it isn't God’s will for her.

DO give her referral information; primary resources are battered woman's services or shelters & National Hotline. 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (V/TTY)

DO support & respect her choices. Even if she chooses initially to return to the abuser, it's her choice. She has the most information about how to survive.

DO encourage her to think about a safety plan: set aside some money; copies of important papers for her & children; a change of clothes hidden or in care of a friend if she decides to go to a shelter. Plan how to exit the house the next time the abuser is violent. Plan what to do about the children if they're at school; if they're asleep, etc. (This is both practical & helps her stay in touch with the reality of the abuser's violence. Safety planning is a process that is ongoing.)

DO protect her confidentiality. DON'T give information about her or her whereabouts to the abuser or to others who might pass information on to the abuser. Don't discuss with the parish council / session / elders who might inadvertently pass information on to the abuser.

DO help her with any religious concerns. If she's Christian, give her a copy of Keeping The Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse.

DO emphasize that the marriage covenant is broken by the violence from her partner.

DO assure her of God’s love & presence, of your commitment to walk with her thru this valley of the shadow of death.

DO help her see that her partner’s violence has broken the marriage covenant & that God doesn't want her to remain in a situation where her life & the lives of her children are in danger.

If she decides to separate & divorce, DO support her & help her to mourn the loss to herself & her children.

DO pray with her. Ask God to give her the strength & courage she needs.

DON’T minimize the danger to her. You can be a reality check. “From what you've told me, I'm very much concerned for your safety . . .”

DON’T tell her what to do. Give information & support.

DON’T react with disbelief, disgust, or anger at what she tells you. But don’t react passively either. Let her know that you're concerned & that what the abuser has done to her is wrong & not deserved by her.

DON’T blame her for his violence. If she's blaming herself, try to reframe: “I don’t care if you did have supper late or forget to water the lawn, that's no reason for him to be violent with you. This is his problem.”

DON’T recommend couples counseling or approach her husband & ask for “his side of the story.” These actions will endanger her.

DON’T recommend “marriage enrichment,” “mediation,” or a “communications workshop.” None of these will address the goals listed above.

DON’T send her home with a prayer & directive to submit to her husband, bring him to church, or be a better Christian wife.

DON’T encourage her to forgive him & take him back.


DON’T do nothing.

DO consult with colleagues in the wider community who may have expertise & be able to assist you in your response.

domestic violence and religion

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