Recently, the NRCDV was contacted by several individuals, including the minister of a Methodist church, seeking information and materials to help raise awareness about domestic violence within their faith communities. Some of these individuals, including the minister, wanted to start a church-based domestic violence program. The minister indicated that with a membership of 2500-3000 people, domestic violence was likely to be an issue within her congregation.
Communities of faith play a unique and vital role in the response to and elimination of domestic violence as they carry the responsibility to protect and nurture the spiritual well being of the community as a whole and its individual members. Victims and survivors of domestic violence may turn to faith leaders for spiritual guidance and support because of the unique dimension they can add to the often overwhelming experience of seeking help. Similarly, abusers may also turn to faith leaders, perhaps either as a means of legitimizing the abuse or to seek guidance and support in understanding and changing behaviors.
Religious texts and teachings can serve as resources to assist those who have experienced abuse in finding safety and in the process of healing. Yet, religion also can be misused to excuse or condone abusive behavior. In the context of violence against women, religious teachings and communities will play a role; they will never be neutral” (Fortune & Enger, 2005).
EDUCATION AND PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT
It is crucial that faith leaders acknowledge domestic violence and continually educate themselves and the entire community about this issue. They must also join in creating responses that are safe and supportive for victims and survivors and that hold abusers accountable for their behavior.
No woman should ever be forced to choose between safety and her religious community or tradition. She should be able to access the resources of both community-based advocacy and shelter and faith-based support and counsel” (Fortune & Enger, 2005).
The information packet Religion & Domestic Violence: Information and Resources, developed by the NRCDV, as well as the Applied Research paper Violence Against Women and the Role of Religion outline strategies for clergy and secular anti-violence advocates to reach out to one another in order to develop a collaborative and holistic response to domestic violence that is respectful of victims’ and survivors’ expressions of faith. Additional resources can be found in the Domestic Violence Program Development area of VAWnet.
The FaithTrust Institute is a national, multifaith, multicultural training and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence. FaithTrust offers a wealth of information and materials that may be of assistance in raising awareness and educating your faith community about domestic violence (click on the “Resources” tab for free materials, including culturally specific resources such as articles by women of color from different faiths). FaithTrust also offers professional guidance on program development. Please contact them directly at 206-634-1903 or 919-956-2000 to learn about their services and resources.
WHAT YOUR RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY CAN DO
One of the callers planned to include domestic violence information in her church bulletin. Another planned to start a domestic violence clinic at her church. There are a variety of ways in which religious communities can help prevent and end domestic violence. Religious leaders have the opportunity to utilize their positions as community leaders to help shape the discussion around violence against women. They can sign the National Declaration by Religious & Spiritual Leaders to Address Violence Against Women. Examples of additional ways to help are included in the flyers Responding to Domestic Violence: What the Religious Community Can Do and What Religious Leaders Can Do to Respond to Sexual and Domestic Violence, both published by the FaithTrust Institute.
Has your faith community been successful at implementing any of the ideas provided above? What other ideas do you have to engage faith communities in addressing domestic violence?