Breaking" the 'Holy Hush': Evangelicals Find New Resources to Address Domestic Violence

By Martin, Gail | Sojourners Magazine, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Breaking" the 'Holy Hush': Evangelicals Find New Resources to Address Domestic Violence


Martin, Gail, Sojourners Magazine


The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that about 1.5 million women in the United States are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year. Nearly one-third of American women report having experienced physical or sexual abuse by a husband or boyfriend at some point during their lives, according to the Commonwealth Fund's 1998 Survey of Women's Health.

Christians are no exception to these alarming statistics.

"The rate of abuse in Christian homes is exactly the same as in the general population," says Catherine Clark Kroeger, co-founder of Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH). "If we could tear off the secrecy and then allow God's grace to work, that would be the greatest gift." Kroeger, an adjunct associate professor of classical and ministry studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has written, co-written, or contributed to eight books about women and domestic violence from a Christian perspective.

She became aware of the need for a response to domestic violence that the evangelical community would hear and respect after she founded Christians for Biblical Equality, an organization rooted in evangelical circles that promotes an interpretation of the Bible supporting the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnicities and all economic classes. She noticed that many women appeared more interested in the biblical roots of equality for the home than within church roles. In 1992, Kroeger and Denver Seminary professor of counseling James R. Beck held a symposium that led to their publication of Women, Abuse, and the Bible: How Scripture Can Be Used to Hurt or Heal.

Over the course of her involvement with the issue of domestic violence and the church's response to it, Kroeger felt a growing sense of frustration at the church's flawed approach to domestic violence counseling. She observed a disturbing degree of silence on the topic among church leaders. When clergy became involved in family counseling on domestic violence, they were more likely to side with the batterer, counsel reconciliation, chide the woman for attempting to leave the relationship, and consider the case closed.

In response, Kroeger has formed partnerships with other Christian experts and advocates in the field. At a meeting of religious leaders interested in domestic violence during the late 1990s. Kroeger met Nancy Nason-Clark, a professor of sociology at University of New Brunswick who researches the relationship between faith and domestic violence.

"More and more. my work began to explore how faith communities are responding to domestic violence," says Nason-Clark. As she studied domestic violence from an academic perspective, she was constantly asked whether or not the incidence rates were different within the faith community.

"There are very few differences," says Nason-Clark. Those that exist are not positive. Women of faith, says Nason-Clark. are less likely to leave an abusive relationship, more likely to look first to the church for counseling, and more likely to wait longer to take action than women outside the faith community.

NETWORKING CONNECTIONS with scattered clergy, researchers, and advocates convinced Kroeger and Nason-Clark that their efforts would yield better results if a network could be formed. The result was the creation of PASCH, which describes itself as "'a coalition of internationally renowned Christian researchers, scholars, and theologians" who have come together to "increase peace and safety in the Christian home and in the world it serves by addressing and decreasing domestic and sexual abuse in those homes."

PASCH held its first international conference in Orange County, Calif., in 2005. More than 200 attendees from around the world and from denominations ranging from Mennonite to Episcopal gathered at the "Beyond Abuse" conference for a weekend of resource sharing, networking opportunities, and presentations by advocates, survivors, and experts. …

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