Part of the Solution

Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2003
Part of the Solution
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
“Breaking the Silence” offers insight into how congregations can help stop domestic abuse

According to the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, nearly one in three adult women (typically the victim in domestic abuse situations) will experience at least one physical assault by an intimate partner during adulthood. The statistic makes the issue hit close to home. Domestic violence victims could be a close friend, sister, or a mother. She could also be the woman sitting next to you at church. “Domestic violence exists in every faith community, all across the world,” said Trudy Lawson, NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, program administrator. Lawson was one of a handful of presenters who spoke at Breaking the Silence: Confronting Domestic Violence: Prevention & Healing from a Spiritual Foundation, held on Nov. 20 at the Erwin First United Methodist Church in Syracuse.

Sponsored by the Religious Task Force of the Syracuse Area Domestic Violence Coalition, Breaking the Silence offered participants the opportunity to engage in a variety of presentations on the dynamics of domestic abuse. It also examined the role that congregations and clergy members can play in preventing domestic abuse and promoting healing in situations where a congregation member is hurting. Arethea Brown, co-coordinator of the Syracuse Area Domestic Violence Coalition and advocate at Vera House, a local shelter for abused women, helped organize the event. “The issue of domestic violence is important to faith communities,” said Brown. “It is our responsibility to address the issue appropriately and hold people accountable for their actions.”

Rev. Ron Hoffman, a member of the Religious Task Force of the Syracuse Domestic Violence Coalition, offered insight into abuse from a theology-based perspective during his presentation. “A summary of the major religions of the world’s positions for treating each other is this: treat everyone how you want to be treated,” Hoffman said. When it comes to domestic violence, this position is lost, remarked Hoffman. “The abuser has no respect for the victim,” he said. Domestic abuse raises religious issues, said Hoffman, such as forgiveness and the bounds of remaining in an abusive relationship. “We often hear the perpetrator of domestic violence, usually a man, say to his victim, ‘You are supposed to forgive me.’ He taking the concept of forgiveness and trying to make it short-circuit accountability,” Hoffman said. “But this is manipulation, not forgiveness.” “When I call for help: A pastoral response to domestic violence against women (tenth anniversary edition),” released by of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in Nov. 2002 said the church does not expect women or men to remain in abusive marriages. “As bishops, we condemn the use of the Bible to support abusive behavior in any form. A correct reading of Scripture leads people to an understanding of the equal dignity of men and women and to relationships based on mutuality and love,” said the statement.

There are things congregations can do to break the cycle of domestic abuse. Many victims see the church as a safe-haven and will turn to clergy for support. A 1980 study performed by Masters and Johnsons said that 42 percent of women turn to clergy in a crisis situation. Pastors should build trust with domestic abuse victims and ensure their safety, recommended Lawson. Clergy members should also be familiar with community resources, such as crisis lines and access to domestic abuse programs, she added. However, often there are no physical signs of abuse; this might lead pastors to believe that domestic abuse isn’t an issue in their congregations. “We see smiles on faces and think that everything is fine. But just because it can’t be seen doesn’t mean that abuse is not going on,” said Lawson.

During Mass, pastors have a captivated audience. In addition to speaking on the subject from the pulpit, Lawson advised pastors to put information on domestic abuse and outreach organizations in bulletins and brochures. Lawson admitted that solving the problem of domestic violence is not an easy task and will not be stopped by clergy members alone. But it is a step, she said. “Ending domestic violence requires cooperation from the entire community, including clergy members, health care providers, police and politicians just to name a few,” said Lawson. “We all have a responsibility to address the problem.”

For more information on domestic abuse, contact Vera House at (315) 425-0818, or visit

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