It was a regular Wednesday night at church that started off much like any other Bible study for my small group of women. We had spent the previous 5 weeks learning the basics of our faith discussing things like prayer, and studying the Bible, and what the purpose of the Church was. Our last lesson was all about being on mission and sharing our testimonies with those around us. That night may have started just like any other night, but it quickly shifted into a defining moment for one woman and our group. With tears streaming down her face, and a shakiness in her voice, she courageously shared her story.
It was the same story filling social media and mainstream news – she had been the victim of abuse and domestic violence. She described how she would pick out clothes that were long sleeved and turtlenecked to hide the darkness she endured day after day. She told herself over and over again that she would leave and never did, and how it rang in her head over and over that God and the church don’t allow divorce, and so she stayed until it was finally too much. She decided she would rather die trying to escape than to live through her current hell.
She isn’t the only one. There is the wife who texts late at night asking me to pray because her husband is drinking again, and the ex-wife of a former cop who even after decades of being separated from him still struggles with trust, vulnerability, and worthiness. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, the women in our faith families are finding their voice. But for every one that shares, there are many who remain silent. So how do we shepherd these women well? How do we make our churches a safe place of refuge?
The response of the church, from brothers, sisters, leadership, and lay people, has got to become an intentional and thoughtful process. This post may not be an exhaustive list of needs to be addressed in light of the problem, but I hope that it is a diving board into a conversation that much of us who serve the church need to be having.
Are you listening?
Even if women haven’t shared their story with you, do you know the statistics of what women have faced?
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every five American women has been raped. That’s 23 million women who have experienced such a horrific act against them.
- The CDC also tells us that 44 percent of American women have experienced some other form of sexual violence. This means 53 million American women have been subjected to sexual harassment, sexual assault, or some other act of gender-based violence not including rape.
Once you hear the pain and struggle that comes with the stories the women in your pews have lived through, you will begin to notice not only their trials but their strength. As you listen, be pushed to create a culture that marks safety, love, and vulnerability within your church, staff, and small groups. Jen Wilkin once said in an interview, “You may think because women haven’t come forward that there aren’t any in your congregation. They are there they just don’t feel safe to share.”
If you do have a woman share her story of abuse with you, listen well. Grieve with her. Express compassion for her. Ask questions to better understand the extent of her pain. Pray with her and ask the Spirit to mend what only He can. Remind her of the Gospel and a Savior that know the scars of abuse and mistreatment.
Are you speaking?
Sin breeds in silence. As long as sin stays in the dark, there is no opportunity for light and redemption. One of the most powerful steps you can take is to be a voice for the voiceless. The reminder from the pulpit to all ages, genders, and stages of life is that people are made in the image of God; doing anything to thwart, damage, and hurt one another is against God. Pastors, you have the privilege from the pulpit to have the attention of all your people on a weekly basis. Invest that time in charging the body to be people who honor one another, show love to one another, and fight FOR one another. The teenage boy will learn how to treat his girlfriend, the husband will hear the charge to fight for self-control, and the victim will sit a little taller knowing she is seen and not forgotten.
Our sermons, small group discussions, and women’s Bible study classes have got to start vocalizing that abuse is never ok, that Jesus is in the business of making beauty from ashes, and the power of sin can be broken and fought through repentance and accountability.
Are you resourcing?
First, have the information of websites, local domestic violence shelters, a crisis hotline number, and biblical counselors. It is not wrong for you to pass on something that you aren’t equipped to handle and to seek specifically trained professionals to step in. Have a process as a staff to walk through should someone in your congregation come to you in need of immediate help.
Second, do you have female leadership that your women feel comfortable speaking to? Because their abuser is a male, they often have a distrust of male authority and think that they won’t be believed. Find women in your church who are trustworthy, have a heart for other women, and who have a rapport with the women in your church. A woman who loves Jesus and has proven her character in other areas of serving the Church is integral not only for those feeling comfortable to share their abuse stories, but it also gives a clear message within your congregation that women are heard, loved, and valued.
As a woman who has the privilege of both leading and walking with the women of our church, my heart is grieved at the scars and consequences of sin in the midst of so many of their stories, but I am also more hopeful and expectant than ever before. 1 John 1:5 says that “ God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.”
A light is being shown in the darkness. God is bringing healing, freedom, and purpose to the hurt, pain, and injustice of this world. The story of redemption is being written for all of us to see His glory and His goodness.
A short note to those of you reading this who have abuse in your past:
The darkness of those moments have no doubt been a marker on your heart and soul, and whether it was decades ago or just last night, I need you to tenderly hear that wasn’t ok, and you are loved and not alone. I’m praying for a little bit of bravery for you to tell someone; a friend, a mentor, a pastor. I want nothing more than to see to your safety and cheer you on as you seek healing and justice. I’m for you, ready to listen, ready to pray, ready to support.
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233
Hope For The Heart Domestic Violence Free Resource: http://www.hopefortheheart.org/domestic-violence/
Safe Haven Resources Page