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How some churches support spousal abuse

How some churches support spousal abuse

Boz Tchividjian looks at how some churches support spousal abuse in both direct and indirect ways.


Many have been understandably astonished and disturbed this week by the video of NFL player, Ray Rice, punching his fiancé in an elevator. As I was still processing this repulsive offense, I was came across dozens of heartbreaking tweets from abuse victims around the world using the #WhyIStayed, expressing why they had remained with the person who abused them. As I read these tweets, I began to realize how often I have heard abuse victims share that the Church was the reason #WhyIStayed. I began remembering how often I have heard of women who wearily return to those who hurt them time and time again because that is what their church told them to do.

Here are three common reasons that show up on #WhyIStayed:

Abuse is not abuse.

Many churches have created a distorted understanding of physical abuse that occurs within homes. It is defined as relationship matter that should be addressed within the “church family” instead of a criminal matter that should be handled by the authorities. I recently listened to a well-known pastor answer a question about what to do if a wife is being physically abused by her husband. Not once during the pastor’s lengthy and seemingly empathetic response did he ever direct or even encourage the victim to contact the police.

Women just aren’t that important.

In my years of addressing abuse issues within faith communities, I have discovered that male dominated churches tend to be the ones that are most dismissive of women who report being abused by a man. This can happen in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Just don’t talk about it.

Too many of us know abuse victims who have been instructed by a pastor or someone in their church to keep quiet about the abuse, and to stay with their abusive spouse in order to “work things out”.


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Eric Bonetti

Abuse of every sort, not just spousal abuse, is surprisingly difficult for many churches and clergy to address. It’s doubly difficult when the abuse is verbal, or bullying, with clergy sometimes drawing an irrelevant distinction between verbal and physical abuse. But ask someone who’s been in an abusive relationship, and in most cases you’ll find that the overwhelming part of their suffering is caused by verbal and non-physical behaviors.

Bottom line for clergy and other caregivers: When someone comes to you about verbal abuse or bullying, act immediately. It’s NOT appropriate to brush the issue off, to urge that the bully or abuser be given another chance, or to take any other action except solving the problem.

Rod Gillis
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