Church Leaders Address Sexual and Domestic Violence
With sexual abuse and assault dominating the news, more than 40 church leaders attended a presentation and panel discussion on sexual and domestic violence at Spring Glen Church in Hamden on Nov. 16.
The presentation portion of the day was led by The Rev. Sharon Ellis Davis, Co-founder and Senior Pastor of God Can Ministries, United Church of Christ, in Chicago Heights, IL and a trainer for the http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org.
Davis began the day with an overview of Sexual and Domestic Violence, sharing statistics and anecdotes and dispelling myths about the causes of abuse. She listed many of the common excuses given for violent behavior, such as alcohol, stress, and even genetics, but rejected them all while stating that domestic violence is a learned behavior that is caused by a desire for control and power.
"The good news," said Davis, "if we can learn it, we can unlearn it."
Davis said the two most important considerations in dealing with domestic violence are the safety of the victim and accountability of the abuser, which, she added, includes supporting the batterer by assisting them in seeking an intervention program to change behaviors while being careful not to endanger the victim by revealing her location or trying to bring the couple together for counseling.
Davis showed part of FaithTrust Institute's Film Broken Vows: Religious Perspectives on Domestic Violence, a film that outlines several cases of domestic violence and the consequences of the events.
The second half of the event focused on what role the church has had historically and what churches and church leaders can do to end sexual and domestic violence. Davis presented several roadblocks to ending violence that are propagated by religious groups. These roadblocks, offered in the messages and behaviors of churches and their leaders, caused spiritual and emotional crisis for victims of abusive behavior.
"Many times in our community," said Davis, "we will either help someone, or hurt someone."
Davis laid out four goals of faith institutions. First is to ensure the safety of the victim and children. Second is to demonstrate theological clarity to the survivor and batterer. Third is to hold the batterer accountable. And finally, faith institutions should support restorations of relationship, if possible, or mourning of loss.
The event ended with a panel discussion which included six women representing religious institutions and secular institutions dedicated to help victims of sexual and domestic violence. The message of these women was clear: its time to talk about the how our culture is complicit in acts of sexual and domestic violence. Through their own stories of survival, experience with victims, and understanding of the impacts abuse has on the lives of victims, their families, their friends and co-workers, the message was summed up best by the voice of one panelist:
"We need to call out publicly what we are seeing and hearing. It's everywhere, and we need to say it to people who don't want to hear it."
Many of those who don't want to hear it are men, so Davis asked the panel how to hold men accountable.
"Just getting it on the horizon and bringing it into consciousness would be a big step," said one panelist.
Though the Nov. 16 event attracted more than 40 participants, only 8 of these were men. Conference Minister the Rev. Kent Siladi recognized this disparity as he listened to the presentation and discussion.
"This event was an excellent starting point for addressing the issues of rape culture and violence," said Siladi. "There is much work to be done. It is my intention to bring together our male clergy leaders for another conversation in the near future to continue the conversation and to address the systemic issues that need to be faced together."