Why Pastors and Churches Can’t Stay Neutral In Domestic Abuse Cases

Many abuse victims have experienced their churches overtly taking a stance against them, even when the abuse was undeniably present. This would include throwing statements at the victim such as:

  • God hates divorce!”
  • “It takes two to tango!”
  • “You made your bed, now lie in it!”
  • “God wants you to suffer for his glory.”

If, as a church member or pastor, these statements grieve you, and you recognize how callous they are, that is a great start. However, an equally harmful stance toward victims is to take no stance at all — to try to remain neutral.

You might think, “Well, I do not really know who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. He says one thing and she says another. I don’t know who’s telling the truth so I’m just not going to get involved.”

The problem with this stance is that there is a victim, and that victim hears nothing but your deafening silence. There is no protection offered, only your refusal to get involved with protecting one of the flock. Perhaps she* finds herself compelled to pursue separation or divorce. Instead of the church rallying to support her financially and emotionally, everyone keeps her at arm’s length because they don’t want to take sides.

The other person who is well aware of your silence is the abuser. Although you may not know who is the victim and who is the perpetrator, the parties involved do. The abuser finds it exceptionally validating that no one is saying a word about his abuse. He’s convinced he has every right to treat his wife like his property, and the silence of the church confirms his erroneous beliefs.

So you see, a “neutral” stance in cases of abuse is not neutral at all. Neutrality cuts off the victim from support and further emboldens the abuser.

It is not enough to think that abuse is wrong. It is not enough to feel badly for abuse victims. The church is called to care for the oppressed.

So how can you do that if you are unsure how to decipher the truth of the situation?

  1. Don’t guess. If you guess wrong, then you’ll be actively supporting the abuser.
  2. Seek professional advice. As a pastor, your training is in shepherding people in their relationship to Christ. That’s good and appropriate for your position. But your training is not in identifying domestic abuse. Seek assistance from those who have that expertise.  Cultivate a relationship with your local domestic violence shelter. There is no need to fear the secular nature of such an organization. Their job is not to influence the spiritual persuasions of people; it’s to identify domestic violence and keep victims safe. You can still be their spiritual shepherd while getting the necessary help to safeguard their physical safety. Additionally, you can check out organizations like Called to Peace Ministries. There are multiple options for obtaining assistance.
  3. In the meantime, learn all you can about what domestic abuse looks like behind closed doors. The more you see into the world of a victim, the better chance you’ll have of identifying one correctly when you see them. The book Unholy Charade is an eye-opening start.
In conclusion, I will quote the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

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