Hilltown Interfaith Initiative on Domestic Violence

A faith community’s response to domestic violence can save lives or increase danger. It’s complicated.

To take on the complexity, we launched the Hilltown Interfaith Initiative on Domestic Violence three years ago. We train faith leaders and urge them to talk about domestic violence in their sermons. We give them outreach materials for their community halls, bathrooms, and weekly bulletins. Last May, we held an interfaith vigil in Huntington, hopefully the first of many.

If it were simple, we wouldn’t need to do all this. But abusive people are not simple. They often present publicly as pillars of the community. But they are also known to misuse scripture to manipulate, scare and control their spouses in private. They may tell their spouse that if they leave they will break the covenant of marriage and lose their relationship with God.  But we know it is the abusive partner who breaks the covenant, not the person who leaves because of abuse. They may talk about the call to forgiveness, but the call to forgive is not a call to tolerate abuse. And while we hope forgiveness will eventually come, we realize forgiveness is a process that takes time, and it too is complicated. They may talk about suffering as a part of the spiritual path, but no one is called on to suffer in vain or to be abused by someone who claims to love them. They may argue that the man is the head of the household and should do as he pleases, forgetting that we are called upon to be responsible to one another, and to act in peace and kindness.

If domestic violence were simple, we could just tell couples to go to counseling. But couples counseling when there is abuse can increase danger. Domestic violence is fundamentally about power and control.  If what comes out in counseling makes the abusive person feel they are losing control of the relationship or that their spouse might leave, the relationship can become more dangerous as the abuser tries to reassert power. If there is abuse in a relationship, only individual counseling is safe. In addition, the abused should work with a domestic violence advocate to create a safety plan. 

Victims are not likely to tell their faith community about abuse until faith leaders  start talking. We have to start from this premise: an abusive partner will tell their victim that the abuse is their fault, that no one will believe them if they disclose the abuse, and that if they leave the relationship they will be abandoned by their faith community. The abusive partner plans on the abused feeling shame, and skillfully uses this shame to keep them quiet. But the shame is not theirs, it’s the abuser’s.

It’s October, domestic violence awareness month. We want faith communities to raise awareness, and to start playing a leading role on this issue. The faithful have led the charge on so many social justice issues. Why should this shockingly contemporary issue be any different?

Reverend Carol B. Smith

Monica Moran

The Rev. Carol B. Smith leads the First Congregational Church of Huntington. Monica Moran coordinates the Southern Hilltown Domestic Violence Task Force. For information or training email [email protected]

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