By now many have heard about and/or seen the video of former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching his then fiancee Janay Palmer, rendering her unconscious, and dragging her out of an elevator in a New Jersey casino. The release and subsequent dissemination of this video lead to Rice’s termination from the Ravens and an indefinite suspension from the NFL. Following this many gave the Ravens a pat on the back for releasing Rice while others argued that it wasn’t enough. Another faction—both men and women—have taken up victim blaming and shaming Janay Rice because she stayed with Ray despite his violent proclivities.
In the midst of this Beverly Gooden, a writer and a member of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network speakers bureau–among many other things, shared the story of why she stayed in a domestic violence situation under the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Her sharing lead thousands of other women and men to share the stories of why they stayed in physically and mentally abusive relationships. #WhyIStayed was joined by #WhyILeft and both provided insight and firsthand accounts of men and women victims and survivors of domestic violence which made me thankful for the power of social media to serve as a vehicle for story and truth-telling. But there’s another hard truth being revealed in #WhyIStayed and that is in the role of pastors, Christian counselors, and the church at large.
Having scoured through many of the tweets I noticed that every tweet mentioning the church was sobering. Not one woman or man credited the church with helping them escape violent situations, instead the church—both Catholic and Protestant—enabled abusers through silence that implicitly stated their siding with the abuser. This is a reminder that the church’s silence on issues of this nature register as the church’s disregard and lack of concern for the victims. Below are just some of the tweets mentioning the church’s role in domestic violence–and it should be sobering to read the preceding phrase as the church choosing a side in this battle.
I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce. It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too. #WhyIStayed — Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014
The local Catholic Church shamed mom after her divorce. They still shame her today. #Hypocrites #colonialroots #WhyIStayed — MRG (@morosego) September 9, 2014
My mom had 3 young kids, a mortgage, and a PT job. My dad had a FT paycheck, our church behind him, and bigger fists. #WhyIStayed — Ellen G. (@ellen_g) September 9, 2014
#WhyIStayed because Christian purity culture told me being a teen survivor of rape made me damaged goods and I was lucky someone wanted me. — Yukio Strachan (@boldandworthy) September 8, 2014
#WhyIStayed Christian counselors said his emotional violence wasn’t abuse. I was “too sensitive” and needed to be tougher.— Yukio Strachan (@boldandworthy) September 8, 2014
#WhyIStayed We had two children together, he said sorry, I’ll get help, I thought my kids deserved a father, and the church pressured me.— garney (@garney) September 9, 2014
#WhyIStayed Because the elders of our church told my mother and I that it was our fault. — Laucchi (@LaurenAshleyMay) September 9, 2014
Because good church girls persevere and overcome. #whyistayed — Akoua Deloire (@AfroIvoire) September 9, 2014
These are just some of the tweets from domestic violence and sexual abuse survivors and more are coming in by the minute. But these aren’t the only tweets pastors and church folk should pay attention to, no, they should be reading all of the tweets from their fellow brothers and sisters who have or are currently living in physically, mentally, and sexually violent situations. The community of faith must hope and work toward being part of the solution in situations of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Christian counselors, pastors, ministries, and churches should be widely mentioned in #WhyILeft instead of scantly as they currently are. It is my hope that pastors, pastoral counselors, spiritual leaders, and people of faith in general will start to be an explicit part of the solution and not an implicit and/or complicit part of the problem. Until then, here are some resources for those for victims of domestic abuse and church leaders struggling with how to care for current victims and survivors of sexual abuse.
The online hotline of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network a 24/7 hotline that provides support for victims of sexual assault, their families and their friends.
Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence, a 23-year old interfaith organization that works at the intersection of faith and domestic violence through several projects such as vigils that raise awareness about intimate partner violence to cell phones drives where cellphones that are reprogrammed to dial 911 are donated to victims of domestic violence.
The FaithTrust Institute which develops and promotes resources that aid in increasing safety, justice, and healing to domestic and sexual abuse contexts.
Books to Read:
Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know
Telling the Truth: Preaching Against Sexual and Domestic Violence
This is by no means a comprehensive list and we welcome additions by way of leaving comments or by tweeting us @UrbanFaith and using the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhenILeft. We want the world to know that the community of faith has an active stake in the well being of all persons and to prove that we are not comfortable letting silence speak for us. We want to move from being part of the reason why people stayed to the reason why they left.