Christians Speak out on Domestic Violence
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
At issue is a 2000 audio clip circulating online in which Patterson said the proper response of a wife to domestic abuse “depends on the level of abuse to some degree.” Patterson issued an apology on May 10, clarifying his view on domestic violence and saying that “I utterly reject any form of abuse.”
In the wake of that news, several Southern Baptist Convention entity presidents have voiced strong stances against domestic violence. Additionally, an open letter from Southern Baptist women objecting that Patterson has been “allowed to continue in leadership” despite his statements on sexuality and domestic abuse garnered more than 1,800 signatures in its first 24 hours online. Other Southern Baptist women defended Patterson’s character without affirming all his specific comments.
Regardless of where people stand in relation to Patterson’s comments, there is a silver lining, says Christian counselor Tony Rankin.
“The silence of domestic violence is being lifted,” he said.
“Nobody needs to live in fear. Staying in an abusive relationship or not protecting yourself is a worse fear than being afraid of retaliation,” said Rankin, a clinical therapist and minister of pastoral care at First Baptist Church, Nashville.
“There are persons that can protect you and honestly, the abusive person is afraid of exposure and has convinced you to be afraid or to ‘be faithful’ because they are fearful of the consequences and being exposed for the horrible things they have done,” Rankin observed.
The abusive person needs to get help for their offensive ways and they will never do that on their own, he continued, adding that they need the system to make sure they get counseling to break the cycle of power, control, and abuse.
“The church is to protect the vulnerable, abused, poor, mistreated, and hurting person,” Rankin said.
“If the church turns a blind eye or deaf ear to domestic violence and enables the abuser to continue, it has lost its purpose and should experience the consequences of not serving ‘the least of these,’ ” Rankin said.
“The church needs to show compassion to all persons but that does not mean it should not take a stand against persons who mistreat anyone sexually, physically, or emotionally.
“Unfortunately, some men and women have gotten away with the abuse and crimes because of who they are, what position they hold in the church, or who they know,” Rankin observed.
“Jesus never would have tolerated such behavior.”
And neither should we. Randy C. Davis, executive director/treasurer of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board reiterated the responsibility of the local church and the need for the gospel to transform broken people.
“Domestic abuse in any form is birthed in the hearts of sinful people,” Davis said. “The only hope of radical change for sinful nature is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The local church has the great opportunity, as well as the responsibility, to be the proclaimers of the life changing gospel and the protector of any life abused and unprotected.”
Rankin said the church “reacts in silence because it is unaware of the true implications of domestic violence and is afraid to hurt anybody’s feelings. The church needs to become aware of the issues that occupy their sanctuaries every week. The church is filled with needy and hurting persons,” he added.
The Patterson comments ignited an intense social media storm that encompasses abuse and sexism. Donna Gaines, wife of SBC President Steve Gaines (pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova), tweeted a call May 5 for Southern Baptists to “get off social media and into our Bibles and prayer closets; off our high horses, and onto our knees.”
Donna Gaines told Baptist Press May 7 that “the thing that most grieved me were some of the vicious attacks on people. We should be able to discuss issues without attacking people, and it wasn’t even just that people were attacking Dr. Patterson. It was people who were speaking on both sides of the issue being attacked by both sides of the issue.”
Gaines stressed that abuse of “anyone is indefensible. Nobody’s arguing with that.” Churches must be prepared to help the abused, she added.
Art Webb, a Christian counselor in Watauga Baptist Association, based in Elizabethton, agrees that churches need to be proactive in helping abuse victims.
In an article published in the April 5, 2017 issue of the Baptist and Reflector, Webb said churches must accept the reality that domestic violence can occur in their churches. “The probability is most churches have domestic violence victims and don’t even know it,” he said.
Webb acknowledged that most churches are not equipped to handle domestic violence. He encouraged churches and pastors to gather resources and make their houses of worship “a safe haven” for victims of domestic violence.
Rankin suggested some signs that Christians can look for to spot domestic abuse that are not as obvious as wearing extra makeup to hide bruises.
- Listen for a person’s story that might include being overly controlled with issues of friends, leaving the house, employment, and money or finances.
- Understand that some persons may be indicating they are being abused by saying they are afraid of their spouse’s anger and they avoid doing or saying anything that might “make them mad.”
- Observe if the spouse is constantly checking on them or appears to be excessively jealous or possessive.
- Consider the reasons that a person may not be able to attend social events alone because their spouse is afraid of what they might say.
“As you make choices about how to respond to everyone in the abused family, listen without judgment, be intentional, and be transparent, Rankin suggested.
“Help the hurting person begin the healing process, assist them in finding courage, show them compassion, and remind them that they are worthy. You may be the first and last person to hear their story.”
Rankin said that people who suspect domestic violence or victims can call 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). He also suggested www.domesticshelters.org as a resource to find emergency shelters and help locally.
— This article contains reporting by David Roach of Baptist Press.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: What Can the Church Do?
Listen for anyone who says they are slapped, pushed, tripped, or hit or controlled and belittled.
Encourage caring persons to talk specifically about the concerns they have for the potentially abused person.
Say, “I’m willing to talk anytime and we can do it in private if that makes it easier for you.”
Find a local organization that addresses domestic violence and develop a relationship with them so you feel comfortable about their services. Have them do a program at the church. Encourage volunteers to support their work and see if they have ongoing support groups you could tell about.
QUESTIONS ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Here are some commonly asked questions about domestic violence, according to domesticshelters.org.
1. Am I experiencing abuse?
2. Why does he (or she) do that?
3. What about my kids?
4. I know someone who’s being abused. What should I do?
5. I am ready to leave, now what?
6. How do I heal after abuse?