By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
One in four women will experience some kind of abuse by the time they reach 18 years old said Webb, a Christian counselor who has served with Watauga Baptist Association, based in Elizabethton, for 30 years.
“I’ve seen domestic violence among Christians as well as church and non-church members,” Webb said.
In fact, it’s sometimes more difficult for Christian women, Webb said. It’s hard for a Christian woman married to a professing Christian man to acknowledge the problem. “It brings shame and disgrace on the family if they admit it,” he added.
“It’s a black mark on the family so they accept it and it happens again.”
That’s why it’s hard for women, regardless of their faith, to leave domestic violence situations, Webb said. “I’ve met many women who have been in abusive relationships who are afraid to get out of them,” he said.
Webb observed that in those instances, the man is so controlling that he tells the woman that no one will accept them and that they have no place to go. “So, they stay and he beats them up again and the pattern continues.”
Tony Rankin, minister of pastoral care at First Baptist Church, Nashville, agreed with Webb. “At the center of domestic violence is the need for the man to exercise significant and unrealistic power and control. He will do this by controlling the money, using the children against the mother, intimidation, isolation, and keeping the female disengaged from friends and family, being emotionally abusing with words, blaming her for almost everything, and making threats,” he observed.
Webb said that he counsels women who are victims of domestic violence to help them see they don’t have to remain trapped. “We try to help them see that there are people willing to support and help them,” he said.
He admitted that often it is hard to convince the women they do have options because they “have been browbeaten” so many times.
Basically, the only way a woman trapped in domestic violence can get out of it is to admit she needs help, Webb said.
This is where churches can step in, he noted.
Webb said churches must accept the reality that domestic violence can occur in their congregations. “The probability is most churches have domestic violence victims and don’t even know it.” See “Lack of Plan Marks Church Response”.
The long-time counselor said he has had adult clients who remember vividly their dad beating up their mother. “That has a lasting effect on a person,” Webb acknowledged.
“For those of us who never experienced anything like that, it’s hard to believe but it happens.”
Churches can offer a place where someone can come to and talk to someone in confidence, he said. “The person being abused has to know the conversation will not be publicized in the Christian community. It has to be handled privately if the woman is willing to step forward,” Webb stressed.
Unfortunately, Webb acknowledged most churches are not equipped to handle domestic violence. He encouraged churches and pastors to gather resources. Most communities have a “safe haven” that victims of domestic violence can turn to, Webb said.
In Elizabethton, the Shepherd’s Inn is a safe haven and the location is kept secret, he said. In that area, the victim would call local law enforcement officials who would then take them to the safe haven, Webb added.
He encourages churches across the state to research their communities and find out about those safe havens. “Find out what is available in your community for women who are victims of domestic violence,” Webb challenged. Many churches help to financially support the safe havens, he added. “It costs money to run those safe homes for women and children.”
Webb added that many safe havens offer training for pastors on how to spot signs of domestic violence and what to do if a woman came to them for counseling.
“Churches need to communicate that help is available to victims of domestic violence, both in their congregations and in the community,” Webb said.
Rankin added that in helping the spouse who has experienced domestic violence it’s important to do several things. “Develop trust, assess the situation by listening and asking the tough questions at the right time, remain composed, and know the resources in your area.”
He noted that one resource for safe shelters in an area, articles to read and materials for the congregation, and a place that might be used when the family needs more than the church is domesticshelters.org.
“Contact them before you have to,” Rankin suggested.