We need change. We need hope. We need action. We need to work to eradicate violence in our homes.
I cringed when I read the words, “I would say to you gentlemen, the best person to rape is your wife,” from a pastor’s sermon a few weeks ago. My stomach dropped, my heart ached, and my head started spinning. What an aberration of God’s love had he just spoken? Having these words come from the pulpit, how many more wives would suffer, and how many husbands might lose their salvation, if they followed this errant advice? If they engaged in this abusive behavior? My stomach churned as I contemplated the effects those words would have on my brothers and sisters in Christ. Our church, our leaders, every one of us needs to do better at identifying abuse, naming it, and working to eliminate it. Rape is abuse, marital rape is abuse, and God abhors it.
As I read the full article, I was angry, I was sad, but I was not surprised. More than 15 years of researching domestic violence in the church, the sad truth I know is that rates of abuse in the church are not very different than those of people outside of the church. In the United States, that can range between 25-40% of women being victimized, at some point in their lives, as well as 5-10% of men. In some parts of the world, as many as 80% of women suffer at the hands of their partner or spouse during their lifetime. If I, a sinner, was physically ill at just hearing those words, what must a God of love feel to see his children abused, and others perverted? It can be overwhelming to process so many emotions, so I had to put down my devices, stop reading, and find a way to process and cope with this information.
I remembered the words of Mr. Roger’s, from the children’s television show, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” He recounted that when sad things happened, when disasters happened, his mother would always tell him to “look for the helpers.” Though domestic violence is not a natural disaster, but a human-made problem, we also need to search for solutions to end this abuse. However, in the midst of all of my emotions, I needed hope – and that is what Mr. Roger’s statement reminded me of. So, I started thinking about the steps that the church is taking to try and raise awareness of domestic violence, to try and equip us to be advocates for those who suffer, and other resources that can help survivors of abuse. This is what I want to share with you in this article, not to discount the need for action and change, but to focus for a moment on healing and hope.
For over 20 years, the church has had what was originally called the “Day of Violence Prevention,” which is now known as “End It Now Day.” This is a good first step to educate people about the violence that we see, that exists in and out of our churches, and to provide some resources for those who need it. If you go to the Enditnow website, you can find many resources to raise awareness in your church by celebrating this day. There are sermons, children’s stories, afternoon activities and more, so if you want to be an agent of change by raising awareness, here is a great way to start. Get this date on your church’s calendar, and start planning!
Project Safe Church was begun a few years ago in the Lake Union, as a next step, to “train and equip leaders in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to recognize and respond to abuse in biblically redemptive yet legally responsible ways, implementing the ethics policies of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.” Their mission statement is a call to action, and states “Project Safe Church exists to train leaders to take protective action in response to the systemic crisis of abuse in the Seventh-day Adventist church.” Yes, the abuse is systemic and a crisis in our church. This is why the sermon did not surprise me, but moves me to take action. Any of us can be leaders for this cause. If you are interested, they offer a one-day training and certification for those who participate, as well as answers to frequently asked questions, and they even have a way to report abuse in the church (though please note, this is not a substitute for reporting to law enforcement). Go to their website and look to see if you would like to be involved. It so happens they are having a training session this Sunday, Dec. 5 for churches leaders and laity.
Research has also found that there is a relationship between engaging in abuse and engaging in pornography. Another resource is the New Freedom To Love project “created by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America with the specific goal of raising awareness of the pornography epidemic and giving churches a tool to help members and their families. This five-part, church-sponsored seminar that opens the subject of pornography up for frank discussion. It provides an educational, holistic look at how pornography affects us bio-chemically, emotionally, and spiritually.” Again, education is the first step in eradication abuse and injustice, so anyone who wants to learn more, can go to their website and help work on this issue.
For those who are survivors themselves, we often refer to experts in the field of domestic violence, including the national domestic violence hotline which is open 24/7, has call and chat options, and can work with people in many languages. We also have the national sexual assault hotline which also provides similar resources, but focuses on sexual assault, including marital rape. For younger people, where teen dating violence is also a growing concern, there is the Love is Respect organization that has more information and help for young people in abusive relationships, or who want to learn more about healthy relationships.
We need change. We need hope. We need action. We need to work to eradicate violence in our homes. Meaningful first steps were the pastor’s removal from the pulpit and the Greater New York Conference and North American Division statements condemning his harmful comments.
As more of us gain awareness, advocate for change, and do the work to create change in our homes and churches and communities, we will be part of the solution. Our God is a God of love. In true love, there is no place for violence. As Micah 6:8 tells us “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” May our daily walk with Him lead us to His justice and mercy.
Melissa Ponce-Rodas, Ph.D., is assistant professor of psychology and vice-chair, School of Social & Behavioral Sciences at Andrews University. The intersection of domestic violence and the Adventist church is one area of her expertise.