Abuse in the home is a subject near to my heart for many, very personal, reasons. I’m far too familiar with the subject in far too many ways to pretend it doesn’t need to be addressed. Abuse has invaded the lives of many family members, many friends. I was born into a family broken by abuse. I’ve seen it invade the lives of those I love. I know what it does, what it can do. I have seen how it destroys the lives of those affected by it. I have no compassion, no patience, for abusers. Nor do I have compassion for those who would shelter abusers, deny the abuse is happening or choose to look the other way. That folks who have not known abuse first-hand would fear coming close to it, I can understand–though Christian compassion ought to cause us to overcome our fear and help the abused. I can’t, however, understand the determination to pretend it isn’t real or to come down hard on the one (usually a woman) who is abused. Abuse isn’t catching but it is real. Often, those who are living in abuse, have no idea what to do, no one to turn to and are desperately frightened. Often, it is at great personal cost that the abused comes forth with the truth. If her abuser finds out she has come forth with truth, more often than not, she will pay for the telling. Some women pay with their lives. The harm that is done when church folks ignore her cries for help or fail to believe her story, is far, far greater than one who hasn’t faced it could ever know.
Most pastors fail at this. Statistics bear this out.
So, Pastors, please, if a woman (or, at times, a man) comes to you or to your church with a shocking story of abuse take time out of your day and listen. Believe her story. Offer her comfort, pray with her, offer her hope. If you don’t know how to advise her, find out. There are places where she can receive help, agencies she can turn to. It might be good to keep a list of these agencies in your office and be familiar with the people who work there. There’s things your church can do to help her (and your church ought to be the safest place an abused woman can run to). Some possibilities would be: offer her a safe place to stay (perhaps in a member’s home), offer her food and clothing for herself and her children (since many abuse victims live in poverty), help her find a lawyer who specializes in abuse, help her find a job if she needs one, encourage your members to show love towards her children by doing something special for them (for they, too, have been through trauma) or simply sit and listen as she tells her story and tries to make sense of it all.
Whatever you do, don’t do what so many Pastors have done before: don’t refuse to listen, don’t fail to believe her, don’t send her back into the abuse, don’t tell her it’s just an anger issue, don’t tell her the abuse is her fault or that she needs to be more submissive. If you do, you will fail her in her hour of greatest need. Moreover, you will fail our Lord Who has called you to shepherd His sheep–even the abused ones.