Recognize and Help Victims of Domestic Violence

In April 2009, Charles “Chuck” Colson, addressed the issue of domestic violence in the church with a frightening account of what happens when ministers minimize the danger and instruct a victim to return to the home.

A woman I’ll call “Marleen” went to her pastor for help. “My husband is abusing me,” she told him. “Last week he knocked me down and kicked me. He broke one of my ribs.” Marleen’s pastor was sympathetic. He prayed with Marleen—and then he sent her home. “Try to be more submissive,” he advised. “After all, your husband is your spiritual head.” Two weeks later, Marleen was dead—killed by an abusive husband. Her church could not believe it. Marleen’s husband was a Sunday school teacher and a deacon. How could he have done such a thing? (BreakPoint, 2009).

The research and real-world experiences similar to Colson’s example make it clear: domestic violence is a public health issue. It has even been called an epidemic (Wood, 2009). Statistically, one in three women is or will be a victim of some form of domestic abuse in her lifetime (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Another way to look at that is a woman is battered every 15 seconds in this country (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1993). In 2007, intimate partner homicides accounted for 14% of all murders in the U.S.; female victims represent 70% of the 2,340 of these deaths (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Female Victims of Violence, 2009).

Colson uses Marleen’s story to address what he calls “the ugly truth”. Domestic violence has never been a comfortable topic to discuss among the general public, much less in houses of worship where many may assume that domestic violence may happen elsewhere, just not here in our church. But books like Dr. James Alsdurf’s Battered into Submission, and Rev. Al Miles’ Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know, illustrate the unfortunate reality that abuse can and does happen to believers. By not equipping church leaders, or even worse, by only preaching forgiveness and reconciliation, the church is missing valuable opportunities to help victims and end the violence.

An Online Resource

First-hand accounts reveal that many women who endured domestic violence say that faith is what sustained them during and after the abuse, and that they turn to their faith leaders for help. In 2011, the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State University worked with a diverse group of Christian leaders to give ministers and lay leaders the tools they need to provide that help. The group designed a FREE, Biblically-based resource for ministers and lay leaders known as the Alliance for Faith-based Efforts to End Domestic Violence (the Alliance).

The cornerstone of the Alliance is a curriculum that examines the dynamics of domestic violence through a Biblical perspective, while also addressing the obstacles faced by both religious leaders and the victims of abuse. This information is presented in a simple, interactive format that allows church leaders to fully understand the dynamics of domestic violence as defined through Scripture. Case scenarios are presented in a way that allows for users to explore situations with thoughtful question and answer sections. Scripture passages are referenced throughout as evidence to support victims of domestic violence.

For example, church leaders are encouraged to look beyond the past advice to victims to submit or endure abuse, which unintentionally sends a woman back into danger, giving the abuser a power that is not endorsed by Scripture. The Alliance reminds leaders to examine what is said before and after Ephesians 5:22: “Wives submit to your husbands“ (the most common Scripture used to justify violence in the home). The accompanying Scripture fully explains “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” which is not directive to a specific population or gender; we are all called to submit to one another. Ephesians 5:25 and 5:28 say, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also love the church, and gave himself up for her…In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” In 1Timothy 3:3, Paul tells Timothy that men of the church must “not [be] violent, but gentle.”

Another common challenge is the Scriptural command for us to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15, Mark 11:25); however, forgiveness and reconciliation are not synonymous terms. Using Scripture the Alliance illustrates how to work toward forgiveness while making safety a priority for women and children who may be in danger. For example, reconciliation implies that contact is necessary, whereas forgiveness can be an internal and contact between the victim and abuser never has to happen. This is important because of the life-saving distinction for an abused woman.

Also included in the Alliance is a “Readiness to Lead” self-assessment, where church leaders can privately reflect on their own actions, attitudes, and beliefs. Additional resources include information on how to connect with the local certified domestic violence center to provide information on how to best work with victims of abuse.

Doug Dortch, the Senior Pastor at Mountain Brook Baptist Church, endorsed the Alliance, saying: “This curriculum is on target in terms of faith content and user friendliness. This resource lifts the veil of secrecy and calls attention to the importance of this issue.”

Many women come to leaders of the church for help in abusive situations because the church offers a sense of security and protection. However, domestic violence is a largely silent topic within the walls of churches, and women are unfortunately let down or many times unsure as to whether they will be embraced.

What Faith Leaders Can Do

In an age where there are online resources at every turn on virtually every topic, there is limited information available on the Christian response to domestic violence. Pastor Jay Winters of University Lutheran Church in Tallahassee FL noted “this is an excellent overview of the role of the church in dealing with violence with the love of Jesus Christ.”

Work can be done to end domestic violence and prevent tragedies like Marleen’s, but it requires action.

  • Take this training.
  • Have all church staff view this resource, so everyone knows what to look for and how to help. There is a Certificate of Completion at the end to keep in your records.
  • Talk with other church leaders in your community to see what else is being done.
  • Contact the local certified domestic violence shelter for help.
  • Most importantly, connect victims who seek counsel with the community resources that are needed.


The Alliance for Faith-based Efforts to End Domestic Violence is available to all ministers and lay leaders. Users can login to this free online training using a generic username (ChurchLeader1) and password (EndDV2011).

There are numerous resources available to the general public, many free. Below you will find a listing of web resources and books (with links to their webpage). This is by no means an exhaustive listing, but is designed to help provide a starting point for those seeking additional information.

Books Available

Alsdurf, J., & Alsdurf, P. (1989). Battered Into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home. Eugene: Wipf & Stock.

Franklin, C. & Fong, R. (Eds). (2011). The Church Leader's Counseling Resource Book: A Guide to Mental Health and Social Problems. Oxford University Press. – book flyer

Kroeger, C. C., & Beck, J. R. (Eds). (1996). Women, abuse, and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Miles, A. (2000). Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Web Resources

Domestic Violence Coordinating Council PSA – provides a short interfaith message about the importance of being educated on the issue of domestic violence.

Christian Coalition Against Domestic Violence - their mission is to empower the Christian community by bringing awareness to the issue of domestic abuse in each community.

Christian Network Against Domestic Violence - an online organization working to address and end domestic violence in the Christian home through education, advocacy, and uniting those seeking to end domestic violence.

FaithTrust Institute - a national mutli-faith, multicultural training and education organization with a global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence. They offer a wide variety of services and resources, including training, consulting, and educational materials. They provide communities and advocates with the tools and knowledge needed to address the religious and cultural issues related to abuse.

FOCUS Ministries - One of their primary goals is to educate and train churches, organizations, support group leaders, and concerned friends and family members about the dynamics of domestic violence and abusive relationships.

National Council of Churches - This site provides information about what the National Council of Churches is doing to educate and equip member churches in regard to the issue of domestic violence.

PASCH – Peace And Safety in the Christian Home - is a coalition of academics, professionals, clergy, and lay people who are seeking to end domestic violence and other forms of abuse in the Christian home.

Recovery from Abuse - Most of the material on this site began with lectures presented in a class entitled Pastoral Care and Abuse at Fuller Theological Seminary. It is the kind of resource that all church leaders need. Much of the recommended readings from this site include books or articles from theological journals.

The RAVE Project – The Religion and Violence E-Learning (RAVE) Project seeks to equip religious leaders to respond to domestic violence in ways that are compassionate, practical, and informed by the latest research and best-practices for professionals.

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