Preventing domestic violence in our churches and world

October 19th, 2015

On October 12 in Huntsville, Ala., Heather Green was shot and killed by her estranged husband Jessie Green. Jessie then shot and killed himself. At the time of her death, they were separated.

Several weeks before she was killed, Heather had Jessie arrested and sought a protection order against him. Unfortunately, when it was time for a final hearing, Heather didn’t show and the judged dismissed the order. But Jessie was there, so he knew about the judge’s ruling.

Maybe the dismissal of the order emboldened Jessie to kill his wife, in broad daylight, while their children watched. When the police arrived, they were inside a parked car with their mother’s body. Their father’s body lay on the ground outside the car.

Now they are without both of their parents. And perhaps, on some level, they may be haunted for years by what their father did to their mother, himself and to them.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And the murder of Heather Green is a sobering reminder to all of us — especially those of us who follow Christ — about why we should place the prevention of domestic and intimate partner violence high on our priority lists. 

More than 10 million women and men are victims of some form of intimate partner violence every year. This includes not only physical violence but sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression.

One in three women are victims. So are one in four men. And the children that see or hear the violence are victims, too.

Anti-domestic violence advocates use the color purple to promote awareness of this horrible crisis. It would be a powerful statement if every church made purple the prominent color in their sanctuaries. And if every pastor preached at least one sermon this month that addresses the hurts and harm caused by domestic violence, it might have impact on those in the pews.

Maybe a woman who is in an abusive relationship will find the strength and courage to leave. Maybe a man who has been abusive will decide to seek help. Maybe the family members who know that their loved one is in a violent, unhealthy relationship decide to speak up.

If even one person is helped, it will be worth it. But it will take more than purple ribbons and displays or even impassioned sermons one month a year to make substantial progress in preventing domestic abuse.

Prevention requires couples learning how to talk openly. Spouses and partners need to learn how to solve their problems without resorting to violent words or actions. They may need to seek help outside of the church. Talking to experts at their local women’s shelter or crisis center may be a good start. Finding a good mental health counselor would also be a good idea.

Prevention also requires that we change our cultural views and actions when it comes to gender. Little boys used to be taught that they shouldn’t hit girls. Maybe some weren’t taught that before they grew up. Or maybe they are, but something else has influenced them to change course as they have grown up. Either way, we need to start teaching boys and girls that they cannot hit each other. And we need to teach them that they have value, no matter what their gender is or what their abilities are.

Over time, we can reduce the incidents of domestic violence in our communities and churches. But it requires that we be intentional and persistent in sending out the right messages to our children and young adults.

I don’t know if any of these approaches would have saved Heather Green’s life. But I feel very certain that if we don’t try harder to implement them, more women and even some men will suffer the pain that comes from intimate partner violence. And some, like Heather Green, won’t survive to tell their own stories.

Editor's note: United Methodist Women have compiled training and awareness resources to help churches address domestic violence. View these resources here. 

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