Domestic violence in the church: Pastors 'poorly informed', says Jim Wallis

(Photo: Mateusz Stachowski)

The church needs to be having a conversation about domestic violence in its midst but at the moment that's just not happening, says social justice veteran Jim Wallis.

Wallis was commenting in response to a survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors commissioned by his Sojourners network in partnership with IMA World Health.

The survey, conducted by LifeWay research, found that nearly three quarters of faith leaders (74 per cent) underestimate the level of sexual and domestic violence experienced within their congregations.

Of those who said they do speak about the topic, 72 per cent said they did so because they believed it was a problem in their local communities, compared to only a quarter who said they spoke out because they felt it was a problem in their congregations.

While research by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that one in three US women and one in four US men will experience violence at the hands of a partner, the Sojourner survey found that nearly two thirds of pastors (65 per cent) speak about the issue in their churches once a year or less.

"And when they do address the issue, they may be providing support that does more harm than good," Sojourners said.

It was alarmed to find in the survey that 62 per cent of pastors said they had responded to sexual or domestic violence by providing couples or marriage counselling.

"This is considered a potentially dangerous or even potentially lethal response," it said.

The network said churches were "currently falling short of their potential" but the survey also shed light on the extent to which American pastors feel ill-equipped to tackle domestic violence.

Only 56 per cent of pastors said they were adequately familiar with local resources specifically addressing sexual and domestic violence.

Eighty-one per cent of pastors said they would take action to reduce sexual and domestic violence if they had the resources and training to do so.

With so many ready to act, Sojourners s optimistic America's pastors could be turned into "powerful advocates for prevention, intervention and healing".

"This is a conversation the church needs to be having but isn't," said Sojourners' president and founder Jim Wallis. "We cannot remain silent when our sisters and brothers live under the threat of violence in their homes and communities."

Reverend Amy Gopp, Director of Member Relations and Pastoral Care at Church World Service, noted, "I hope this report will educate faith leaders about the importance of reaching out to domestic violence programs in their communities and creating strong partnerships so that survivors are served in the way they deserve."