Why the Church needs a zero tolerance approach to domestic violence


There's a poignant scene in Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram in which drunken slum-dweller Joseph is found to have beaten his wife, nearly killing her. The response of the community is a strong, collective one that punishes Joseph not just for the horrific pain he has inflicted on his wife, but the shame it has brought on the community. They do this in a way that shows such violence against the vulnerable will not be tolerated, while recognising Joseph's own brokenness and humanity.

The Church needs to be more like this. We need to take a zero tolerance approach to domestic violence in our midst.

Domestic abuse and violence is happening; it is a daily, unspeakable nightmare for thousands of women (and men) up and down the country – and these victims are in our churches too.

Every year, 1.4 million women (8.5 per cent of the population) suffer some form of domestic abuse.

Today, 30 women will try to kill themselves because their situation has become so desperate that they cannot see a way forward. 

There will be women you know – some of them will be in your church – who, when away from the eyes of the rest of the congregation, will be suffering.

And there are clues. Maybe she's never seen without her husband or partner. Maybe he talks over her and she is reluctant to speak. Maybe she is making excuses for unexplained injuries. Maybe she is told on a daily basis that she is too fat or too thin. Maybe she's told she is weak, useless, stupid, disgusting; a bad mother or wife. Maybe she's treated as a slave. Maybe she is pushed or slapped or kicked or punched. Maybe she is raped. Maybe her abuser justifies this through scripture – distorting verses about the man being the head and she having no choice but to submit.

It makes me sick to think that such behaviour is anywhere near the Church – the place where we are supposed to find hope, refuge and life in all its fullness. It is even more horrific when we realise that church leaders themselves are no less likely to be abusers.

But it is true. 

That's why today – on International Women's Day – Christian organisation Restored has released a church pack to help us recognise this reality. Despite one in four women in the UK experiencing domestic abuse, few church leaders are aware of the extent of the issue or what they can do about it. The pack helps us identify hidden signs that might suggest women are being abused; and gives us tools to help put a stop to it.

I will never forget an interview I once did with a survivor of domestic abuse whose husband had nearly killed her on three separate occasions.

On the first – a year after they were married – her husband strangled her and left her for dead on the kitchen floor. The catalyst for the vicious abuse had been her becoming a Christian at the age of 18. "It wasn't just about a smack on the nose," she told me. "He tore up Bibles. He tore down anything Christian that I had displayed. He lifted a crucifix off my wall and threatened to stab me with it."

The third attempt on her life started when she told him she wanted a divorce because she couldn't take the abuse any more.

"He went berserk and dragged me from room to room, smashed my head against a radiator, strangled me and left me for dead," she told me. After this, the woman suffered a complete psychotic breakdown for a year. On one particular day in that year, she found herself wandering the streets; and walked into a church, where she had hoped she would find refuge and love. "The woman at the church told me: 'We don't believe in divorce. Go back to your husband.' I asked them if they really wanted me to go back to the man that had tried to kill me'. She said yes. That was the Church – no help at all. It was the harshest thing she could have told me at that moment."

We have got to do better than this. This cannot be our story. The Church has got to have a zero tolerance approach to domestic violence. So let's all read up on it, let's commit to never turning a blind eye and rescuing those who are finding themselves in these hopeless situations.

Chine McDonald is director of communications & membership at the Evangelical Alliance

You can download a Church Pack free of charge here or get a printed copy by emailing info@restoredrelationships.org.