Policy Statement on Domestic Violence

Adopted by the Executive Board, March 1, 2005

The Issue

The scriptures instruct us to love one another – to create mutually respectful relationships in which there is shared responsibility, negotiation and fairness, trust and support, honesty and accountability.  When violence is present in a relationship, it is a violation against the image of God in which we all have been created.  Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior that one person uses to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner or ex-partner.[1] This behavior includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse (a form of which is economic coercion).  Specifically:

  • Sexual abuse is when the perpetrator pressures or coerces the victim to engage in sexual acts that are unpleasant, repugnant, or painful to the victim.  Marital rape and incest continue to be some of the most silent forms of abuse there are.  Sexual abuse may involve physical force, the threat of force, or other forms of coercion.
  • Physical abuse is the use of bodily force, such as hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, pushing, and/or using weapons.
  • Emotional abuse can be inflicted without ever using physical force.  It is the use of words to threaten or intimidate the victim.  Often batterers make victims more dependent upon them by isolating their victims from family and friends.  Emotional abuse causes great damage to the soul of the victim. Economic coercion is a tool by which the batterer controls the life of the victim by making the victim financially dependent upon the batterer. Often victims are not allowed to work and if they do, they are expected to give their income to their abuser.  Sometimes abusers closely monitor the finances by giving their victims an allowance, which must be accounted for down to the penny.

Domestic violence is an epidemic.  It permeates every part of our society; batterers and their victims can be found in every race, class, geographical region, religious affiliation, and family configuration.  Consider the following data:

  • The World Health Organization estimates that one in three women around the world has been beaten, sexually assaulted, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.[2] Most often, the abuser is a member of the victim’s family.
  • Approximately 3 million women are physically abused by a husband or boyfriend each year in the United States.[3]
  • While there are men who are abused by women, the vast majority of victims of domestic violence are women. In addition, most violence perpetrated by women is in self-defense and inflicts less injury than male violence.[4]
  • Immigrant women may suffer higher rates of battering than citizens either because they come from cultures which are more accepting of domestic violence or because they have less access to legal and social services. They may also have less community or family support here. And they may believe that the U.S. legal system will not protect them or that they will face deportation if they call attention to themselves.[5]
  • Battering occurs in same-sex relationships with the same frequency as in heterosexual relationships, though its victims may receive fewer protections. Some states define domestic violence in a way that excludes same-sex victims. And same-sex perpetrators can threaten to “out” their victims.[6]
  • The North Carolina Council for Women/Domestic Violence Commission reports that more than 44,000 new victims received services from domestic violence shelters and programs around the state in 2003.[7]
  • Not only is domestic violence present in adult relationships; adolescents are often engaged in violent relationships as well.  Studies suggest that 1 in 5 high school girls has been physically or sexually assaulted by a dating partner.[8]
  • Without appropriate intervention, the abuse increases both in frequency and severity and in some cases leads to death.  On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States every day.[9] According to the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 75 individuals were murdered in North Carolina as a result of domestic violence in 2004.[10]

Furthermore, among the greatest costs of domestic violence are often its silent victims – the children who are watching.  It is reported that at least 3.3 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year, and 40 to 60% of the men who abuse women also abuse children.[11] A significant number of these children grow up to repeat the cycle of violence in their own relationships, either as abusers or as victims.  While children, they are at higher risk of being abused, neglected, or injured.  They are also more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors that lead to substance abuse, food addictions, teen pregnancy, truancy, violence at school and in the streets, and suicide.

Why People of Faith Should Care

It is not enemies who taunt me—
I could bear that:
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—
I could hide from them.
But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend,
With whom I keep pleasant company.
Psalm 55:12-14a, NRSV

The psalmist expresses the feelings of many domestic violence victims, the pain of being betrayed and injured by a loved one.

Ephesians 5:22-24 is sometimes used to give husbands carte blanche in how they relate to their wives. “Wives, be subject to your husbands . . . [T]he husband is head of the wife . . . [L]et wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.” But to read this passage as somehow justifying spouse abuse is to wrench it completely out of its context. The previous verse, vs. 21, calls all to “[b]e subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And the verses immediately following these instructions to wives are directed to husbands: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. . . [H]usbands should love their wives as their own bodies. . . [L]et each one of you love his wife as himself” (vss. 25-33). A similar passage in Colossians 3:19 is explicit: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”[12]

We believe that as a community of faith we are charged with bringing a message of hope and healing to victims of domestic violence.  Some victims who would never contact law enforcement may turn to their pastor or other church member for guidance. Churches should be sanctuaries where victims find a safe place to speak their truths and find the support they need to become whole again. Unfortunately, due to a lack of education about the severity of domestic violence and the potential for serious injury or death to the victim, some clergy have not been as responsive to this issue as they needed to be. We confess that churches have too often ignored the physical, sexual, and emotional violence that is perpetrated against women and children, and we acknowledge that Scripture has too often been misused to justify, excuse, and in some cases condone the abuse.

Likewise, churches are called to love the batterers by holding them accountable for their behavior.  We believe batterers can change their abusive behaviors, but we recognize that they must be the ones to make the choice to live another way.  Victims are not responsible for their batterer’s behavior.  We believe that we must take action to end domestic violence through education, advocacy, responsible Biblical interpretation, and theological reflection that help to clarify the messages of Scripture and illuminate the divine call to love, life, and hope.  We are committed not only to responding to domestic violence in more appropriate ways, but to the prevention of abuse through educating our community about healthy relationships and non-violent behavior.

Recommendations

1. We call on pastors and other church leaders to break the silence about domestic violence through preaching and teaching.

2. We encourage pastors and others providing pastoral care to be adequately trained to recognize signs of domestic violence and to know when their intervention is appropriate and when outside intervention is necessary.

3. We support legislation which will help protect victims of domestic violence and their children. Without committing ourselves to the full agenda of others, we will support appropriate recommendations from the House Select Committee on Domestic Violence and the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Among these proposals are:

  • improve the options available to victims by making available more affordable housing and increased access to child care, transportation, and job training.
  • require training for all in the court system who deal with victims of domestic violence and their children.
  • improve current landlord-tenant law and immigration law to protect victims.
  • provide equal protection for all victims of domestic violence in obtaining DV protective orders.
  • make it possible for a judge to issue a two-year protective order.
  • require mandatory sentences for repeat offenders (i.e., those convicted of violating criminal domestic violence laws).

[1] While the term “domestic violence” is sometimes used to include child abuse and elder abuse, this policy statement will be limited to violence between intimate partners, ex-partners, and those who are in a dating relationship.
[2]Heise, L., Ellsberg, M. and Gottemoeller, M. Ending Violence Against Women. Population Reports, Series L, No. 11., December 1999.
[3]The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, May 1999.
[4] Chalk and King, eds., Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs, National Resource Council and Institute of Medicine, p. 42 (1998).
[5] Orloff, et al., “With No Place to Turn: Improving Advocacy for Battered Immigrant Women,” Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3, 313 (Summer 1995).
[6] Barnes, “It’s Just a Quarrel,” American Bar Association Journal, February 1998, p. 24.
[7]N.C. Council for Women/Domestic Violence Commission.  Domestic Violence Statistical Report.  www.nccadv.org.
[8]Jay G. Silverman, PhD; Anita Raj, PhD; Lorelei A. Mucci, MPH; and Jeanne E. Hathaway, MD, MPH, “Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 286, No. 5, 2001.
[9]Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003.
[10]North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  www.nccadv.org.
[11]American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family: Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family (1996), pp. 11, 80.
[12] Adapted from “Policy Statement on Domestic Violence,” Kentucky Council of Churches, 1990.
North Carolina Council of Churches North Carolina Council of Churches

The Council enables denominations, congregations, and people of faith to individually and collectively impact our state on issues such as economic justice and development, human well-being, equality, compassion and peace, following the example and mission of Jesus Christ. Learn more about our work here: www.ncchurches.org/about

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