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The Invisibility of Domestic Violence in Faith Communities

Mar 23, 2010 — Categories: ,

Last week, Charles Parsons murdered his wife during a couples’ counseling session at Calvary Lutheran Church south of Seattle. He turned himself in and has been charged with first-degree murder and assault.

Last week, Charles Parsons murdered his wife during a couples’ counseling session at Calvary Lutheran Church south of Seattle. He turned himself in and has been charged with first-degree murder and assault.

Carol Parsons had been divorced from Charles Parsons for a year. He wanted to “reconcile”; she did not. She was moving on with her life and her 3 children. But Carol suggested they go to couples’ counseling to help her ex-husband get “closure.” He came to the session armed.

Carol Parsons’ brother said that Parsons was not physically violent towards his sister, but that he was “possessive and overbearing,” and called her at all hours to check up on her.

If this is true that Parsons had not been previously physically violent, then this is one of the unusual situations where the first act of physical violence is homicide. But the controlling, possessive behavior appears to have been evident – at least to members of her family.

The Georgia Commission on Family Violence [www.gcfv.org] just released its 2009 Fatality Review Report. In it, they discuss the particulars of the faith involvement of victims and abusers. Of the nine homicides they reviewed, seven victims identified as Christians as did three abusers. But only one victim had shared any information about her abuse with her pastor. The rest remained active but invisible in their churches.

In this particular tragedy, we will never know if anything could have been done differently so that Carol Parsons would be alive today. This is no time for finger pointing but it is time to think critically about whether battered women can find help from their faith communities.

I still have faith leaders say to me, “but no one ever comes to me with this problem.” Conclusion: we don’t have domestic violence in our faith community. Further conclusion: I don’t need to be trained to deal with a problem we don’t have. If a battered woman asks me whether she should talk to her faith leader or not, I usually say “no” – if she has to ask, then I doubt that it is safe to go to that person. I doubt that the leader has been trained; if he/she has been trained, then he/she should have been talking and praying about the issue from the pulpit to let their people know that their leader is trained, aware, and available.

We have to find a way to break this cycle of invisibility within our faith communities. The lesson for the wider community here is that possessive, controlling behavior is what domestic violence is all about. For all of us to be able to see this as a danger sign and provide support and protection; to know that the period after separation and/or divorce is the most dangerous time for the victim. The lessons for a faith leader is you will not hear about domestic violence (or sexual assault) until you speak about it. And don’t speak about it if you are not prepared to hear about it.

Faith leaders need to understand the basics about domestic violence, how to access and work alongside the secular advocates in their communities, and when to avoid couples’ counseling at all costs. We also need to provide spiritual support and scriptural interpretation that supports a victim seeking safety. We can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Until then, we will continue to read news stories about murders in the church parking lot or the rabbi’s office.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

Document Actions

Love is not supposed to hurt

Posted by Inez Torres Davis at Mar 24, 2010 04:38 PM
Men must lead by teaching their daughters that love is not supposed to hurt. They do this by having loving relationships. If men do not do this job, then women must!! Understanding power and how power works in relationships is an important dynamic for liberation for all who proclaim the Power of Jesus' name; without that discernment we offer next to nothing to those who are held captive. The sorrow of oppression has two sharp edges and brings only death. My heart goes out for such suffering!

Husband Abuse

Posted by Anonymous at Mar 26, 2010 02:11 PM
Has there been any work regarding husbands abused by wives? My first wife was abusive.

Where do faith leaders learn?

Posted by Rev. Ann Tiemeyer at Mar 26, 2010 02:11 PM
Marie Fortune was the Keynote speaker at the launch of the North American Women of Faith Network of Religious for Peace on March 1 & 2. She put the facts clearly before us about how faith communities need to create boundaries of accountability that provided safety so victims and survivors of Domestic Violence can come to the church as a safe place. We need to think carefully and develop appropriate policies and procedures that will protect again violent acts in our places of worship and ministries. We need to study and learn about the dynamics of violence – the warning signs and the responses that protect and hold accountable. As a clergy person I received little of this training in seminary – I have learned through special seminars and training courses – I have sought out. I am grateful for the resources of FaithTrust Institute and I call upon – no plead for – all our faith communities to take responsible in learning what we can and should do. Each life is precious – a creation of God – and together as leaders in our faith communities we need to honor this as we teach, preach, and act with love speaking out against violence in all forms. Let us continue to learn together how we can be the prophetic voice speaking and acting against all violence! Let the silence be broken so that the death of those such as Carol -- wake us up and motivate us to learn new ways together.

Love is not suppose to Kill

Posted by Elizabeth Negron at Apr 05, 2010 11:25 AM
This speaks about the husbands faith in his creator. Obviously, he did not believe in the Ten Commandments because it states "Thou shall not kill." He was not a true follower otherwise he would not have done such a horrible act. He did not think about his children and the lost of their mother. He will get what he deserves but that doesn't bring back Carol. We need to educate people about the dangers of domestic violence in couples counseling. Also, Clergy people need to be educated as well to know when to listen and when to refer.

DV in faith community

Posted by Nancy Werking Poling at Jun 29, 2010 01:31 PM
Courage Network recently interviewed me on DV and the church. In it I discuss whether a victim should turn to her pastor for advice/counseling.
www.couragenetwork.com


Been there, burned the t-shirt

Posted by Monica Smith at Sep 15, 2011 01:20 PM
I was once a victim of domestic violence left without a voice in the christian community. I often felt like what you stated at the beginning of the blog that it was not happening in the church. I often felt like I was alone in this social issue and that if I had enough faith my exhusband would change or if I believed hard enough in the scriptures I would be transformed to his satisfaction and then our marriage would be a testimony for others. After three years of going back and forth in the scriptures I along with my three children finally on November of 2008 got the courage to leave my husband.I was told by church members that I did not pray hard enough before I left my husband. I was hurt by that response and felt guilty again. Now I realize I kept three years of verbal abuse and physical abuse a secret so they were only looking at the outside. I had a misunderstanding of faith and realized in how silence breeds domestic violence. My children and I moved to another state where I completed my Bachelor's in Social Work. It was while there that I actually identified myself as a victim of domestic violence after seeing a poster in a social service office that listed five out of the six that my expartner had done to me. After that I began to study as much information as I could on domestic violence and the church and realized that I was not alone. That was a huge breakthrough for me. I also realized that the problem does exist in the faith community like me no one is talking about it. I am currently pursuing my Master's degree with a hopes is to provide a voice for women going through domestic violence in the church as well as in the African American communities. As I pursue my Master's degree I am also getting counseling in a nonsecular organization. It is so liberating to talk with others and not be judged. Many responses I have recieved is to give the healing to God. I understand that and I don't doubt God, but it is amazing to hear another female voice say that is not right and it's okay to talk about it. It saddens me that I have not shared my story with my sisters in Christ as much as I have with nonsecular women. My goal is to connect social problems to the church and create open doors of communication for christian women to get the emotional, physical, and financial support they need without fear or condemnation. Is there a way for me to connect with your organization in fort worth texas? Thank you for this blog! I am so encouraged.