by Rev. Carla Christopher
I invite congregational and faith leaders into a topic that can be challenging, and even triggering, to discuss with each other and with the beloved community we accompany. October is a healthy and helpful time to address Domestic Violence however, and I believe the topic is necessary. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month which means many local centers and organizations will have resources and staff available to answer questions and share practical resources available in our communities. Domestic Violence is also a family issue, deeply impacting our most vulnerable members.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner (https://ncadv.org/). According to the Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Child Protection and Custody, researchers have estimated that between 3.3 million and 10 million children are exposed to adult domestic violence each year. That translates to at least 10 to 20 percent of children exposed to intimate partner violence annually, with as many as one-third exposed at some point during childhood or adolescence. (More information available here: https://www.rcdvcpc.org/rates-of-child-abuse-and-child-exposure-to-domestic-violence.html).
Beyond ensuring we live into our commitment to safe communities or our role as mandated reporters with a knowledge of congregational or organizational procedures if we believe someone is at risk, we can also use October as a time to proactively equip our circles of influence in recognizing and engaging in safe and healthy relationships from a faithful perspective.
Biblically, there are few examples of consensual and equitable relationships we read about in enough detail to offer helpful guidance our congregations people will find accessible. We do have more detailed description of the intentional community shepherded by Jesus in which characteristics of healthy relationship skills can be found. A vetted and helpful example of foundational healthy relationship skills is available at https://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/characteristics. Honesty and accountability and their sharing of resource between the Disciples are wonderful examples. The call to be mutually supportive and build trust through frequent communication is beautifully demonstrated by the interaction of Jesus and the Disciples as well. The example of non-threatening and compassionate behavior, the combination of relationship building shared time and solitary time for prayer and reflection, and frequently expressed love and affirmation that are never withheld as punishment are also encountered in multiple stories of Jesus and his companions. What specific scripture passages would you use to illustrate how Jesus’ interactions demonstrate healthy relationship skills?
The emphasis on love and devotion to God, neighbor, and self is a frequent and familiar conversation in vital congregations. Discussing healthy and loving romantic or family relationships may feel less of a comfort zone. I encourage you to embrace the discussion as an expansion of the Golden Rule and the wide embrace of God’s love. We have excellent resources in our Bible and worship practices to uplift enriching practices that can support our communities in healthy choices that will support their safety and security as well as their life of faith. Domestic Violence Awareness Month can make an excellent start to an ongoing safer space for this accompaniment.
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