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Online Training Lesson #3: Religious leaders and crisis

Building Bridges Series

As I mentioned in lesson #1 in this series, I am often asked the question by those working within the criminal justice system why they should consider adding religious leaders to the collaborative community response to domestic violence.

You will find my top-ten reasons for inviting religious leaders to the collaborative community table to address domestic violence placed in the Community Resources section of our website . In these lessons, I focus on one or two reasons per lesson and suggest ways that bridges might be built or reinforced between religious and secular service providers.

Religious leaders have access to many lives at the point of crisis.

When crisis strikes a nation, people often pray. When a tragedy occurs, faith leaders are often called in to explain the unexplainable. There is no doubt that for many men and women there is a close link between personal crisis and looking to their faith tradition for answers. Since religious leaders are uniquely positioned as crisis interveners, it is imperative that they are included in any community-based response to domestic violence. Not all members of the community will desire assistance from faith leaders when abuse occurs, but for those that do, it is critical that such help be made available. It is critical too for religious leaders to be well informed about other community-based services. Referrals between resource providers are essential.

Religious leaders are able to provide ongoing support after the crisis.

Justice, accountability and change are all central ingredients in the intervention services offered to men who have abused their wives. Although some come voluntarily, other men are mandated by the courts or referred by their wives, therapists, or clergy to participate in an intervention program for abusers. Woven through the narratives of abusive men who are traveling toward justice and accountability are the roles of religious congregations and their leaders in supporting the men as they seek help. A pastor or priest is a key player in ensuring accountability in the life of a religious man who is, or has been, abusive. Consequently, houses of worship and religious leaders are unique resources in any community-based efforts to create safe and peaceful homes. While the role of the religious professional in responding to the needs of the abused has been recognized for some time, it is important to realize that there is also a role for religious leaders in helping abusive religious men become accountable and to walk with them on their journey towards changed thinking and behaviour.

Principles to help build bridges:

  • Referrals between agencies enable workers to celebrate the diversity of talent available in a community;
  • Referrals are an excellent way to identify the unique contributions that different professions bring to a community-wide response;
  • Events that bring a multi-disciplinary set of voices to the table enrich the lives of each participant and ultimately impact the community for good;
  • Few agencies or professionals are able to follow through for many years with the same clients. Thus, do not be a solo-supporter.

Strategies to help build bridges:

  1. Bridge building takes time—time to focus on a shared vision of a community that takes domestic violence seriously; time to discover common ground that would enable progress towards this goal; time to learn the unique contributions different professionals and varying agencies in the region can offer to assist in a community wide response. Usually one agency or one profession takes the initial lead in bringing others to the collaborative table. It could begin with a project that is sponsored by one agency, but others are asked to join in the efforts. It could begin with a single event to determine whether there is interest across the community in bridge building.
  2. Referrals are a critical strategy in bridge-building. But learning when to refer, how to refer, and to whom to refer, is not as straight-forward as it may seem. You need to know about the resources in your community if your referrals are to be appropriate and successful. Others need to know about the skills your agency or profession brings to the table in order for referrals to be bi-directional. Training is a central component of the process of making referrals.

Questions to ask yourself:
(if you work in a community-based agency)

  1. To whom in the religious community would I refer a very spiritual abused woman who is suffering from the belief that God has abandoned her at her time of testing?
  2. Where would I go for resources for a woman who has begun the process of divorce but is now filled with guilt that she promised God and her church that her marriage vows were until death due us part?
  3. Suppose I wanted to place brochures in every religious meeting house in our community. Would I know at least one representative of each faith that I could call upon to assist me in this process?

Questions to ask yourself:
(if you are a religious leader)

  1. We have learned from data with hundreds of religious leaders that those who have received the least amount of formal training in domestic violence are the least likely to refer those men and women who come to them for help. Thus, where referrals are needed most, they are least likely to occur. How can this be changed in my community?
  2. How would I begin to determine the effectiveness of the community resources to whom I refer men and women in my congregation?
  3. Do I know how to continue pastoral support with a man or woman for whom I have made a referral without finding myself meddling in the therapeutic relationships they have established?