Online Training Lesson #4: Religious leaders and spiritual comfort
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 are able to offer spiritual comfort and guidance.
Vested with credibility by their own religious traditions, pastors and other spiritual leaders offer comfort and guidance that is distinct from the assistance offered in community-based agencies. As religious leaders, they speak the language of the spirit—using the sacred texts, prayers and other rituals inherent in their various traditions. The impact of this form of empowerment upon followers who are victims of DV cannot be overstated. Breaking the cycle of violence in families of faith often requires both the input of secular culture and support from their religious community and its leadership.
Religious leaders are skilled in talking about hope.
There are specific religious contours both to the abuse that is suffered by people of deep faith and to the healing journey. As a result, many in the secular therapeutic community do not like to work with clients who are particularly religious. Without spiritual credentials, these workers find it difficult to challenge the religious ideation that is believed by the victim or perpetrator to give license to abuse. For collaborative ventures between churches and community agencies to be successful—what I like to call paving the pathway between the steeple and the shelter—personnel from both paradigms must recognize the need to work together to end violence. A cultural language that is devoid of religious symbols, meanings, and legitimacy is relatively powerless to alter a religious victim’s resolve to staying the marriage no matter what the cost. Correspondingly, the language of the spirit, if devoid of the practical resources of contemporary culture, compromises a victim’s need for safety, security, and financial resources to care for herself and her children.
Principles to help build bridges:
- Recognize the signs of a congregation that is sensitive to the suffering of abuse victims; my top-ten.
- Recognize the signs of a community agency that is sensitive to the importance of religious faith;
- Informal networks of support are a critical feature in the long term care of women who have been violated and men who have been abusive.
Strategies to help build bridges:
- Place brochures for the local shelter in the women’s washroom—a place where they can be read in private;
- Place shoe-cards for the local shelter in each stall of the women’s bathroom—a woman needing immediate safety can place the card in her shoe and call the help line later;
- Place brochures such as our downloadable resource Christian Love Should Not Hurt in the local shelter
- Publicize any faith-based support groups for survivors at the local shelter;
- Publicize any community-based support groups for survivors in your congregation’s bulletin or place a poster in the women’s washroom.
Questions to ask yourself:
(if you work in a community-based agency)
- What is available in our community to survivors that would offer ongoing support in their lives long after the immediate crisis period has ended?
- How might our agency take advantage of the resources of faith groups in disseminating information about survivor support groups?
- Do we do or say anything in our agency that would give the message to a client that their faith is irrelevant—or to blame—for the problems they face?
Questions to ask yourself:
(if you are a religious leader)
- What is available in our faith community for survivors that would offer ongoing support in their lives long after the immediate crisis period has ended?
- How might I identify those in our congregation who have some professional expertise or interest in helping to support families impacted by domestic violence? Should we form a committee to consider how our congregation could address this issue?
- Do we do or say anything in our congregation that would give the message to a man or woman that if they are strong in their faith that their families will always be happy and remain intact?