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Online Training Lesson #5: Religious Leaders and the Family

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 provide educational resources to all age groups.

Congregations across this nation provide resources to a variety of age groups. Consider for example the role of Sunday School classes, youth group activities, young mom’s morning out, men’s groups, senior’s events, marriage preparation classes, summer camps, and so on. Clergy are called upon at various stages of the life course and are positioned therefore to offer much needed support for ensuring that every family is safe. I often use the slogan, “There is no place like home…When abuse strikes, there is no home.” Providing appropriate resources that clearly state that violence is wrong is something every faith leader can do.

Religious leaders are regarded by many as experts on “marriage” and the family.

Most highly religious people choose to be married in a service that “blesses” their union. Many religious leaders hold classes for marriage preparation, while others meet privately with those wishing to be married in church-sanctioned services. This provides a unique opportunity for religious leaders to speak clearly and honestly about abuse. They can state what marriage should be and offer suggestions if the reality of married life deviates from that ideal. We have learned from many abused religious women that they sought the help of the pastor who married them when abuse became their reality. Since many faith traditions celebrate “family values” it is imperative that the leaders speak out when abuse becomes the reality of family life. A coordinated community response needs to include these voices.

Principles to help build bridges:

  • Recognize that stopping abuse needs intervention strategies for all age groups;
  • Recognize that stopping abuse is not a “women’s issue”…it is a community issue;
  • Raising awareness about the prevalence and severity of abuse is an important step in any community response;
  • Sending out a coordinated community message that abuse is wrong is everybody’s business.

Strategies to help build bridges:

  1. Brainstorm on all the different venues in your community where awareness-raising on abuse could occur;
  2. Invite representatives of several of those organizations (like the schools, the Boys and Girls Club, senior citizen homes, community health clinic, emergency room of the local hospital) to a meeting to discuss an awareness-raising campaign. If such events are already planned in your community, join in these efforts.
  3. Identify organizations/interested groups in the community that might develop a project together that would target youth, or seniors, or recent immigrants or some other under-serviced constituency in your region.

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

  1. How could we be more pro-active in our agency in terms of speaking out against violence?
  2. Have we ever been involved in a multi-agency or multi-disciplinary campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence or severity of abuse in our community or city?
  3. Have we thought about the different needs of clients according to age, cultural diversity or gender? Do we offer culturally sensitive assistance? Religiously sensitive assistance?

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

  1. How could we be more pro-active in our congregation in terms of speaking out against violence? Do we ever discuss abuse in youth meetings? Senior’s events? Or in training days for teachers of children’s programs?
  2. How do I use the opportunities available to me as a pastor to raise such awareness, e.g., the Sunday morning sermon, my pastoral prayer in church, pre-marital counseling sessions, informal speaking venues throughout the church calendar year?
  3. Have we thought carefully as a pastoral staff about cultural diversity in our congregation in terms of the printed materials that are given out?