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Online Training Lesson #6: Religious leaders and marginalized people

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 often in regular contact with those who are marginalized.

The prophets of old highlighted the importance of attending to the needs and circumstances of the poor. Some have even suggested that God has a preferential option for those who are marginalized or oppressed. To be sure, contemporary congregations across the nation fall short of the mandate to care for those who are vulnerable. Yet, religious leaders and the congregations they lead offer a range of resources—practical and emotional in nature—which respond to human need. Marginalized men and women continue to look to churches and other religious organizations for help. Whether their needs are met is another matter, of course.

Principles to help build bridges:

  • Everyone in the community deserves a place to go for help when violence occurs;
  • Communities need to recognize the most vulnerable groups in their region and ensure that there are specific services to meet their needs;
  • There must be resources available for those who cannot pay for help.

Strategies to help build bridges:

  1. Contact any local grass-roots community organizations that work with immigrant families and ask what materials they have available in which languages. Ask in particular about brochures on abuse and safety planning. If these are not yet available, consider ways that the community could help raise funds to cover translation and printing costs.
  2. Identify any local (or national) community organizations that work specifically with first nations women. Ask if they are willing to share with your church or agency brochures on abuse or safety planning that they make available to aboriginal women.
  3. Contact the local anti-poverty association, the food bank, the soup kitchen or other community groups that focus on the provision of food for those in need of assistance.

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

  1. How could we improve our services to immigrant or aboriginal women in need of shelter or ongoing support after violence in the home?
  2. Are all of our printed materials available in the languages represented in our community?
  3. Have we thought about how to make our services comfortable for those who do not share the same holiday traditions, culinary customs or family practices as the majority in our community?

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

  1. How diverse is our congregation in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic factors or age? Is it less diverse than the community in which we live?
  2. Have we thought carefully as a pastoral staff about cultural diversity in our congregation in terms of the printed materials that are given out?
  3. Do we include notions of diversity (in terms of family type, socio-economic status, and ethnic background) in the programs that we offer, the classes that we teach, or the discussions in which we engage?
  4. From sermon illustrations to the cartoons in the bulletin, do we focus mostly on two-parent families, or middle class families, or white families? Do we sometimes suggest (even inadvertently) that single parent households are second class?