Domestic Violence and Spiritual Abuse: Part 5


Helena, a domestic violence advocate, asked Michelle, a survivor of intimate partner violence, if she would like to meet with me. The occasion for this request was due to the fact that Michelle had been told by her pastor and several members of the Christian congregation at which she had been a faithful member since childhood that no matter what her husband did to her—emotionally, psychologically, sexually or spiritually “good Christian wives never abandon their marriage vows.”

Demonstrating a strong knowledge in matters of advocacy, Helena also realized that her understanding of spirituality and spiritual abuse was limited. So, with the permission of Michelle, she asked me to collaborate with her.

I met the two women in a garden area just outside of the medical center’s main cafeteria. The location was selected with intent: a beautiful and quiet space that offered a sense of openness and safety. My office, I feared, with its florescent lights and narrow off-white colored walls might cause Michelle to experience further confinement.

Michelle disclosed that her husband, a church leader, was controlling from “day one.” Believing that a man was head of his wife and the entire household, he kept all financial matters a secret; dictated her diet, dress, friendships and worship patterns; and had sex with her on demand. He also “twisted Scripture“ she said, to justify his ill treatment of her.

After sharing for about ten minutes Michelle asked me, “Is this how God and Jesus view women? My husband, pastor and church think so, what are your thoughts?”

My role as I understood it was to allow Michelle to share what she desired. It was not to offer her a critical analysis on her congregation’s beliefs and doctrine. So I responded to the query she made with a question of my own. 

“How do you yourself believe God and Jesus Christ view women?” I asked. Pondering for a few minutes, Michelle replied, “I believe neither God nor Jesus would condone my husband’s sins against me. Furthermore, I am a child of God with equal value and worth to any man, despite what my pastor and church teach.” 

My response to Michelle’s profound statements was short, “I agree wholeheartedly with you.”

When addressing situations of domestic violence, we offer the best possibilities for victim-survivor safety and offender accountability when we work in partnership with individuals from a wide variety of disciplines—medical, legal, spiritual, mental health, criminal justice. Consider further the work put forth by the individuals serving at Rose Brooks Center, a domestic violence awareness agency located in Kansas City, Missouri.

“My role at Rose Brooks Center is to coordinate our efforts in partnering with various segments of the community to increase victim safety and offender accountability,” says Tanya Draper Douthit, the Director of Community Programs. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work and also has a clinical social work license. 

“Through our Bridge Program at Rose Brooks Center, we have domestic violence advocates who are actually co-located out in Kansas City metro-area hospitals. We have access to provide training to hospital staff; our advocates are part of the new nurses’ orientation process and present on health impacts of domestic violence, as well as on how to connect with the Bridge Program to have an on-site advocacy response to their patients.”

Members of the Rose Brooks Center team also provide training to legal professionals, physicians, social workers and to hospital chaplains.

“What we do with chaplains is encourage participation from their departments on our taskforces at each of our partner hospitals. Having representation from spiritual care definitely adds a lot of value.” 

That value and its impact on survivors is profound. Spiritual care can affirm, empower and renew a survivor’s total being. 

In the story highlighted at the beginning of this posting, shortly after I told Michelle I agreed with her statement that neither God nor Jesus Christ condoned domestic violence or viewed women in a subservient role to men, she and her advocate left the medical center. Later that day, Helena phoned to tell me that Michelle found my silent presence and brief statement “spiritually healing” and further strengthened her resolve to “live life free from bondage.”

This goal is now a reality for Michelle. She divorced her abusive husband, moved to another part of the country, and finds spiritual fulfillment worshipping at a Christian congregation that teaches the equal value and worth of females and males.

“By having the knowledge and domestic violence education, chaplains are able to share that with patients with whom they may interact,” Ms. Draper Douhit explains. “We sometimes get direct referrals from chaplains. Perhaps, a patient either wasn’t screened or did not answer in the affirmative to the domestic violence screening questions—but then has a visit with the chaplain in the hospital. The chaplain feels like a safe person so [the patient] may disclose, and the chaplain will refer to us, as well as connect with that patient around safety planning and next step sort of things. So chaplains certainly provide a lot of value to the overall idea of creating a culture in which domestic violence survivors who are patients or staff feel safe.”

The Rose Brooks Center is just one shining example of how community members can incorporate spiritual care in their responses to domestic violence and support for survivors. In our next post, we’ll be exploring what members of the clergy and congregation can do too.

About the Author 

The Reverend Al Miles is a member of the Joyful Heart Foundation’s Board of Directors. Since 1993, he has served with Pacific Health Ministry as the coordinator of the Hospital Ministry department at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. A nationally recognized expert on how culture, faith, religion and spirituality intersect with domestic and sexual violence, especially when perpetrated against women and children, Miles speaks widely on these topics. He has authored four books and hundreds of articles on intimate partner violence. Rev. Miles is a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains and has been an ordained minister in the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) since 1983. 

This is the fifth in Rev. Miles's series. Read his previous posts below.

Part 1: Why Must We Talk about Spiritual Abuse?

Part 2: Five Pillars of Christian Thought

Part 3: On the Myths of Male Entitlement, Male Privilege and Female Subjugation

Part 4: A Survivor's Story, A Pastor's Response

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