“Little did she know her reality was a façade,
Made of broken promises and crumbling threats with a rod.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month1 and I hadn’t intended to write about it. Aside from helping a friend through a horrible situation years ago, I haven’t had any experience with this, so didn’t think there was much I could say. But I was compelled to write for these reasons:
#1 This is happening in the church
I walked through The Clothesline Project display last night at Azusa Pacific University and was appalled to see that Christian men had often instigated the verbal abuse, sexual assaults, and physical violence women wrote about. I mentioned this on Facebook and within 24 hours received messages from women in my own church who had experienced some of these things. I’m embarrassed to say that I had no idea. How can that be?
I was aware that 1 in 3 women will experience physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetime2 (and 1 in 4 men, though it is less violent in nature), but I recently learned that it makes no difference if you are a Christian or not. The next time you sit in church look around and think about that.
If you are surprised by these statistics you are not alone. A 2014 survey of 1000 Protestant pastors sponsored by Sojourners found that 74% underestimate the level of domestic violence in their congregations, and that when they do address it they often do more harm than good. This must be addressed.
#2 Beliefs have serious (even life-threatening) consequences
While following the Ray Rice/NFL debacle I came across a two minute clip of CBS Sports anchor James Brown challenging men about domestic violence. These particular comments hit home:
“[We need] comprehensive education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is all about. And it starts with how we view women. When a guy says, ‘you throw a ball like a girl’ or ‘you’re a sissy,’ it reflects an attitude that devalues women, and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion.”
Whether we want to admit it or not, church teaching that places women under men’s authority, simply because of their gender, communicates that women have lesser value. Dallas Willard puts it this way: “the exclusion of women from ‘official’ ministry positions leaves women [and men] with the impression that there is something wrong with them.”
Complicating things further, the survey mentioned above found that 65% of pastors had spoken once or less about domestic violence in the past year. “The majority of pastors do not consider sexual or domestic violence central to larger religious themes” the report states. When the church fails to confront attitudes that devalue women, it becomes part of the problem.
#3 The young woman who wrote this poem
At The Clothesline Project I read the following poem about a young woman’s experience with domestic violence in a “Christian” marriage. As I imagined her bravely reaching up to pin her T-shirt on the line, I made a commitment to learn more and to speak up about this injustice. May her words be a wake-up call to all of us that something has got to change, especially in the church.
Looking backwards in time through the portal of the past,
I see a girl once desperately trying to make it last.
She held onto a shred of hope that was never real,
Defending fake treasure, risking it all so no one would steal.
Little did she know her reality was a façade,
Made of broken promises and crumbling threats with a rod.
Innocent and naïve she would follow him anywhere,
Despite the obvious truth he was never going to care.
That boy was once her hero rescuing her from being alone,
Trying so hard to please him, she ignored what was being shown.
He never loved. He never protected. He never respected.
Getting away with murder because she never detected,
The lack of all the qualities essential to sustain life,
There was never a difference between being his object and being his wife,
When she was met in that final moment with the true depravity of his heart,
All that was left of her was a tiny sliver of a dying part,
She had to let go of the dream of happily ever after,
Crying the tears so she could fully embrace the laughter,
Now she looks ahead and sees all the possibility,
If she never knew captivity, she would never fully enjoy being free.
Grace in abundance is lavished on her soul,
Where he left her empty she is now whole,
That misrepresentation of love will not define,
I know because that redemption story is mine.
1. Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity can vary dramatically.
2. Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
The Clothesline Project is a visual display that bears witness to the violence against women. During the public display, a clothesline is hung with shirts. Each shirt is decorated to represent a particular woman’s experience, by the survivor herself or by someone who cares about her.
Photo Credit: Women’s Resource Center, Azusa Pacific University