By Rev Paul N. Papas II
Setting the Captives Free
A Christian Theology for Domestic Violence
By Ron Clark
I was first introduced to the author at a PASCH (Peace and Safety in the Christian Home) conference in Portland, Oregon in May. Ron Clark was one of the speakers who had a clear understanding of the issues and down to earth. He is an experienced Pastor who recently started a new church in the city which we attended on Sunday. He did tell us some exciting news that the credentialing authority for Christian Seminaries has taken the first step toward requiring Domestic Violence training.
Three things are important to note about this book. First, it is written for anyone involved in or touched by domestic violence, not just Christians. Second, two of his sources known in this area are Lundy Bancroft and the Boston Medical Center. And third, that he did not come from abuse. In his preface Ron Clark explains that was watching Forrest Gump for the third time when he got it. “Jenny had come back to see Forest at his home in Alabama. They went by her old home, which was now abandoned, and she began to get angry. She yelled and threw rocks at the house. That’s when I got it. She had been abused as a child! It all came together. Her erratic behavior in the movie, her distant love of Forrest (the only man who truly loved her), and her choices in life were all understandable now. How could have I missed it?”
Ron Clark then proceeds to tell of his journey, struggles and mistakes as he proceeded to help victims of abuse. In his zeal he made rookie mistakes that he includes as a teaching tool for anyone who has a thought getting involved in an abusive situation. This is not a how to book, nor is it a long sermon. Is it rather a book by someone who has experience both in a church setting and in the trenches dealing with people with various beliefs. It can be used by anyone who comes in contact with an abusive situation or those affected by abuse to include untold succeeding generations.
He does quite handily address the misuse of the Bible scriptures by various people who bend them to justify abuse, the abuser and a requirement that a marriage be preserved at all costs. Ron Clark does believe that both the abused and the abuser can be helped. They both need to be loved and counseled, just not in the same setting together. They both need a church family. The abuser needs to be held accountable for his or her actions. It has been shown that people are more likely to heal when they have hope and have a faith community for support. Ron Clark says:” Domestic Violence is not only a crime against humanity; it is a sin against God. The community of faith is called to protect victims and prevent the abuse of power.”
Many people have been re-victimized by words or actions of people in power even if they have good intentions. Ron Clark wrote this book in clear concise language to help us stop and think before we speak or act. Many people have told the lie that sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Abusive, degrading, demeaning words cut deeper and last longer than broken bones. Sometimes the people who are helping exercise more control over the people they purport to help.
In his introduction he sobers the uninitiated with facts from various sources of how wide spread domestic violence really is. “In America two to four million have indicated that their spouses or live in partners physically abused them during the year. Twenty to twenty-five percent of all women reported that their partners abused them at least one. One out of four American women report having been raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, live-in partner, or date at some time in their life. Twenty-five to forty percent of dating couples experience physical violence. Hospital emergency rooms indicate that twenty to thirty percent of women seeking treatment are victims of battering. Every day in America at least three women are murdered by their husband or intimate partner. Throughout the world, one in three women have confessed to having been beaten, coerced into sex, or experienced other forms of abuse. Domestic Violence is estimated to be much higher within the United States military than within civilian families”
More disturbing are the reports that he shares to show that it is not just the spouse, but children and other family members that are affected by the abuse. “One-third of abused women indicate that they were abused the first time during pregnancy…,( which may) contribute to low birth weights infants. In a study done by Boston Medical Center over one-third of children reported seeing violence by fathers against mothers when a parent reported that no violence occurred. Children brought up in abusive homes have a higher risk of being abused. It is estimated that 5 million children per year witness an assault on their mothers. Around forty five percent of abusive men extend their behavior pattern to other family members.”
Ron Clark explains the definitions of Domestic Violence and how “abuse is not about anger”, rather “about control and forced compliance.” Then he explains issues of victims, abusers, children in abusive homes and family in friends in his next section. He then goes into depth explaining effects of Domestic Violence on the
Family System with cultural considerations.
His whole section on the theology for Domestic Violence is well written and accurately supports his belief “that the spiritual community must address domestic violence from the perspective of abusive power and control issues. First, the source of spirituality, God, is not abusive or controlling. Second, the community must reflect our Creator by confronting abusive behavior and empowering victims to be strong and safe. Third, victims are to be protected by the faith community. Instead of further oppressing them or humiliating them, we must empower them to be safe and loved. Too often the faith community calls the victim to forgive rather than the abuser/oppressors to repentance.”
I highly recommend this book as a must read for the faith community, those who work with abusers, the abused or those affected by abuse.
Rev Paul N. Papas II is a Pastoral Counselor with Narrow Path Ministries, current President of NAMI Greater Framingham, Board member of the Sudbury-Wayland-Lincoln Domestic Violence Roundtable, member of PASCH and CJPC and a paralegal.