Clergy Responses to Domestic Violence -- By: Steven R. Tracy

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 21:2 (Spring 2007)
Article: Clergy Responses to Domestic Violence
Author: Steven R. Tracy

Clergy Responses to Domestic Violence

Steven R. Tracy

STEVEN R. TRACY is Professor of Theology and Ethics at Phoenix Seminary and Director of Research and Curriculum at Mending the Soul Ministries. Dr. Tracy also serves the state of Arizona on the Governor’s Commission for the Prevention of Violence against Women.

Of all the social problems confronted by the church, domestic violence is surely one of the most misunderstood and mismanaged by church leaders. I still look back with deep embarrassment on the time when, as a young pastor, I was offended that our women’s ministry had invited a special speaker to address the topic of domestic violence at the mid-week women’s Bible study. I was certain they were simply stirring up trouble where no real problem existed. After all, we were an evangelical church and abuse did not happen in our church. In my youthful naiveté (and chauvinism), little did I realize that abuse does happen in evangelical churches. In fact, at that very time, one of the church elders had been beating his wife for years and had put her in the hospital several times. I also did not realize that one of our pastors was about to be arrested for child abuse. Like most clergy, I had gone into the ministry with a deep and genuine desire to serve and help others, but because I was clueless regarding the reality and dynamics of domestic violence, I was unable to minister to abusers and their families. In fact, I made matters worse.


Before we can specifically address clergy responses to domestic violence, we must define the problem. Domestic violence (DV) is the use or threat of physical violence to control a family member or intimate partner. In other words, it is the use of force to control someone who should be treated with great love and respect. This dynamic helps to explain why domestic violence is so damaging to its victims. Domestic violence covers a broad range of behaviors, from extreme physical violence such as punching, choking, kicking, or assaulting with weapons, to less violent acts such as slapping, holding someone down, punching the wall, throwing objects at someone, or deliberately injuring someone’s property or pets. It is important to understand that, while many victims of domestic violence experience significant, and, in some cases, severe physical injuries, domestic violence involves much more than just acts that cause physical injury. It involves both the use of physical force and the threat of physical force to control another. So, if someone (most often a child or a woman) feels threatened by a husband, father, or boyfriend raging, punching the wall, destroying their personal possessions, threatening to injure them or their other family members, etc., that person has suffered domestic violence. And d...

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