Violence Against Women and Children

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The deafening and disabling silence that has surrounded the abuse of women and children is being broken. We now know that overwhelming numbers of women and children in our churches and communities are being battered, raped, emotionally and psychologically abused, and physically and sexually assaulted. The abuse occurs in communities of every racial composition and every economic status, in rural areas as well as cities, in families adhering to every religion and to no religion. Silence will no longer shield us from our complicity in the violence nor from our failure to overcome it.

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church affirm the family as “the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity.” Clearly violence and abuse cannot be tolerated within such an understanding. The Social Principles are explicit: “We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms—verbal, psychological, physical, sexual—is detrimental to the covenant of the human community. We encourage the Church to provide a safe environment, counsel and support for the victim. While we deplore the actions of the abuser, we affirm that person to be in need of God’s redeeming love.”

We acknowledge the ways in which misinterpretation and misuse of Christian Scriptures and traditions have contributed to violence against women and children, and to the guilt, self-blame, and suffering which victims experience, and to the rationalizations used by those who abuse. A reexamination of those misused passages can help us reclaim traditions in ways that support victims and challenge abuse in the family.

Stories of violence against women and children are so common that we scarcely notice them, even in the Bible. Yet, they are there. Women, only a few of them even named, are abused, rejected, and raped by brothers, husbands, and strangers. Daughters are traded and sacrificed. A concubine wife is sliced into pieces by the master who traded her body for his own safety. Yet even this last, most violent story, in Judges 19, cannot be used to justify abuse for it ends with this command: “Consider it, take counsel and speak” (vs. 30). It is the silence, the unwillingness to acknowledge the horror, which leaves victims isolated, protects perpetrators, and thwarts healing. We are commanded to break the silence, to give credence to the stories, to be agents of wholeness and justice.

Jesus’ concern for the victim is seen in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). By concluding this parable with the words, “Go and do likewise,” Jesus indicates that we are to receive all people who have been violated or abused, who are weak or vulnerable, with particular compassion and caring. Jesus made it clear that meeting a legalistic obligation is not enough; we must go beyond the letter of the law in reaching out to comfort and assist those who have been harmed.

The church must re-examine the theological messages it communicates in light of the experiences of victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. We must treat with extreme care the important, but often-misused, concepts of suffering, forgiveness, and the nature of marriage and the family.

Situations of violence and abuse exist in families in virtually every congregation; tragically, no church or community is exempt. As part of a research project conducted by the Ministries with Women, Children and Families program of the General Board of Global Ministries, pastors who had asserted their conviction that there were no families experiencing violence or abuse in their congregations were asked to mention the issues from the pulpit, using words like battering, rape, incest and child abuse. All those who reported related that members subsequently came to them with current stories of abuse in their families. Clearly, church families are not immune, and many are waiting for a signal that these concerns are appropriate ones with which to share and struggle in the community of faith.

The church is challenged to listen to the stories of victims and survivors and to seek information and guidance that will lead to wiser and more effective ways to minister with persons who experience domestic violence and sexual abuse. The church must be a refuge for people who are hurting, and it is an entirely appropriate place for these issues to be addressed. Many congregations are finding ways to demonstrate that the church is a place where people can feel confident in turning to first, not last, for comfort and healing.

People of faith should take the lead in calling for a just response by the community in the face of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Justice-making involves several steps: righteous anger; compassion for the victim; advocacy for the victim; holding the offender legally and spiritually accountable for his or her sin against the victim and the community; treatment for the offender; and prevention of further abuse by addressing the societal roots and not merely the symptoms of violence and abuse.

Policy Statements and Actions

The United Methodist Church affirms the sacredness of all persons and their right to safety, nurture and care. It names domestic violence and sexual abuse as sins and pledges to work for their eradication. The church commits itself to listen to the stories of battered spouses, rape victims, abused children, adult survivors of child sexual abuse, and all others who are violated and victimized. The church further commits itself to provide leadership in responding with justice and compassion to the presence of domestic violence and sexual abuse among its membership and within the community at large.

The following actions are commended to local congregations:

1. Create a church climate of openness, acceptance, and safety that encourages victims to speak of their pain and seek relief and healing.

2. Encourage all clergy and lay leaders to work collaboratively with community agencies on prevention strategies and to provide for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of victims, offenders, and other family members.

3. Adopt policy and procedures for keeping children and vulnerable adults safe from abuse in church facilities and programs.

4. Assess currently available prevention and response resources in the community and, where indicated as appropriate, initiate new programs and services. Wherever possible, undertake new programs ecumenically or as part of a community coalition.

5. Set up peer support groups for battered spouses, for adults who were sexually abused as children, and for rape victims. A trained resource person or professional counselor should be consulted for assistance in setting up peer support groups.

6. Encourage church members to volunteer their services to existing shelters, crisis centers, and other community services. Insist upon training for volunteers.

7. Re-examine, and change if necessary, scriptural and theological messages, cultures, and traditions that validate violence or abuse or support a view of women as subordinate to men or children as property of adults. Pay particular attention to church teachings on repentance and forgiveness.

8. Maintain a library of printed and video resources on domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and the role of the church. Develop a utilization plan.

9. Participate in Domestic Violence Awareness Month each October and Child Abuse Prevention Month each April in the United States, or similar emphases in other countries.

10. Urge clergy to preach on domestic violence and sexual abuse topics; urge congregants to host or cooperate in community education events and to highlight opportunities for involvement in prevention and service activities.

The following actions are commended to annual conferences, general agencies, and seminaries:

1. Provide, for clergy and laity, education and training that address domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Seminaries are urged to include courses in their curriculum, and annual conferences are urged to offer courses in their continuing education programs for clergy.

2. Support policies, programs, and services that protect victims, hold offenders accountable, and provide support for family members.

3. Provide training in abuse prevention, detection, and intervention to church school teachers, youth leaders and pastors, and encourage them to use abuse prevention curriculum. Include specific guidelines and training for abuse reporting procedures.

4. Develop and implement clear policies to deal with sexual abuse by clergy and others who provide leadership in the church.

5. Encourage governments to ratify the United Nations Conventions on “The Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” and on “The Rights of the Child” as minimum global standards to protect women and children.


See Social Principles, ¶ 162C and F.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2004. Copyright © 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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