Friday, October 06, 2006

Domestic Violence: the Story of a Dancer

Psalm 140 - Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from those who are violent.

I'm taking some time today to remember an engaging young woman I met some years ago in a suburb of Washington, D.C. I'll call her Eva. Before her marriage, Eva had been a sought-after professional ballerina. Now she was wife to an alcoholic and drug-addicted husband and mother to two little boys.

Eva came to our church at a friend's invitation. She heard the Good News of new life in Christ with an open heart. She prayed for God to forgive her of sin, give her strength and hope, and bless her new friends and sisters in the Lord. She asked us to please pray for her husband who was, she said, "difficult." He had come to church once or twice, and I vaguely remembered him as handsome but frowning.

Tall and willowy with long arms and legs, Eva moved with remarkable grace. She had a beautiful face with large dark eyes, and her brown hair was thick and shiny. More importantly, her spirit seemed beautiful too. She was quiet, loving--and hungry to learn more about God. She began to attend church faithfully, bringing her two shy little boys with her. She attended Bible Study and began to grow in her faith. She was baptized. We rejoiced.

But after a time we began to sense that something was very wrong. Eva often appeared tense. She grew even thinner, and dark circles rimmed her eyes. I remember one sunny Saturday morning as I was sorting Sunday School materials, Eva entered the church wearing dirty blue jeans and a man's long-sleeved shirt in spite of the summer heat and humidity. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and her face was devoid of makeup even though there was a bruise on her cheek. I greeted her, concerned, but she passed me quickly and went down the hall to the associate pastor's office.

A few days later we heard the horrible news. Eva had been shot--killed in her own home-- and her husband was in police custody. No one seemed to know where the children were, and we prayed for them for several days. Later we learned that they were with their grandparents.

The associate pastor eventually told me some of the details. I never knew why he chose to tell me. Eva was routinely beaten by her husband who often came home in a rage. The pastor had hoped that the husband, when he saw the transformation in his wife, would become interested in spiritual things. Such was not the case. A counseling session ended badly, and he never came back. Eva did however. She confided in the pastor that she often escaped in terror with her children--running to the woods behind their house and sometimes spending the night there on blankets she stashed in a tree.

What was the pastor's counsel? (He told me this with tears in his eyes.) He had told her to be more submissive. He told her to obey her husband and to strive to please him in every way. He told her that if she did what the Bible said, God would take care of her and her children.

Now she was dead.

What haunts me most about this story is not that Eva suffered abuse and was brutally murdered. It is not that her two children now had a daddy in prison and a mommy in Heaven. It is what my pastor said. He was a young man, good hearted, kind and earnest. He said to me, in distress, "Perhaps I should not have told her those things. Perhaps I should have helped her get away from him."


I am thankful that many mainline churches "get" this, and that many evangelical churches are at least somewhat more aware of these issues today. I would like to think that no pastor would ever give such misguided and potentially deadly advice. I would like to think so--but I do not.

In most states in the USA, October is "Domestic Violence Awareness Month." I spent some time looking at statistics from Wisconsin, a relatively rural state. There were nearly 30,000 reports of domestic violence--and the majority of incidents are unreported! Almost 30 people died in domestic violence situations last year in Wisconsin alone.

I read some descriptions of domestic violence that had turned deadly. I noted that many times the victim was a Sunday School teacher, a choir member, or performed some other service to a church body. One was a long-time Lutheran, another an organist at First Baptist, another attended a large Methodist church. I couldn't help but wonder, "Did anyone in the church family know? Did the pastor know? If so, what message did she receive?" And I remembered Eva.

I know from my own ministry experience that not everyone listens to a pastor who seeks to help them recognize and deal with abuse. Sometimes our best and most sincere attempts to help are unsuccessful. I do not wish to say that all pastors or all churches are failing women who are abused.

But many are.

If you are being abused and believe you must submit to such behavior, if you are a Christian who wants to know what scripture says about this issue, if you are a pastor or a concerned person, may I suggest that you please read
Keeping the Faith by Marie Fortune.

I keep copies of this wonderful little volume to give away. Written in a question-and-answer format with a combination of sympathy, psychological and theological insight, and solid grounding in Scripture, Fortune provides straightforward answers to battered Christian women. She shares simply and powerfully about how our faith addresses family violence. The author is a recognized authority on the subject of abuse, and she is a minister in the United Church of Christ.

The link above will take you to You might want to read the reviews posted there if you still think that pastors and other well-meaning but mistaken Christians do not contribute to the problem.

Pray with me for those who hide the pain and the bruises, and the scars--not just the ones on the body but the sometimes deeper ones on the spirit. And pray for the Church, the representation of Christ in this world, to understand that the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of value, freedom and joy.


HeyJules said...

He really told her to be more submissive? Really? That just blows my mind...

Evidently he'd never had the crap beat out of him.

zorra said...

Through tears, I thank you. So many people need to hear this message.
I have been racking my brain (and my bookcase) to come up with a twenty-year-old essay by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite about doing Bible studies with women in shelters because of domestic violence, helping them to understand who they are in Christ and why they therefore should not submit to abuse. Maybe someone else has the reference.

Anonymous said...

I would have had a hard time believing that a pastor would actually do that if I hadn't recently read Women, abuse, and the Bible :how Scripture can be used to hurt or to heal edited by Catherine Clark Kroegar and James R. Beck

Not that I wouldn't have believed you - but I wouldn't have been able to get my mind around the fact that any pastor in their right mind would have done that... Its still hard to imagine...

Jody Harrington said...

What a ghastly story. I'm sure that young pastor still suffers guilt today. I don't understand how anyone could give that kind of counsel, or follow it either.

Thanks for speaking out.

Jules said...

Amen, sister! That'll preach!

Questing Parson said...

I pray for her soul, for her children and their grandparents. I pray for you. But most of all I pray for that pastor whose letter of the law has come up against the reality of living.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

SingingOwl said...
The two little boys would be adults now. And for a while we kept track of that particular pastor. We left that church to move to North Dakota and study theology. His father was one of Ken and my favorite professors back in the day, so we learned that he had taken a senior pastorate elsewhere. He was a good man. After we earned our degrees and moved to Wisconsin we lost track of him. I do know he is still an AG minister. It is tragic, isn't it? I have wondered about him over the years. Did he come to understand why his advice was wrong? I pray so. I vaguely recall that I knew he was mistaken, but I do not know that I could have articulated why. It was patriarchy at it's uglies, I believe. As if the single most important thing in a woman's life is pleasing a husband.

DannyG said...

My wife (J) is a survivor of both domestic violence and rape. We are both on the board of the local women's shelter and (J) had been pressing our church (a large 1st church in a beautiful historic location) to do a program on Domestic Violence. It took over a year to get the program committee to approve it for the 1st Wed. in October (and I'm the chair of the Health & wellness committee!) A couple of days before the program the woman who does outreach programs for our shelter, and who was going to do 1/2 of the program, came down with pneumonia. We offered to do the display before the Wed. night service and additionally (J) offered to fill in with the talk....and she hates public speaking with a passion... with her personal testimony about her personal experience with Domestic violence and sexual abuse. (nothing graphic, but no sugar coating, either). The program chairwoman and the associate pastor both vetoed being not appropriate to this venue. (for what it is worth, the youngest person attending the program was 30, save for the daughter of the Ass. State's Attourney for Domestic Violence..and I figure that she's heard much worse). It seems that the program committee wanted a nice, sterile talk. Facts, figures, what the local shelters offer, but nothing too personal or, heaven forbid, something which had touched a member of the congregation.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Oh. I am so sorry. Nothing too personal? Oh, God help us. I don't have a program committee. Good thing, huh? Thank you, and J., for caring and working with this issue. I am praying for her right now, and the shelter, and the church.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

I forgot to say this this story was part of Sunday's sermon. And another one almost as bad, except the woman survived, no thanks to the church.

Unknown said...

How sad how sad, and a word for the church to not ignore the signs.

Must have been some sermon.

river song said...

that was so worth re-posting and reading again; thanks, SingingOwl!