Dr. David Williams, Honorary Associate of Health Ministries for the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists presented a challenging message to church leaders during the Annual Council session of October 12th. His presentation centered on the EndItNow – Effectively Confronting Domestic Violence initiative.
The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”. These acts can present themselves in physical, sexual, economic, or psychological ways. In 2018, the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime reported that, “the home is the single most dangerous place for women” because “a female runs a greater risk of assault, physical injury and murder in her home than in any other setting.” Recent studies have shown that women make up 82% of the total homicides that occur by intimate partners or family members; that is equal to approximately 50,000 women a year that die at the hands of an intimate partner or family member, or six women killed every hour, by someone they know. Currently, Africa has the highest rate of violence against women, followed by the Americas.
The Case in the Church
Unfortunately, violence against women is also prominent and an issue in the Church. The Seventh-day Adventist Church may be, both especially prone to domestic violence cases and yet have a protective measure at the same time. This is explained by the fact that domestic violence is said to be more common in small, theologically conservative religious groups. At the same time, domestic violence is twice as likely in families where the spouses belong to different religions. Given the low rate of Adventists marrying outside of their faith, this is likely a protective barrier. However, a random sample study conducted in 2006 of 1,431 Seventh-day Adventists from 70 churches across a five state region, found that 46% of survey participants reported that they experienced common couple violence, 29% reported experiencing sexual violence, while 10% reported severe physical violence. Though Dr. Williams shared several statistical figures, he emphatically declared, “the bottom line is [that] sexual harassment is common.”
The Church as Part of the Solution
Although there have been several laws formulated over recent years to end violence against women and help protect them from violence, there has been no progress in protecting and saving the lives of female victims and the number of female deaths from intimate partners is steadily increasing. So, what can be done? Williams encouraged listeners that while the church may not realistically be able to find a solution to the problem, “there is much that can be done that is central to the role of the church in society.”
Be Aware, Engage, Support
Dr. Williams presented a three-fold action plan for the church: Be Aware, Engage, and Support. Firstly he said, “the church must take a decided stand on the issue of abuse and regularly provide messages in sermons, in workshops, in seminars, in classes, in marriage enrichment activities and premarital counseling that domestic abuse is inappropriate, is un-Christlike and is wrong.”
In addition, he expressed the Church should work to educate and train its leaders, members, institutional workers, and pastors in regard to abuse. This will help eliminate the stigma and ignorance that is currently associated with domestic violence cases. Oftentimes, victims of domestic violence are afraid to speak to their church members, pastors, or leaders about what they are going through due to the shame and stigma associated with these cases. Additionally, part of being aware includes raising awareness through the use of posters, cards, leaflets and social media or their webpage. Most importantly, the Church needs to acknowledge the real pain that victims of sexual and/or physical abuse are subject to, as well as provide methods to help them heal, while also providing confrontation methods and assistance for abusers.
While increasing awareness, the Church should become engaged, which “involves the church becoming a safe place, with more considered actions being taken by the congregation and leadership [of the church].” Williams encouraged the use of online resources, books, and local experts to help church members and leaders understand the issue of domestic abuse.
Most importantly, churches need to support victims of domestic abuse in any way they can. Dr. Williams presented practical steps the Church can take to help combat domestic abuse, such as appointing a respected person(s) that can offer support or referral services, working with local organizations, and helping men acknowledge their problem and provide counseling to help them become true Christian men.
Dr. Williams ended his compelling presentation reminding church leaders that the church must act on this issue, as we have been commissioned to “…serve one another.” – Galatians 5:13 KJV