Religious leaders respond to domestic violence

Men and women who experience domestic violence have not always found compassion and help in their houses of worship. Some religious leaders, referring to scripture, say women should submit to their husbands. Others liken women’s suffering to that of Jesus’ on the cross. Some counsel forgiveness or suggest that a marriage must be saved at any cost.

Domestic violence cuts across economic, ethnic, racial, gender and faith lines. Advocates are creating organizations that offer training for clergy, resources for victims and campaigns to increase awareness of the problem.

Background

Now a growing number of faith leaders from a wide variety of traditions are trying to prevent domestic violence across the nation. Clergy are joining longtime advocates in saying that religious institutions have a moral and religious responsibility to answer and eliminate domestic violence. The increasing number of statements by denominations and organizations reflects that. One of those statements, the National Declaration by Religious and Spiritual Leaders to Address Violence Against Women, was signed by more than 2,000 clergy and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha’i traditions, among others.

What’s behind this push to address domestic violence within the framework of faith? Nancy Nason-Clark, a professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick who has written widely about religion and domestic violence, says the change is a result of a number of factors – the increased boldness of victims who are part of faith communities, more training opportunities for faith leaders and greater understanding among the public that religious leaders should be a part of a community’s response. The shift in attitude is important because Scripture and religious teachings have sometimes been used to justify, excuse or ignore the physical and emotional abuse of women.

Why it matters

Religious teachings have sometimes been used to justify the abuse of women and others. Now more leaders are stepping up to insist that religious groups must address domestic violence by offering victims safe haven, support and counseling and assuring them that religious teachings never justify abuse.

Religious groups' statements on domestic violence

Many faith groups have made statements about domestic violence. Among them:

Federal legislation

Articles

Studies

Religious organizations

Christian

  • Task Force to Stop Abuse Against Women

    The Task Force to Stop Abuse Against Women was formed in 1997 by members of the international World Evangelical Fellowship to educate evangelical clergy and to reduce domestic violence.

  • Peace and Safety in the Christian Home

    Peace and Safety in the Christian Home is a coalition of academics, professionals, clergy and laypeople alarmed by domestic violence in the Christian home. Contact co-founder and president Catherine Clark Kroeger, an associate professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.

  • Christian Coalition Against Domestic Abuse

    Christian Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (CCADA) is an organization dedicated to providing guiding leadership programs in communities to prevent domestic violence and to support those who have encountered the abuse. Contact through the website.

  • YWCA

    YWCA is a non-profit, global membership association run by and for women and their families that advocates peace, justice, human rights, environmental awareness and the rights of women.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

    Headquartered in Salt Lake City, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a presence in several countries.

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains a website with resources and administration guidelines for houses of worship. It has a section labeled “Abuse and Cruelty” that states that domestic violence towards any family member is not tolerated.

    Contact: 801-240-1670.

Jewish

  • Jewish Women International

    Jewish Women International advocates for the rights of women and children, including victims of abuse, in the Jewish community. It has offices and chapters around the United States. Loribeth Weinstein is executive director.

  • Awareness Center

    The Awareness Center was the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault, an international organization that addresses sexual violence in Jewish communities. It had a certification program for rabbis interested in working with victims of sexual violence. It closed in 2014, but the site is still provided for educational and historical purposes.

  • Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Violence

    The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Violence is an organization that provides resources and support to victims of domestic violence in the community.

Muslim

  • Peaceful Families Project

    The Peaceful Families Project produces workshops nationwide on domestic violence from a Muslim perspective. The organization is based in Great Falls, Va. Mona Malik is president.

  • Muslim Women’s League

    The Muslim Women’s League is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the status of women in the American Muslim community. Part of its mission is to create awareness about domestic violence within the American Muslim Community. It is based in Los Angeles.

  • Project Sakinah

    Project Sakinah is a Mulsim organization dedicated to stopping domestic abuse of all kinds in the family unit.

Multifaith

National sources

Government

Christian

  • Marie M. Fortune

    The Rev. Marie M. Fortune is founder and senior analyst at the Faith Trust Institute in Seattle, which works to end sexual and domestic violence, particularly in faith communities. She co-edited Forgiveness and Abuse: Jewish and Christian Reflections and is a United Church of Christ minister.

  • Sharon Ellis Davis

    The Rev. Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis is a United Church of Christ pastor in Chicago who teaches seminary classes on sexual and domestic violence at area seminaries. She is co-founder and senior pastor of God Can Ministries as well as a police officer and police chaplain.

  • Al Miles

    Al Miles is the author of Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know (Augsburg Fortress, 2000) and Violence in Families: What Every Christian Needs to Know (Augsburg Fortress, 2002). He lives in Honolulu, Hawaii. Contact through Rebecca Pollard, public relations.

    Contact: 808-547-4975.
  • Sam Sewell

    Rev. Sam and Bunny Sewell are founders of Battered Men – The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, a website dedicated to providing resources and facts on domestic violence towards men.

Jewish

  • Rachel Lev

    Rachel Lev is the author of Shine the Light: Sexual Abuse and Healing in the Jewish Community (Northeastern University Press, 2002).

  • Carol Goodman Kaufman

    Carol Goodman Kaufman is a psychologist and author of Sins of Omission: The Jewish Community’s Reaction to Domestic Violence (Westview Press, 2003). She is based at the Haddassah Institute at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

Muslim

  • Dr. Laila Al-Marayati

    Dr. Laila Al-Marayati is a physician and past president of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Muslim Women’s League, which represents Muslim women and supports the status of women as equal members of society. The league has a speakers bureau and position papers on topic issues such as divorce, honor killing, female genital mutilation, gender equality, inheritance and women’s dress. Members often speak at interfaith public events and at their children’s schools to increase awareness, particularly during Ramadan.

  • Salma Abugideiri

    Salma Abugideiri is co-director of the Peaceful Families Project and a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Sterling, Va. She is the co-author of What Islam Says About Domestic Violence: A Guide for Helping Muslim Families (Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help, 2003).

  • Summer Hathout

    Dr. Summer Hathout is a prosecutor in the Los Angeles district attorney’s office and co-founder of the Muslim Women’s League. She has written about misperceptions of domestic violence within the American Muslim community. Contact via Muslim Women’s League.

    Contact: 626-358-0335.

Other

  • Adelita Medina

    Adelita Medina is executive director of Alianza, the National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence. She has said that advocates for women who have experienced domestic violence should take a woman’s faith into consideration when trying to help her.

  • Leila R. Milani

    Leila R. Milani is co-chairwoman of the Working Group on Ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and is the NGO liaison for women’s issues for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is in the U.S. She is based in Washington, D.C.

  • Purvi Shah

    Purvi Shah is executive director of Sakhi for South Asian Women, a community-based organization in the New York metropolitan area committed to ending violence against women of South Asian origin.

  • Nancy Nason-Clark

    Nancy Nason-Clark is a professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada. She has written about the interface between religion and domestic violence for the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and is the co-author of Refuge From Abuse: Healing and Hope for Abused Christian Women (InterVarsity Press, 2004). She worked on a four-year project funded by the Lilly Endowment called RAVE, Religion and Violence e-Learning, a web-based system for assisting religious leaders in responding to domestic violence.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition

    The Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition (JDVC) was created in 1994 to unite concerned organizations and individuals in an effective response to domestic abuse in the Jewish community.

  • Joint Urban Ministry Project

    The Joint Urban Ministry Project is a collaborative ministry between religious organizations in Burlington, Vt. Among its clients are victims of domestic violence. Email through the website.

    Contact: 802-862-4501.
  • Mary McGee

    Mary McGee is the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Albright College in Reading, Penn. She is a former professor of religion and dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. She has written about Hinduism and the environment and Hindu architecture.

  • Margaret Abraham

    Margaret Abraham is a sociology professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. She is the author of Speaking the Unspeakable: Marital Violence Among South Asian Immigrants in the United States (Rutgers University Press, 2000).

  • Peaceful Families Project

    The Peaceful Families Project produces workshops nationwide on domestic violence from a Muslim perspective. The organization is based in Great Falls, Va. Mona Malik is president.

  • Traci West

    The Rev. Traci West is professor of ethics and African-American studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J. Among her specialties are welfare policy and justice issues in church and society. She wrote the entry “Agenda for the Churches: Uprooting a National Policy of Morally Stigmatizing Poor Single Black Moms” for the book Welfare Policy: (Feminist Critiques).

  • Pamela Cooper-White

    Pamela Cooper-White is a professor of pastoral theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. She is the author of The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church’s Response (Augsburg Fortress, 1995).

  • Ted Bunch

    Ted Bunch is co-founder with Tony Porter of A Call to Men, an association committed to ending domestic violence against women. It is located in Valley Stream, N.Y.

    Contact: 917-922-6738.
  • Tonya Lovelace

    Tonya Lovelace of the Women of Color Network in Harrisburg, Pa., spoke at a February 2007 This Far by Faith seminar of the Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute. The network works to eliminate violence against women and families.

    Contact: 800-537-2238 ext. 137.
  • Project Stop Abusive Relationships at Home

    Project Stop Abusive Relationships at Home (SARAH) is a program of the Jewish Family Services of Clifton-Passaic, N.J., that targets domestic violence in Jewish and Russian-speaking homes.

    Contact: 973-777-7638.
  • Yitzchok Breitowitz

    Yitzchok Breitowitz is the rabbi of the Woodside Synagogue in Silver Spring, Md. He speaks on issues of family law and ethics and has delivered talks on men’s anger and the Torah.

  • Mohammad Qatanani

    Imam Mohammad Qatanani of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, N.J., counsels men on domestic violence.

    Contact: 973-278-7070 ext. 12.
  • Manavi

    Manavi is a domestic abuse center for South Asian women in New Brunswick, N.J. Many of the women who come through the center are Muslim, and coordinators recognize religion as a major factor in battling domestic abuse. Sasi is the advocate and administrative coordinator.

  • Richard C. Klein

    Richard C. Klein is an attorney in New Jersey that fights on the side of men who have encountered domestic abuse from their female spouses.

In the South

  • Renita J. Weems

    The Rev. Renita J.Weems is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville and an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church who has written extensively on family life, particularly women’s, in books, articles and newsletters.

    Contact: 615-343-3987.
  • Robin Griffeth

    The Rev. Robin Griffeth is a United Methodist pastor in Orangeburg, S.C., who has participated in conferences on the religious response to domestic violence. She has volunteered for Sistercare, a battered women’s shelter, and was a training coordinator for the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse.

  • Amanda Hendler-Voss

    The Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss is co-pastor at Land of the Sky United Church of Christ in Asheville, N.C., and a member of the Wellspring Clergywomen’s Alliance of the Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute.

  • Melody Johnson

    The Rev. Melody Johnson is director of outreach, team care, caring and sharing at Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church in Atlanta. She spoke at a February 2007 This Far by Faith seminar of the Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute.

  • Beverly Horsburgh

    Beverly Horsburgh is a law professor at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Fla. One of her specialties is Jewish law and Jewish battered women

  • Ellen T. Armour

    Ellen T. Armour is director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and a professor in the Divinity School. Her research interests include feminist theology; theories of sexuality, race, gender, disability and embodiment; and contemporary continental philosophy.

  • Sara Lisherness

    Sara Lisherness co-edited Striking Terror No More: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence (Bridge Resources, 1997). She is the coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program in Louisville, Ky.

    Contact: 888-728-7228 ext. 5779.
  • Manavi

    Manavi is a domestic abuse center for South Asian women in New Brunswick, N.J. Many of the women who come through the center are Muslim, and coordinators recognize religion as a major factor in battling domestic abuse. Sasi is the advocate and administrative coordinator.

  • Sheryl Cates

    Sheryl Cates is executive director of the Texas Council on Family Violence, an organization that works to educate the community about domestic violence. It has formed partnerships with different faith groups across Texas and publishes a brochure for clergy about responding to domestic violence. It is based in Austin, Texas.

    Contact: 512-794-1133.
  • Patricia Castillo

    Patricia Castillo is executive director of PEACE Initiative, a San Antonio, Texas, coalition of organizations committed to ending domestic violence. PEACE has held workshops for local faith leaders about responding to domestic violence.

    Contact: 210-533-2729.
  • Christie Cozad Neuger

    Christie Cozad Neuger is a professor of pastoral theology and pastoral counseling at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

In the Midwest

  • Linda Mercadante

    The Rev. Linda Mercadante is a professor of theology at Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio. She is the author of Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious (2014). Her focuses are spirituality, victimization, gender, addiction, sin and evil, imagery of God, and the Shakers.

  • James Newton Poling

    James Newton Poling is a professor of pastoral care, counseling and theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. He has written about domestic violence as a pastoral care issue.

  • Jennifer Marcum

    Jennifer Marcum is executive director of Safe Haven Ministries, a Christian-based ministry for victims of domestic abuse in Grand Rapids, Mich. The ministry has an informational outreach program for congregations called “Raise Hope.”

  • David J. Holden

    The Rev. David J. Holden was the minister for adult education and men’s ministries with the United Church of Christ’s Worship and Education Ministry Team of Local Church Ministries in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2003, he wrote an essay describing domestic violence as a men’s problem that should be addressed within a Christian framework.

  • Chuck Dahm

    The Rev. Chuck Dahm is a Dominican priest and pastor of St. Pius V Parish in Chicago. He was the keynote speaker at the first domestic violence conference for Catholic clergy in Chicago. He is the author of Parish Ministry in a Hispanic Community (Paulist Press, 2004), which includes a section on violence and machismo.

    Contact: 312-226-6161.
  • Brenda Branson

    Brenda Branson founded Focus Ministries after experiencing domestic abuse. Read a September/October 2004 Q&A from Christianity Today. Contact her in Elmhurst, Ill.

    Contact: 630-595-7023.

In the West

  • P. Aneesah Nadir

    P. Aneesah Nadir is founder of Dr. Aneesah Nadir and Associates and a retired professor of social work at Arizona State University in Tempe.

  • Adriana Caldara

    Adriana Caldara is executive director of the Support Network for Battered Women in Sunnyvale, Calif. Since 1998, the network has been working with local faith leaders to improve their response to domestic violence.

  • Carolyn Rexius

    Carolyn Rexius is director of Christians Addressing Family Abuse in Eugene, Ore.

    Contact: 541-686-6000 ext. 550.
  • Lydia Sarandan

    The Rev. Lydia Sarandan is associate pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif.; a member of Presbytery Committee on Domestic Abuse; and a member of the board of directors of Peace and Safety in the Christian home.

  • Shalom Bayit

    Shalom Bayit is a nonprofit organization that works to prevent domestic violence in the Northern California Jewish community. It is based in Oakland, Calif.

  • Debbie Levenstein

    Debbie Levenstein is development officer for Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metro­West, N.J. and worked for a time as the advocacy director of the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network in Tukwila, Wash. Among her specialties is dealing with Jewish women and domestic violence.

  • Dena Hassouneh-Phillips

    Dena Hassouneh-Phillips is an assistant professor at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. She has studied spousal abuse within the American Muslim community.

  • Reshma Yunus

    Reshma Yunus is one of the co-founding directors of SEMAH, a Muslim-oriented organization that works to end domestic violence. It has held workshops with local faith leaders about their response to domestic violence. It is based in Newark, Calif.

  • Kavitha Sreeharsha

    Kavitha Sreeharsha is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Global Freedom Center. She is past president of Narika, an organization that offers aid to South Asian victims of domestic violence and conducts outreach to local clergy in Sikh and Muslim worship centers.

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