Missing Sermons and Lessons: Part I of II “Why Shy and Silent About Domestic Violence?”

(This series is about adult with adult relationships)

by Kay Klinkenborg 

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  A topic we seldom write about in our religious or spiritual articles.  I was about 40 years old, married to an ordained minister and the first time in my life I heard a sermon from the pulpit on domestic violence in the home and relationships. It was delivered by my husband.  It took another 10 years before I heard a second sermon from the pulpit on domestic violence DV. 

The second sermon was preached by Dr. Roger Compton, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Springfield, IL.  He preached a clear and definitive message on DV and the church’s Christian appropriate response to the victims, in our homes and culture. The next day, Monday, he was greeted at his office by 3+ deacons. “You have stepped over a line this time pastor.   You have gone to meddling.  We can’t have this taking place in our church.” I suspect that one or more of those deacons was guilty of emotional/and or physical abuse in their own marriages. Patriarchy controlling one more time what is permissible to preach about from the Bible. 

There are numerous topics in the field of DV in which our congregations need education.  In Part I, I will focus on what is DV?  What are the statistics in the US and Arizona and some specific ethnic and racial data. That brings forth some key questions, what could we be doing in our churches to help end DV? 

What does domestic violence look like?  Legally, domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, economic, and emotional/psychological abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence varies dramatically. 1  It is also called ‘intimate partner violence’ and is not exclusionary to legally defined marriage.  

Domestic Violence (DV) cuts equally across all classes, incomes, social economic stratus in our culture. There is a supportive ‘old boy’s network’ that it is to be kept quiet and what happens in the home is of no concern of others. DV cuts across lesbian and gay relationships as well. We don’t preach the do and don’t of how to be in relationship with each other in healthy ways. We use the word ‘fighting’ when the truth is, couples need to learn how to have a healthy argument. The very word ‘fight’ assumes there is permission to get out of control…having power over someone else. Arguments are about hearing each other out. You might need space to think about what has been said. The ingredients of emotional abuse and threats of physical harm are not present in healthy disagreements. 

An adult person has no permission nor right to physically harm another person. Legally we call that ‘assault’.  So what has perpetrated that permission in the privacy of our homes. There are books, article, testimonies written about how institutionalized patriarchy gives males, or the dominant person in the relationship, permission to do as they please to get their way. Talk about not understanding the Golden Rule!   

When working with couples where DV has just begun to be a pattern, I raise this question to the perpetrator: “Would you do that do you boss, your best friend, or in public?” That got some attention as to why would you use behavior in your home that is unlawful, physically hurts the other person, takes away their rights as humans? Truth is, few DV perpetrators come to therapy. A very small percentage do, if they find early in their relationship they have surprisingly crossed a line they thought they never would in hurting someone they claim to love.   

In the United States, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually.1  

Nationally: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime with ‘IPV-related impact’ such as being concerned for their safety, PTSD symptoms, injury, or needing victim services.2    Approximately 1 in 5 female victims and 1 in 20 male victims need medical care.3  

These numbers are startling! But Arizona’s statistics will make you gasp.  

Arizona:  42.6% of Arizona women and 33.4% of Arizona men experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking.4   In any given room in Arizona with 50 people, there will be approximately 21 females who have had or are currently experiencing DV. 16.7 males would be victims of DV. 

I share just two people of color DV statistics…for the list could go on and on.  American Indian and Alaska Native women experience assault and domestic violence at much higher rates than women of any other ethnicity.  Over 84% of Native women experience violence during their lifetimes. 5

45.1% of Black women and 40.1% of Black men have experienced intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes. 6 

We are a country with a shameful record of all types of violence.  Our churches have been silent too long about DV specifically!  If we are to be teaching Jesus’ message of love, justice and extravagant welcome…we need to educate congregations to this pandemic in intimate relationships.  It also indicts us that we are not teaching concepts of healthy communications, managing intense emotions and fair arguing to our people.   When are the open forums/classes that teach about DV?  When is there a speaker’s panel on DV?  We have no excuses:  literature abounds on speaking theologically about DV.  

James E. Wallis Jr. is an American theologian, writer, teacher and political activist. He is best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine and founder of a Washington, DC church by the same name. In 2020, he challenged the ministers who subscribe to his magazine to send a sermon they had preached on DV; he was looking for 100 sermons to print.  He received far more than anticipated.  But he selected these:  100 Sermons on Violence | Sojourners

I challenge each of us to click on this site and read at least one sermon about DV.  The Bible is loaded with applicable stories to teach about DV.   

An early book (1984) was written by Dr. Phyllis Trible, widely renowned feminist Biblical scholar and Hebrew scripture professor:  Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (among numerous other publications).  One of many books available to those teaching Bible stories or preaching.  

There is not a lack of resources to address DV.  It is the courage to name it, teach the healthy theology and began to shift the ‘shy silence code’ about DV in our churches. 

Domestic violence needs to be spoken about. Addressed. And ended. 

Part II of “Missing Sermons and Lessons” will be a 1) primer on what and what no to do when someone discloses DV to you; 2) an explanation of elder abuse, why seniors are at risk and safeguards to watch to prevent that prevalent form of DV. 

1 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV, www,NADCV.org   

2  Smith, S.G., Zhang, X., Basile, K.C., Merrick, M.T., Wang, J., Kresnow, M. & Chen, J. (2018). The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey: 2015 data brief – updated release. Atlanta: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/2015data-brief508.pdf.  

3  Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., Walling, M., & Jain, A. (2017). The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey (NISVS): 2010-2012 state report. Atlanta: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-StateReportBook.pdf.    

4  Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (2020). State of Arizona domestic violence related fatalities 2019. Retrieved from https://www.acesdv.org/fatality-reports/.  

5  Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., Walling, M., & Jain, A. (2017). The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey (NISVS): 2010-2012 state report. Atlanta: National Center  for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVSStateReportBook.pdf

6 United States Department of Justice. (2000). Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women. Retrieved from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf

©Kay F. Klinkenborg, October, 2021
Spiritual Director
Retired RN, LMFT, Clinical Member AAMFT
Specialties: DV; PTSD; Incest Survivors/Sexual Assault;
& Counseling Women. Consultants to IA, IL, KS, MO, NV, NM’s
Coalitions Against Domestic Violence