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Religious leaders on battlefield against domestic violence

by Linda Hiller

In the battle against domestic violence, the Family Support Council is looking for all the allies it can get.

Last week, all the clergy of Douglas County were invited to come and be a part of “Wings Like a Dove,” a workshop aimed at figuring out how to include these religious leaders on the battlefield.

“We really need your help in our efforts to help our women who are battered – you may have one of the keys we need,” said Lois Pruneau, co-coordinator of the domestic violence department of the Family Support Council. “A lot of our domestic violence victims that are of a certain faith say their marriage vows are very important to them and they don’t know what to do when they’re being battered in that marriage. We’ve heard other women say they’ve been encouraged by their clergy to go back into an abusive marriage and work things out. Many of these women don’t know what to do – they don’t want to violate their Christian vows.”

Becky Smokey, the department’s other co-coordinator, told the four clergy members who attended Monday’s workshop that domestic violence crosses all socio-economic lines.

“One woman is battered every 15 seconds in this country,” she said. “And some Christian women say they feel their abuse is a consequence of their own behavior, and that’s why God isn’t protecting them.”

Clergy members viewed a video on the subject of domestic violence and the church, followed by an informal discussion of possible actions that could be taken locally.

n Personal experiences. Pete Nelson, pastor of the Carson Valley United Methodist Church, said he’d had one particularly disturbing counseling session with a couple.

“In this couple – it was the second marriage for both of them – the wife was frustrated with trying to satisfy her husband,” Nelson said. “She said, ‘If he’d just hit me, I’d know where I stand,’ and I was speechless. Her first husband had beat the tar out of her, and with this nice husband, she didn’t know what to do.”

Jim Townzen, pastor of the Lakeview Baptist Church in Silver City, said he had seen couples where the cycle of violence was constantly diffused by little fights, thus avoiding the big build-up and resultant explosion that can occur.

“It seems like this kind of relationship never de-escalates without intervention,” he said.

“What I’d like to know is, can these kinds of abusive relationships ever be restored to healthy ones?” asked Larry Miller, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church.

“Well, if the batterer wants to change, there’s hope,” Pruneau said. “He has to want to change, though. She can’t change him by herself.”

“The problem is in restoring the trust, ” Smokey said. “A healthy relationship is based on mutual trust, mutual respect and friendship.”

“As church leaders, we teach that marriage is the second most important relationship in our life – the first being our relationship with Christ,” Townzen said. “We’re all concerned and agree that the violence has to stop, but the reality is, it’s a small segment of the population that we interact with through our churches, because 95 percent of Nevada is unchurched.”

“Obviously, we want to help people in our churches, but here in our society, there’s a great deal of Christians who don’t attend church,” said Leo Kruger, pastor of Valley Christian Fellowship. “Maybe we could help by being available for you to refer your domestic violence victims to us when they need religious counsel.”

“I think it was the Salvation Army founder who said, ‘I want to save one soul at a time,’ and maybe that’s how we can help – one soul at a time,” Nelson said.

One of the ‘trouble indicators” he sees as a pastor is the situation when couples stop coming to church when they’re struggling with domestic issues at home, Nelson said.

“It’s a big red flag for me when I don’t see them for a while,” he said. “If I visit them at home, I might find out that they don’t feel worthy of coming to church.”

Kruger said he thought having a personal relationship with Christ could be the answer to quelling domestic violence.

“All my life I’ve been involved in marriage counseling and pre-marriage counseling and I’ve found that it doesn’t work unless they develop their relationship with Christ,” he said. “When people fall in love with the Lord, they’ll stop doing bad things.”

n What can they do? Nelson said he had addressed the issue of domestic violence at his last church service and received a good response from church members.

All the pastors agreed they could have a hand in helping Family Support Council reach their Christian victims and batterers. to acheive that, the possibility of setting up a liaison between the clergy and the council was discussed.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Family Support Council is located at 1255 Waterloo, Suite A, in Gardnerville, and offers anger management groups, support groups, and now clergy references – all aimed at stopping domestic violence in Douglas County, where last year, more than 2,000 calls for help were handled by the council.

For more information, call 782-8692.