When it comes to domestic violence, Protestant pastors want to be helpful but often don’t know where to start, a new study shows.
Most say their church would be a safe haven for victims of domestic violence. But many don’t know if anyone in their church has been a victim of domestic violence. And only half say they have a plan in place to help if a victim comes forward, according to a new report on churches and domestic abuse from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, conducted Aug. 22–Sept. 16, is based on a phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said churches want to help victims of domestic violence but aren’t always effective at doing so.
“Many pastors aren’t aware if domestic violence is happening in their congregation,” McConnell said. “And even if they are aware, they often don’t know how to help.”
Churches see themselves as safe haven
LifeWay Research found most pastors (87 percent) strongly agree with the statement, “a person experiencing domestic violence would find our church to be a safe haven.” Eleven percent somewhat agree. One percent are not sure.
Most pastors (89 percent) also agree their church regularly communicates that domestic violence is not OK — with more than half (56 percent) who strongly agree.
Yet nearly half of pastors (47 percent) say they don’t know if anyone in their church has been a victim of domestic violence in the last three years. A third (37 percent) say a church member has been a victim of domestic violence. Fifteen percent say no one has experienced domestic violence.
Church size plays a role in whether pastors know of a domestic violence victim. Pastors at bigger churches, those with more than 250 attenders, are most likely (65 percent) to know of a victim of domestic violence in their church. Pastors at smaller churches, those with fewer than 50 attenders, are least likely to know of a victim (20 percent). Pastors in the West (45 percent) and Midwest (42 percent) are more likely to know of a victim than those in the South (33 percent).
McConnell suspects there are more victims of domestic violence in churches than pastors realize. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a quarter of American women (24.3 percent) and 1 in 7 men (13.8 percent) have “experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.” Given those numbers, there are likely victims of violence even in a small church, McConnell said.
“Statistics on sinful activities consistently show that church attendees act better but are not without sin.” he said. “It is naïve to assume a church could remain immune to domestic violence.”
This lack of experience or awareness might explain why many churches don’t have a plan to assist victims of domestic violence, McConnell said.
Only about half of churches (52 percent) have a plan to assist victims of domestic abuse. Forty-five percent have no plan. Two percent of pastors aren’t aware of a plan.
Most churches with 250 or more people have a plan (73 percent). So do many Methodist (63 percent) and Pentecostal (66 percent) churches. Fewer Baptist (52 percent), Presbyterian/Reformed (45 percent), Holiness (45 percent), Lutheran (44 percent) or Church of Christ (41 percent) churches have one.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press