Karen felt nauseated as she watched her husband, the head deacon, smiling and visiting with fellow members at their local church. Her eyes drifted to his strong hands as they so gently helped an elderly woman through the door. Why had those capable strong hands turned so hard and cruel to her?
Karen cringed as her husband sat down in the pew next to her and slid his arm around her. His touch made her skin crawl as she remembered the all too common painful scenes of last night. It was a good thing the weather was turning cooler so no one questioned the long sleeves and high neck that she chose to cover the already emerging bruises. She hated the charade of coming to church and acting like everything was “just fine”.
She wanted to cry out with the emotions that were smothering her inside but she knew that no one even suspected. And what would they think of her and her “perfect little family”? Wasn’t there someone who cared even a little bit? Could there be a way to get help and not have everyone find out? Would they just tell her that she needed to be a better wife, pray more and “submit” to her husband? Didn’t the bible say that her husband was the head of the family? But was this what God really had in mind?
Statistics tell us that Karen’s story of abuse within the faith community is equal to the “Karens” who choose not to take part in an organized religion. However, for the women and children suffering in abuse within a faith community, what should be a safe nurturing environment often times is one of oppression due to miss-information and lack of resources.
So what can the faith community do to become the safe haven its members need?
If churches make the issues of abuse something that is talked about openly instead of in the back hallways and corners of the restrooms then the victims among us will feel safe to come forward and ask for the help that they so desperately need.
Kim Bryan is a Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Victim Advocate for the Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Services of the San Juan Islands. (DVSAS). She and her husband Don are the Pastoral team for the Friday Harbor Seventh-day Adventist Church.