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Is Religion A Resource Or                                  Roadblock For Victims? “Your husband is the head of your household; do                                                                         what he tells you and he won't need to resort to                                                                            violence.” “You must have done something to                                                                          provoke him; go home and mend your ways so he                                                                      will not need to behave in this manner.” “Marriage is sacred and you must do whatever you can to hold it together.” “All of us must suffer; it makes us more Christ-like. Offer up your suffering to Jesus and he will give you strength to endure." How many women in abusive relationships have gone to their religious leaders for help and been sent home with these words? Unfortunately, too many to count. Depending on how informed and educated a church or religious community is on aspects of domestic violence, religion can be either a great resource for battered women or a major roadblock. More and more church leaders and congregations are becoming well versed in the facts and myths of domestic violence and are a great help for women, but there is still an overwhelming number who don’t understand what domestic violence is really all about. Religious texts and teachings can serve as resources to                                                    assist those who have experienced abuse in finding safety                                                          and in the process of healing. Yet, religion also can be                                                      misused to excuse or condone abusive behavior. In the                                                             context of violence against women, religious teachings and                                             communities will play a role; they will never be neutral. The                                  reality is that regardless of the  particular religious affiliation, alongside the trauma of violence, a majority of women will be dealing with some aspect of religious beliefs and teachings which will serve either as a resource or a roadblock. No woman should ever be forced to choose between safety and her religious community or tradition. She should be able to access the resources of both community-based advocacy and shelter and faith-based support and counsel. To adequately respond to the needs of battered women and rape victims, it is imperative that clergy learn about violence against women and reach out to secular advocates and services. Likewise, it is imperative that secular advocates and counselors appreciate the importance of women's religious backgrounds and reach out to clergy and religious groups to find resources to meet the needs of victims. Religious leaders also can utilize their positions as community leaders to help shape the discussion of issues concerning violence against women. One of the biggest roadblocks is the use of biblical teachings, many times interpreted in a certain way, to condone the use of violence against women. Scriptural passages are often interpreted to confirm male dominance over women: "Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands" (Ephesians 5.22-24 NRSV). Either by its silence or its instruction, the church has too often communicated to battered women that they should stay in abusive relationships, try to be better wives, and "forgive and forget." To batterers, it has communicated that their efforts to control their wives or girlfriends are justified because women are to be subject to men in all things. They have been permitted to "discipline" their wives and their children all for the "good of the family." On the other side, a spiritual leader and community can be a wonderful resource to a battered women if those involved understand the dynamics of domestic violence. I would greatly encourage all spiritual leaders and community members to learn all you can about the issues, for often times an abused women will come to you first for help, and you never know when you could make a huge difference in someone’s life, maybe even save it.
A Non-Profit Organization Serving Victims of Abuse for Over 30 Years in North Central Montana