The Church and domestic violence

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Mary Abrams
Deacon

February 08, 2015

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

It is so tempting, living here in what some people call “paradise,” to close our eyes to the rest of the world and see only what is right here in front of us. We enjoy some of the best that nature has to offer, where our streets are well manicured and property is beautifully landscaped. It is easy to focus on ourselves and our comfort here.

But today's Gospel pulls us up short. Mark tells us that Jesus said “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves; he calls us away from thinking solely about ourselves, our wants, our desires, our demands.  He calls us away from a focus on human things that are all about “me” and “getting what I want” and toward a life that includes caring about others. A focus that moves us to care about the suffering of our neighbors.  Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him.

What does it mean to deny one's self and to take up the cross? Does it mean that we, like the 12 Apostles, must leave our homes, family and friends and our jobs in order to follow Christ? No. But it does suggest that we not always put our wants and our desires first. It means that sometimes we put others ahead of ourselves. It may mean coming to church on Sundays to worship with and support our faith community even when we would rather sleep in and relax at home. It may mean that we give up an evening or a Saturday at home in order to help a needy neighbor. If we take our Christian faith seriously, we will be called to make difficult choices. Choices that may put us in uncomfortable situations.

Sometimes, as a deacon, that’s my job, to make us all a little uncomfortable. To make us squirm in our seats.

Deacons are called and ordained to work alongside others. To serve, to serve as ambassadors for the Church, relating church and world. Deacons do not make their living working for the church. We are not in the church on a daily bases. We work in the world outside of the church. We bring back to the church our knowledge of the needs of others that we have gained by being in the world. Inside the church Deacons then interpret those needs to the church, organize outreach efforts, identify injustices and engage others in action and advocacy. Deacons inform the church about injustices that are found in the world and let the church know when it is not doing its part to correct the injustice or when it is playing a role in the injustice. Thus the deacon has been called “a thorn in the Church’s side.”

Today I want to talk briefly about one issue, on which the church, has been mostly silent. Domestic Violence.

Domestic violence is an enormous problem in our in the world, our country and yes, even in this community of Naples. We might want to believe that domestic violence happens in other places but not here in paradise. Unfortunately that’s not true. According to studies, domestic violence occurs equally in every community, no matter whether it is black, brown or white or rich or poor, educated or uneducated.  Domestic violence is destroying families and inflicting suffering on women and their children in every community.

Of course, men are also victims, but only a minority of victims are men.  For this reason, I am speaking primarily about women today.

• Every 15 seconds a woman is beaten in the United States. 

• One in four women in the US will be the victim of domestic violence in her lifetime.

• It is estimated that only one-seventh of all domestic assaults ever come to the attention of the police.

• Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.

And here is a staggering statistic:

• 58,000 US soldiers died in Vietnam, during that same time period 54,000 women were killed by their partners in the US.

We all know someone who is being or has been abused. Look around you, statistics tell us that there are some in this room right now who have suffered abuse. We hear the stores of victims. Some tell of the courage to say, “Enough,” and to leave their abuser. Some go to the courthouse to file a protective order. Some have had their jaws broken or arms, legs or faces bruised or perhaps have been shoved against the wall or choked.

But it is not always physical abuse. Some women do not have access to their family’s bank account or income. They are given just enough money to buy groceries and they have to ask for money from their husbands or partners to buy the things they need for themselves, their children and home.

Some victims are asked incessantly,  

“Who were you talking to?”

 “Where were you?”

 “Where are you going?” 

 “What were you doing?” 

Some are told, “You can’t wear that!” “You can’t talk to her!” “You are no good.” “You are a looser” and much more. 

Victims are hurt by hands and words and silence, mostly by their men, who for a variety of reasons simply need to have the power and to be in control. Men who choose to counterbalance their own profound insecurities and fears with the habits of and addictions to force and the misuse of privilege,  rather than letting go of the control and building relationships of equalityand mutual respect.

The church in some ways has been complicit in what we should call an epidemic of domestic violence, as we have not spoken out against it very well. Our churches have been the guarantor of male authority in a male-oriented society extending its protection to all men as heads of the household. 

And instead of our churches being places of sanctuary and healing we have been silent. Any time we are silent in the face of abuse in any form we become complicit with the abusers. The church has been a community that does not speak up. This may be the first sermon you have heard on Domestic Violence. 

I searched the archives of the Episcopal church and found 145 resolutions that had been adopted and articles publishes dating back to 1969. These resolutions and articles call for us to increase our awareness of domestic violence, they ask us to support legislation to help decrease the occurrences of domestic violence, they request our parishes to offer training to address the problem and for all of us to learn how to support victims of domestic violences.

Unfortunately many of the issues addressed and acted upon at the General Convention do not get passed down to our parishes. So I want to be sure that you understand that there is no doubt that our church even though it believes in the sanctity of marriage, also believes that no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. 

Whatever the reasons are that we have been mostly silent on this subject in the pulpit on Sundays, it is important that you know that our church rejects all forms of domestic violence and urges victims to protect themselves and their children, even if that means a separation and/or divorce from their abusers. And our church must help protect and assist victims in freeing themselves from the violence.

Both church and society at large have historically been reluctant to identify homes where domestic violence is taking place. Some of the most dangerous abusers are the most overtly religious, law abiding and outwardly respectable citizens. These can include leaders in churches, in society and in the workplace.

 We need to Break this Silence. 

It is always wrong for people to be terrorized, brutalized and beaten in their homes by the people they love. It is never right to teach our children to be next generation of abusers or to grow up to be a victim of abuse. 

I don’t have time today to talk about how we can help but I hope you will join me next Wednesday the 11th at 4:30 for a discussion about Domestic Violence. How to recognize the symptoms of abuse. What to do or say when you think someone is being abused. How we can all help break the silence.

At our baptism, and every time we renew our vows we promise to respect the dignity of every person. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Today we read that we are called to follow Jesus, to be radical in our love for others as he was. He stood up and broke the silence when he stood up to the political and religious leaders about the social injustices of his time.

He is now calling us to follow him and to be radical and break the silence about domestic violence. There should be no doubt that God wants us to respond to the cry of all victims of domestic violence. 

Let’s follow Jesus and break the silence.