Your Church Needs a Domestic Violence Policy
Your church needs to develop a policy on domestic violence.
For non-creedal churches, policies can be sticky and uncomfortable. However, our tendency to leave our pastoral policies and protocol undefined produces more personal and congregational sorrow than it does biblical faithfulness. Your church should probably develop policies about a host of pastoral matters. But let’s focus on domestic violence, a topic I have written about before.
How do you do it?
First, you’ll need to define domestic violence, which includes both physical and non-physical abuse. For a helpful tool in this regard, see the Power and Control Wheel.
Second, you’ll need to advise your staff, elders, and congregation on appropriate responses when they witness domestic violence, or when someone discloses it to them. This document from the Anglican Diocese of Sydney describes steps to be taken. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a useful resource (1-800-799-7233). Multiple organizations can provide congregational and leadership response training, including local law enforcement. Additionally, your church’s insurance provider probably offers this training. Also, remember that it is mandatory to report abuse of minors to your state’s Department of Children Services. A policy should include the appropriate phone numbers or websites for reporting.
Third, you’ll need to define a “Care Protocol” for both the victim(s) and the offending partner. Here is a sample:
Standard of Care Protocol
For the victim(s)
Our church will prioritize the physical, financial, and spiritual safety of the victim(s), by:
Ensuring confidentiality (with the exception of appropriate and mandated reporting to authorities).
Aiding victim in finding safe shelter and/or transportation.
Providing appropriate financial resources to the victim(s) as needed and within reason. Finances may be used for housing, transportation, childcare, groceries, and other needs.
Referring victim(s) to professional counseling services and aiding with associated costs.
Finding and connecting victims to spiritual companions with related backgrounds at church
Ensuring a safe Sunday Worship/Sunday School Class experience for victims each week.
For the offending partner
Our church will prioritize accountability and repentant transformation for the offending partner, by:
Ensuring confidentiality (with the exception of appropriate and mandated reporting to authorities)
Referring offending partner to professional counseling services and aiding with associated costs. Offending partner may be encouraged to sign a disclosure statement, allowing therapist to report to church Elders.
Finding and connecting offending partners to spiritual companions at church.
Ensuring spiritual care by an elder through a 1-year period, at which point this need will be reassessed.
Removing offending partner from any/all leadership positions at church.
Depending on the nature of the offense, the offending partner may not be permitted to attend Sunday morning services/classes at church (to ensure safe worship experience for victim).
Finally, your church should consider directly addressing the important issue of divorce and remarriage related to domestic violence. A leadership that is not on the same page about this will struggle to minister effectively to a family in crisis or to victims in fear.
Here is a sample statement your church could adapt.
Statement on Separation and Divorce due to Domestic Violence
Our leaders recognize that the Bible does not speak specifically to domestic violence in relation to divorce and remarriage. However, the Bible consistently condemns violence of all kinds. The Bible also consistently commands protection for vulnerable people. Therefore, our leaders believe that when repentant reconciliation between the violent partner and victim is not possible, or if the violent partner remains a threat to the safety of the victim(s), separation and/or divorce may be necessary. In such a case, our leaders believe divorce is consistent with the Biblical principles of non-violence and protection of the vulnerable.
If you’d like some further resources that think through this issue biblically, check out the ones below:
Is it My Fault? Hope and Healing for those Suffering Domestic Violence by Lindsey and Justin Holcomb
Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context by David Instone-Brewer.
Biblical Christian Ethics, “Divorce and Remarriage” by David Clyde Jones
I hope these resources help your church develop a policy and protocol for effectively ministering in situations of domestic violence.