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Responding to Domestic Violence

By Sherry Williamson

During introductions at a “Responding to Domestic Violence” conference hosted in November by the Divinity School Women’s Center, one participant asked to stand.

“This is the first time I’ve said this publicly: I am a survivor of domestic violence,” said Denise [not her real name] in a shaky voice that grew stronger with each word. “I’m here because I want to learn everything I can to help save people.”

Denise was among more than 40 participants at the conference led by the FaithTrust Institute about engaging community faith leaders in response to domestic violence.

A multifaith, international organization based in Seattle, Wash., the institute trains and educates congregations and faith leaders on religious issues related to sexual and domestic violence.

People in faith communities who want to educate and equip their clergy leaders to deal with domestic violence should start with their pastor, said the Rev. Dr. Aleese Moore-Orbih, director of training and consulting for FaithTrust.

The best approach is to find commonalities — such as the agreement that no one deserves to be abused and that Scripture should not be used to justify abuse.

“Remember that most of the time when clergy is not on board as an ally, it’s not because they’re against this type of work, but mostly because they either don’t understand it or they already have too much on their plates,” said Moore-Orbih.

If the pastor doesn’t engage, she recommended trying the associate pastor, and if that fails, the women’s ministry.

The conference concluded a series of Women’s Center events during Domestic Violence Month. In addition to students, it was open to clergy and laity, educators, shelter workers, and health care and mental health professionals.

Students Stephanie Neve and Christa Mazzone Palmberg, who serve as co-coordinators of the Women’s Center, organized the events in collaboration with Professor of Theology & Women’s Studies Mary McClintock Fulkerson, the group’s advisor.

Research indicates that in any congregation at least every third person has had some experience with domestic violence. “Religious teachings can either be roadblocks or resources in addressing domestic violence,” says the Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, the institute’s founder and senior analyst.

“We want to help people understand the practical as well as the theological foundation of what needs to be done in those situations not only for the victim, but for the perpetrator and the family,” Fortune says.

For more information, visit FaithTrust Institute or call 206.634.1903. Additional resources for faith leaders and survivors of domestic violence are available at The Divinity School’s Women’s Center.