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I can't write about domestic violence without a nod to my current context: I live in a small, impoverished country in sub-Saharan Africa where domestic abuse, including physical and sexual violence against women and girls, is rampant. Women have few resources for getting out, getting safe, and getting help.
One of my friends and colleagues—a minister in the largest Protestant church in this country—says churches are seldom able to address the issue. Domestic violence is considered more or less "normal," she tells me, and clergy are inclined to dismiss it either as unimportant or as something to which a God-fearing woman should submit.
Until I read Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence (Moody Publishers), by Justin S. and Lindsey A. Holcomb, I had no idea that the leading cause of death for African American women ages 15 to 45 is murder at the hands of a partner. Nearly three out of four Americans personally know someone who has faced domestic violence (90 percent of the victims are women). As the Holcombs show, the effects of domestic abuse are wide-ranging, unpredictable, severe, and long-lasting, affecting both the women and their children. Boys witnessing domestic violence, for example, are twice as likely to become abusers themselves.
Justin (a pastor and adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary) and his wife, Lindsey (a case manager at a domestic violence shelter), answer the title's question with an unequivocal "no." They also acknowledge that while "many victims believe clergy have the most potential to help them," in fact "[clergy] are too often the least helpful and sometimes even harmful."
Indeed, years ago, I sat through lectures in which a Bible professor insisted that spousal abuse was not grounds for divorce, and that submission required enduring some forms of abuse. A popular pastor-theologian once made a similar suggestion in a Q&A session. ...