Appears in the July/August issue of Ministry magazine, published by the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Looking back, Pastor “Jones” should have known. All the warning signs were there. “Stella” often seemed anxious and nervous when “Mike,” her husband, was around. She was always very subservient, so intent on doing whatever he said. Even then, Mike would talk down to her in public, in ways that were embarrassing to those who heard it. How many times did he, the pastor, hear Mike bark, “Stella, just shut up”?
Stella often talked to others about how jealous Mike was, how he was constantly accusing her of flirting and looking at other men. She complained, too, that he was overly controlling, that he did not want her to have any financial independence and that she always had to call him and let him know where she was and what she was doing.
Those were warning signs, but, perhaps because Mike was a church leader, Pastor Jones never saw them, never connected the dots.
Even after the injuries, he did not see it. How could he have been so blind? Over the course of a year, Stella had two “accidents.” One resulted in a broken arm from “a skiing mishap” (only later did the pastor find out that Stella had never skied in her life); the other time, the side of her face was swollen and bruised, a result (they said) of “a fall on the ice.” Only after it all came to the forefront did he remember, too, the bruises, the cuts, and the other marks of violence that he had seen on her.
There were rumors, but they neither sounded like the kind of gossip that a pastor wanted to hear nor wanted circulating in the church, and so he firmly shut them down when he could.
He will never forget the call from another member that night, just before he went to bed. Stella was in the hospital in critical condition.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You just better come,” he was told.
To this day, the pastor still does not remember what shocked him more: seeing Stella beaten to within an inch of her life or being told that Mike had been arrested for doing it.
The harsh reality
If there is one biblical truth that pastors do not need faith to believe in, it’s the doctrine of human sinfulness. They do not need Paul, in Romans, telling them that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10, KJV). They know that truth all too well. And one area where they see it, yes, even in the church, is that of violence against women. From North America to Africa, from Europe to Asia, one of the great tragedies facing humanity, a tragedy not often talked about (or certainly not enough), is that of women as victims of violence.
And the violence needs to stop. It needs to end now.
The numbers alone are frightening: about one in three women worldwide will be raped, abused, or beaten.(1) In some countries, the numbers are almost double. More than half of women in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru, and Tanzania have reported physical or sexual abuse by an “intimate partner” (i.e., husbands or boyfriends). (2) In the United States, one-third of women murdered are killed by “intimate partners.”(3)
Additionally, the problems of human trafficking and sexual violence against women are not exclusive to any one country. Hundreds of thousands of women, even children, are victims. Women, even young girls, are forced into prostitution. Worldwide, more than 100 million women have been victimized by female genital mutilation, and thousands more are at risk on a daily basis (in this case, often the young girls’ own mothers do it). In some battle zones, rape is just another tool of war, along with land mines and artillery.
Of course, when we quote numbers and statistics, we tend to think only of numbers and statistics. Yet behind each number, each statistic, is a human being for whom Christ died. Pastors who deal with this issue up close, know the terrible toll this crime against humanity takes on women.
For this reason, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), working with the Women’s Ministries Department of the General Conference of Seventhday Adventists, has launched a worldwide campaign, enditnow, not just to support development programs that empower women and help bring awareness of this terrible scourge, but—as the name unsubtly says—to enditnow.
To lament violence against women as another tragedy that takes place in the world is easy. But clergy know that this is a problem in the church, too, however much (as with the sexual exploitation of children) they do not like talking about it. When clergy stand in a pulpit and look out on their congregations, other reason than the statistics, that in their pews are either victims or perpetrators (or both) of violence against women.
The question for clergy should not be, Should we do anything? Of course we should. The question should be, What can we do?
What follows are a few tips that can make a difference:
- Go to the campaign’s official Web site, www.enditnow.org; there you will learn not only about the depth of the problem but how you can help get your own local church members invested in this campaign. Whatever you, as a pastor, can do, you cannot do it alone. You need to get your church involved.
- Seek the support of other clergy. With their backing, local congregations can play a big role in their respective areas. The work has to start in the local church, in the local community. If thousands of churches and other places of
worship around the world took leading roles, the impact would be powerful. If there was ever a subject that can, and should, transcend denominational divides, this is it.
- Use your influence as clergy to get the local community involved—police, school principals community leaders, other churches, and shelters for battered women. The problem in some places has become so large that many people would be willing to help. You need to help muster all the resources possible.
- Preach on the subject, or get someone qualified to stand in the pulpit and talk about it.
- Pray for the success of this campaign.
If not pastors, then who?
Pastors should function as the conscience of society—not the police, not the judge, but the conscience. Their voices should touch the hearts, not just of their own congregations, but also of anyone within earshot. If pastors, of all people, do not speak out—who will? If they cannot take a stand on this topic of violence against women, why should anyone listen to them about anything else?
Pastor Jones learned his lesson the hard way. He was never again going to close his eyes to what should have been obvious. He should have intervened long before. It was a mistake he did not intend to make again.
Stella? She recovered and, despite counsel to the contrary, dropped charges against Mike and even took him back. They are together again. Pastor Jones worries, as do the few others in the church who know the situation. They have
good reason to worry.
Violence against women. It is real, it is here, and it needs to stop. That is what the enditnow campaign is all about.
Be involved. How can clergy do anything but?
(1) United Nations Development Fund for Women, Not a Minute More: Ending Violence Against Women (New York: United Nations Development Fund for Women, 2003); http://www.unifem.org/materials/item_detail.php?ProductID=7.
(2) World Health Organization, WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women: Initial Results on Prevalence, Health Outcomes and Women’s Responses (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2005), http://www.who.int/gender/violence/who_multicountry_study/en/.
(3) United States Department of Justice, “Intimate Partner Violence, 1993–2001,” United States Department of Justice, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/ipv01.pdf.