No Place for Abuse (2nd ed.), Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010.
Summary: Written for Christian communities, this work chronicles the extent of domestic violence and abuse, the presence and factors that contribute to domestic violence in households in our churches, relevant biblical texts that address domestic violence, and steps church leaders can take to address domestic violence in their midst.
Perhaps the most sobering portion of this book is the twenty plus pages that document the extent and prevalence of domestic violence, much of it against women, throughout the world. More sobering yet is that the authors show how domestic violence also occurs in churches, sometimes aided by a cloak of silence and cover-ups rather than constructive pastoral care and congregational leadership that brings this issue to light and makes utterly clear the unacceptability of any form of abuse against men or women among those claiming to be disciples of Jesus.
The authors show how much time pastors engaged in pastoral counseling spend addressing issues of abuse. They also delineate in an early chapter both unhelpful attitudes that allow violence to continue, and steps pastors and leaders can take to become aware, to provide support and shelter, and to educate their congregations including their youth (who need to understand the dangers of abuse in dating).
The authors move beyond description to discuss the biblical texts that make clear that violence against marital partners is unacceptable. They also discuss passages around marriage and divorce that sometimes make it more difficult than it already is for victims of domestic violence to seek help and safety. Often the idolization and idealization of marriage and family pressures victims to remain in dangerous situations, sometimes at the tragic cost of their lives.
There is also frank material about both repentance and forgiveness, the possibility of behavioral change by abusers, and yet a realistic acknowledgement that many abusers continue to abuse. What is most important, it seems to me in this work, is that it doesn’t “heal wounds lightly” and yet addresses how forgiveness (while acknowledging the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation) may be healing for victims. It acknowledges that abusers may need to live with the consequences of broken relationships and submit themselves to accountability in the Christian community.
The concluding chapters summarize the important steps churches can take to address domestic violence and the authors commend the RAVE Project (Religion and Violence E-learning) website (www.theraveproject.org) as a resource both for victims and for churches. The final chapter includes a tour of the site (which still seems to basically be set up on the lines described in the book, although not very mobile-friendly).
In addition to the book serving as a primer for churches who want to counteract domestic violence, the book seeks to bridge the gap between social work and theology on this issue, beginning with the authors, one a seminary professor and the other a sociologist. They argue eloquently that the silence in many churches around these issues needs to be broken:
“Many voices declare that the church has caused men to be violent toward their wives or at least provided fertile soil for men’s mistreatment of power within their families. They argue that since the church is part of the problem, it cannot be part of the solution. Thus when violence against women is being discussed, God’s people are seldom consulted. Since we speak out so infrequently about violence, our collective voice is hardly ever heard on this issue. Generally speaking, leaders in religious organizations and those involved in community pastoral care are rarely invited to participate at the secular consultation table. The silence of our churches and our leaders is often interpreted in the public square as complicity with violent acts.” (p. 19)
It is troubling to me to observe in the time since this book was published that much of the discussion in the church has been around gender roles, and gender and sexual identity while the scourge of violence, mostly against women, continues, accompanied by our silence. It is troubling to me that our loudest and most consistent voices against this evil are not from within but outside the church, because this represents the abandonment of a distinctive mark of Christian communities from the very earliest days of Christianity, where the victims of violence and abandonment were protected, sheltered, cared and advocated for. In calling attention to this book, I hope some church leaders, both in this country and elsewhere, will pick up the book, visit the RAVE Project website, and consider how their congregations might become “no places for abuse.”