Conference sheds light on abuse

Domestic violence knows no boundary between the “secular” world and the “spiritual” world. “Emerging from the shadows” was the theme of Peace and Safety in the Christian Home’s (PASCH) annual conference.

Mennonite Central Committee Canada and MCC BC were among the sponsors of the international organization’s event, held at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, B.C., May 12–15. It drew nearly 200 participants, mostly from Canada and the U.S.

“High hush” on abuse

“When violence strikes at home, people often look to the church for help,” said University of New Brunswick sociologist Nancy Nason-Clark, but there’s a “high hush” in churches that do not want to hear about abuse and violence. Some 50 pastors attended her address on the role of the church in domestic violence.

Nason-Clark has developed RAVE, a web-based resource to assist church leaders in responding to domestic violence with compassion, and to inform them about walking alongside victims of domestic violence. Her research shows when a religious leader counsels and holds the abuser accountable, recidivism is reduced by 80 percent.

Effects of love on children

Plenary speaker Juan Carlos Arean, program director for U.S.-based Family Violence Prevention Fund, said children exposed to violence can be as traumatized as if they had experienced abuse directly. A redeeming factor is the presence of one healthy parent or other adult. “Whether boys become abusers often depends on the relation they had as children with the non-abusive parent.”

Change is possible, said Arean. “We can help or hinder the potential of our brains to grow and heal.”

Spousal abuse

Natalie Collins, a presenter from the U.K. organization Restored (Christians working to end violence against women), told her story of abuse and manipulation at the hands of her husband. “People asked me ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ But the question that does not get asked is ‘Why doesn’t he just stop?’”

In a workshop on the role of the clergy working with men who batter, Arean said two-thirds of men will stop spousal abuse if they know it is hurting their children. “Every saint has a past and every sinner a future,” he said.

Spiritual abuse

Barb Orlowski’s workshop focused on a survey of 100 people who left a church due to spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs when the spiritual leader misuses Scripture and uses authority to control, dominate, and manipulate people, often with the blessing of an elder board of “yes men.”

The wounds take time to heal, said Orlowski. “Only when the depth of injustice is conscientiously reckoned with can forgiveness be extended.”

The conference also had sessions on working with men who act violently, faith-based shelters, the link between hope and accountability, reasons clergy don’t understand, pornography, and domestic violence in a peace church. Sunday morning’s worship included a memorial time for victims of domestic violence.

PASCH organizer and MCC BC abuse prevention coordinator Elsie Goertzen was pleased the conference raised awareness of domestic violence issues and provided coping strategies.

Henry Neufeld attends Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Church, Vancouver. He serves on MCC BC’s abuse prevention advisory committee.

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