Creating Safe Faith Communities
Religious traditions are often misinterpreted, particularly by abusers, to justify their abusive behaviors. Usually such support comes from citing selected passages from sacred scriptures or teachings of a particular religious community, or from arguing for the authority of traditional practices from the past that justify violence, especially against women.
Religious teachings are often sources of hope and inspiration. A wider community motivated by faith can provide sanctuary in the form of support, shelter, and safety from domestic violence.
In addition to physical, sexual, psychological and/or financial abuse, domestic violence may also include spiritual abuse. This could result in people questioning their spiritual and religious beliefs and values, and could also make them fearful of escalating the abuse if their partner has forbidden them to practice their faith. Religion and spirituality can often be a source of support and healing for those experiencing domestic violence. However, religion and spirituality can also be used as a way to control another person.
Examples of Spiritual Abuse:
• Using beliefs to manipulate someone
• Preventing someone from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs
• Forcing someone to violate their religious beliefs or practices
• Ridiculing, denying or minimizing someone’s beliefs
• Forcing children to be reared in a faith that has not been agreed to
• Misusing scripture to justify abusive, dominating, or oppressive behavior
• Using religious guilt to manipulate someone into doing what they want
• Questioning someone’s sense of reality
• Discounting someone’s sense of right and wrong
• Denying a person’s value
• Using marital entitlement to justify sexual demands, including marital rape
• Forcing someone to witness or participate in ritual abuse, such as animal sacrifice
• Manipulating others in the religious community to control and ostracize you
The Spiritual Impact of Domestic Violence: In addition to the effects that domestic violence has on a victim’s everyday life, victims also suffer the spiritual impacts of abuse, including:
• Isolation from religious or spiritual community
• Broken relationships with a support network
• Loss of belief in their faith
• A need for spiritual reassurance that they are supported and not at fault
• Questioning core values and religious or spiritual beliefs
• A search for meaning and justice
• Feelings of divine punishment
• Disconnect from God
• Questions about the value of prayer and ritual
• Struggles with faith traditions
Faith leaders play an important role not only as guides and confidantes, but as voices of moral authority in supporting victims of domestic violence and assisting them in seeking help. They can also hold offenders accountable for their abusive behaviors. Faith leaders also can play an important role in the wider society, advocating for public policies that address domestic violence, and securing both public and private resources for providing support.