Ronald Session serves as pastor of Shiloh Church in Garland.
“Sheltering in Place” orders from our governmental officials mean one thing to most of us but an entirely different thing to those who are victims of domestic violence. There are hidden victims of the virus who do not display the typical symptoms of the novel virus. Instead of chills, fever and respiratory difficulties they suffer blackened eyes, bruised bodies and broken spirits. They are the sundry persons who suffer in silence, whose voices are hushed in isolation. For them, there is no emergency action plan in place to rescue them. Many of them will go through this pandemic being the object of someone’s displaced anxiety and anger. They are our sisters, brothers, mothers, nieces, nephews, coworkers, classmates and church members. And they will suffer at an increased rate at the hands of those who were supposed to love them. Many will die during this pandemic, but not all at the hands of the virus.
"Out of Sight, child abuse in Texas is thought to be on the rise," an article filed by Emma Platoff in The Texas Tribune on March 27, 2020, highlighted the deception of thinking that because the numbers of reported cases have declined, the number of children being abused is down. She stated, “Trapped in their homes with the increased stress of health risks, layoffs and food insecurity, abusers are more prone to violence, advocates say. With schools closed, children with injuries are less likely to be spotted.” In other words, increased pressures coupled with less accountability leads to more domestic violence that goes unchecked.
Spousal abuse is likely on the rise as well. According to Kate Connolly et al., in an article from The Guardian from March 28, 2020, entitled Lockdowns around the world brings a rise in domestic violence, she said, “Being confined to home because of coronavirus is difficult for everyone, but it becomes a real nightmare for female victims of gender-based violence.” This phenomenon is not just taking place in the Lone Star State, it is happening around the world. We must acknowledge that every victim is not a woman or a child. Men are victims as well, but the numbers are disproportionate. In a KPRC Channel 2 report out of Houston, Ft. Bend County reports a 25% rise in domestic abuse calls over last month and a 50% rise over the same time last year. Houston’s Police Chief reported a 6% rise over the last month. When the dust settles, there will be several families that will need the church to play a role in reconciliation and recovery.
How should the Church respond to these disturbing trends? The first step is to acknowledge that such things exist, and some of the cases are happening within the context of our own ministries. In some cases, we are aware of possible abuses, but there are likely many more that we are not aware of. Churches can also help by shifting the burden of abuse from the abused back to the abuser. Proverbs 19:19 “A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.” Abusers need to be held accountable by the authorities. This is part of the process of helping them break the chain of abusing others. This is such a critical step and the Church should recognize its duty to report if an instance of abuse is made known. Abusers need to be reminded that Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” Perpetrators need to see the violation of the sacred trust of holy matrimony and what is lost by them when they abuse. Victims of domestic violence often feel ashamed of their predicament and are made to feel as if their abuse is punishment for their failures. We need to remind them that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. There are no shortcuts to rehabilitating the faith of someone who feels as if God has abandoned them in their greatest time of need. The faith community must be ready to do the difficult work of rebuilding the broken lives that lie in the wake of displaced anger. There will undoubtedly be tough questions to answer concerning the love of God, and believers need to be prepared to give a defense of the faith in light of these real-life issues.
Here are a few proactive steps that churches can take to help in this time of crisis:
- You can always call or text 911 if you feel that you or someone else is in grave danger.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline – Reach out to their hotline if you need immediate help. Their website contains lots of information on safety plans, information on what is abuse, stats, and other pertinent information.
- Texas Council on Family Violence also offers safety plans, stats and how to file protective orders.
- Texas Attorney General - Family Violence offers more resources.
- If you have someone in your congregation who is trained to identify signs of abuse, is a counselor, or is familiar with helping others find the social service resources they need, this may be the perfect time to launch a new ministry effort.
- If you suspect someone is being abused, make frequent calls or even use platforms that allow video conferencing so that the abuser will know that someone is watching.
Churches do not simply gather to worship; we also scatter to serve. Sometimes that service takes on painful responsibilities. Our witness can be strengthened by taking an active role to curb the social ills in our own localities. It is our duty to look out for those who are in need. Those needs are different for some. Let us find new ways to demonstrate the love of Christ.