The Church, Poverty and Domestic Violence

She came to our women’s Bible study one day. Her name was Linda, no on really knew her, no one was really sure how she found our Bible study. After coming a few times, she disappeared from our group. Krista, one of our members, had one of those impressions that she should call her. And Linda returned one day to tell us that her husband was going to kill her.

What to do, we were just a ladies Bible study untrained in such things. The Spirit prompted me to ask Linda if she had an escape plan. Together, we worked out a plan, set a date, vowed to secrecy. And we prayed.

That night our little Bible study group attended a local Revival meeting in a near by city. After the message we huddled together at the altar and once again prayed for our friend Linda. Corporately, we felt like the friends of the lame man who had broken a hole in the roof and lowered our friend before Jesus, the one who could actually heal and bring life… So we prayed into that Bible story.

On the set date, we gathered together, helped Linda pack up her things, picked up her daughter at school and began the journey toward the airport. We were stuffed together like sardines but we all wanted to be there to see Linda off.

We collected a little money and prayed one more time for safety.

Linda made it out finding freedom in a faraway city with her mother. But many do not find such freedom or safety. As a pastor, I regularly come across women stuck in poverty largely because of domestic violence or other forms of abuse. It’s staggering to me how many of them shared stories of how the church supported their abusers, believed the abuser, at the expense of theirs and their children’s well-being.

I currently serve in a city with a significant homeless population and it is startling to learn how many homeless people are women, often women with children. As I learn their stories and get to know them, I have discovered the role domestic violence plays in poverty and homelessness.

Even more curious is how the “Biblical” narrative about husbands being the head of the home feeds abuse and justifies the behavior of those who abuse. I hear story after story after story of how pastors have told victims of genuine abuse to go home, try to be a better wife and submit more to her husband or just give him more sex. One woman we helped went to a Biblical prayer counselor who in front of her husband told her she had a Jezebel Spirit. This fed the narrative her abuser was using to keep her in his control. Because this was offered as a “word” from the Lord, she was terrified that she would be going against God if she left.

There was a popular Deliverance Ministry–Bondage Breakers in the mid to late 90’s that proliferated the notion that if a woman was not submissive to her husband then the devil would attack her. This became embedded in various deliverance ministries around the nation. When an abuse victim and her husband sought prayer counsel, this “biblical” idea would surface keeping the abused person in further bondage and shame.

It is curious how little pastors and churches grasp the role of abuse and violence in poverty and homelessness. Instead, in our political dialogue, we lay the blame for poverty on laziness and lack of ambition. In reality poverty and homelessness related to domestic violence has nothing to do with laziness and lack of ambition. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on one night alone 55,000 beds in shelters across the country were set aside for homeless women affected by domestic violence. That number is staggering!

And I wonder how many more that night remained in their abusive home fearing that they and their children would end up without a home and in a shelter.

Here are some practical ideas that churches could do to help this crisis.

  1. Believe the one being abused. The body of Christ must stop with the teaching that women are easily deceived and that men are somehow less open to deception. This feeds the narrative that women are not reliable when they bring up abuse. I have observed that women go to their churches long after the abuse has begun. Often she has tried everything and suffered many years before she has mustered the courage to tell someone. In addition there is a psychology abusers use to gaslight and undermine a victim’s sense of reality making it harder for her to come forward.
  2. Give practical aid. Homelessness and domestic violence often stem from not being able to gather enough money to get into an apartment or rental. Often in situations when the victim finally leaves the abuse, she finds herself without enough money to pay a deposit and first months rent. It takes a few months to get rental assistance, childcare assistance, health care assistance and other helps. And this kind of assistance is needed just to climb out of homelessness. I don’t often find churches willing or able to provide much for transitional help. (We offered radical hospitality in our home for six months until victims were able to find work, get childcare and launch into self-support).
  3. Provide emotional support and prayer. Because of the psychology around abuse, emotional support and prayer are vital. Often women believe God has forgotten them or worse they are going against God when leaving the abuse. The gaslighting and emotional abuse has damaged the victim’s sense of self and decision making ability is diminished. Emotional and prayer support can help a sense of self re-emerge as emotions are validated and prayer is given.
  4. Include them in the church community. Often victims of abuse are excluded in the church community because there is yet a stigma around leaving one’s husband. Especially if the couple was a part of the community together. Often people have a hard time believing such things could happen among Christians and when the perpetrator is known it’s even more difficult. But being a part of a Christian community can be so healing if the victim is believed and supported. Often this is not the case and they are left wondering if God has abandoned them too.

Over the years, I have seen the hand of God moving mightily on behalf of victims of domestic violence. I know that he cares. Each time God brings another woman into my life, he speaks and lets me know what is needed. God also provides insight and resources in surprising ways. I know these women are on God’s heart even if they are not on the church’s hearts. The Army of Heaven is with them and we can join God in defeating this satanic system that keeps his beloved daughters from flourishing.

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