The Iowa Conference recently held a two-day workshop on domestic violence awareness sponsored by United Methodist Women, in partnership with United Methodist Men, the Inelda Gonzalez Initiative for Domestic Violence, and the FaithTrust Institute.
Click to hear the conversation with the workshop presenters
UMW sought the help of the FaithTrust Institute in conducting these trainings because of the organization’s expertise in the area of domestic abuse. Danielle Hill, a program manager at the Institute, says that “FaithTrust Institute really exists to try to address and prevent violence against women and children specifically, but gender-based violence of all kinds. We educate faith communities of all kinds on how to do that.” She also notes that they have “branched out into clergy ethics and teaching healthy boundaries, because the last place people should be hurt is in the church.”
Encouraging faith communities to reach out to secular organizations for help where domestic violence issues are concerned is key. “Churches in the past have sometimes been a hindrance rather than a help, and so it’s really important that churches find the right way to help and support the experts. There have been situations where really well-meaning church members have put themselves or others in danger by not leaning on the experts and thinking they were doing the right thing,” explains Danielle.
“This training addresses best practices for how churches can respond to various situations they might encounter as a congregation [and] how they might also respond to the more general problem of domestic violence in the community.”
Another of the workshop’s coaches, Julie A. Owen, was herself a victim of domestic violence and discovered firsthand that some churches – including her own, at the time – simply aren’t prepared to provide the necessary support to victims. “We decided to get some training and support, and we actually started a transitional shelter for battered women and children. So that’s how I got into it,” she explains. “Now we know it’s one out of three women in our pews out of all our churches. We know that domestic violence happens just as much in families of faith as in homes where they are secular.”
Julie’s journey has taken her from being a victim to being a resource for others. “It’s been a big part of my faith walk, surviving domestic violence and going through my own process. And then being able to provide information and opportunities for people to learn, ask questions, talk about their own experiences, what their churches can do, what do you do, what do you not
do, what are the scriptural issues.”
On the first day of the Iowa Conference workshop, Julie says, “We talked about the theology of submission, the sanctity of marriage, divorce, forgiveness, suffering, all of these things which impact victims that are amongst us.” On the second day, they focused more on how to respond and be a part of the solution, making a positive difference.
Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON), which works closely with the immigrant community on everything from residency applications to domestic abuse issues, was also involved in the training. “Where we’re able, we like to show where our social justice priorities intersect. United Methodist Women has a long commitment to racial justice,” asserts Mollie Vickery, Executive for Children, Youth & Family Advocacy at UMW. “This was a way to show the connection with domestic violence and immigration. We were really fortunate to have such an active JFON right in Iowa that could come in and talk very specifically to those issues and to the challenges faced by the undocumented community and how churches might respond.”
Laura Mendoza of JFON acknowledges that, regarding immigration issues, “sometimes clients call and there’s nothing we can do for them. But just listening to their stories, supporting them, telling them that they’re not alone, that there is some help out there.”
In terms of what these women hope to accomplish through workshops like this one, Julie says, “I would really like for people of faith in this group and elsewhere to be able to learn how to identify domestic violence when it’s happening, and to know about the resources that are there and to be connected in their communities to the people who are already doing the work on the ground around safety and shelter and advocacy, so that they can then provide the faith piece of support.”
She recognizes, though, that people are often overwhelmed by the enormity of the domestic violence problem. “People sometimes don’t do anything because they think ‘What can I do? I’m just one person.’ But the fact is they really can do a lot, just by supporting, believing a victim, giving them information, telling them where to go for help. Even doing that can save a life.”
“FaithTrust offers people concrete help on how to do that,”
adds Danielle, explaining that they provide tools such as community resource maps which highlight the locations of shelters and legal advocates. During trainings, they go over things like the faith community checklist. “Are we talking about domestic violence from the pulpit? What are we saying about it? Are we preaching non-violence? Are we supporting families? We have a faith community declaration that says we, as a faith community, will not tolerate domestic violence in our congregation.”
Danielle also emphasizes the importance of actions like placing the phone numbers of advocacy groups in the ladies’ room of the church. “People can walk in, and not only do they see this information there, but that the church wants
them to get help. And that’s crucially important.”
To learn more about what you and your church can do to help address domestic violence, visit www.UnitedMethodistWomen.org
and click on the Domestic Violence link. There they have tons of resources, from printed materials and workshop information to informative webinars and videos.
Julie hopes that these efforts in raising awareness about domestic violence will make a strong impact. “I would like for people to walk away with a fire burning to do something, to take it back to their church, and to just have some tools to do that.”