The horrifying impact of domestic violence has drawn together the United Methodist Men (UMM) and the United Methodist Women (UMW) of the Baltimore-Washington Conference (BWC) for the first time ever.
While their three-hour meeting to announce this partnership was being held Aug. 11, 800 women in the United States were beaten in their homes by a spouse or partner, reported United Methodist Men President Richard Campbell.
“The statistics are staggering,” Campbell said. “Every nine seconds a woman is beaten. Every 35 seconds a man falls prey to domestic violence; and each year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes.
“We need to let people know that God and the people of this church do care and will stand up for them as a matter of justice.”
Nancy Randers-Pehrson, president of BWC’s United Methodist Women, agreed. Educating area United Methodists about domestic violence being perpetrated all around them is essential, according to her.
But so is empathy and action.
“With this new initiative we are attempting to provide paths of healing,” Randers-Pehrson said. “Our churches need to become shelters in a time of storm. To experience freedom as whole people in Jesus Christ, we need to live in safe homes.”
We are attempting to provide paths of healing.
To undergird BWC’s new initiative, Julie Taylor from the General Board of Global Ministries is offering resources to area churches.
Domestic violence, Taylor explained, is a pattern of behavior in which one family member willfully intimidates or assaults another. This violence transcends all economic, educational, geographic, racial and cultural boundaries.
But it’s a problem the church tends to sweep under the rug, uncertain of how to respond in the midst of family dynamics.
2 statistics stand out
Two statistics stand out for Taylor: one because it defines the scope of the problem; the other because it illuminates society’s response.
Taylor said that every day in the United States more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners. Also in the United States, there are 1,500 shelters for battered women and 3,800 shelters for animals, she pointed out.
Campbell said the statistics surrounding domestic violence can bring you to tears. But within the Baltimore-Washington Conference the response must be one of hope, according to him.
“We must choose hope,” said Taylor.
To encourage the 100 people in attendance at the meeting to find hope and a path toward action, several people shared their own personal stories of abuse. Iola Stemley, a UMW vice president, asked that those present “receive these stories as though we’re talking to Jesus.”
One woman shared stories of being hit in the face with a hammer; a man told of being burned, cut, hit in the head with a baseball bat and poisoned. Both now consider themselves survivors. They say they “owe everything to God.”
A face on domestic violence
Another held up a photo of his niece, who was murdered Feb. 9. “I didn’t know anything about domestic violence,” he said. “Jenny put a face on it for me.”
This man said he often considers what the church can do. “We need to be aware. We need to listen and have our eyes open,” he said. “We need to be ready to understand.”
Still another man told about being abused by an older brother when he was 8-years-old. “As a child I lived in constant fear,” he said. “Belts, ropes, whatever he could get around my neck, he used, and I would wake up on the floor. Your house is where you’re supposed to learn about love and trust.”
This man, a pastor, encourages the church to “name the demon,” and to listen to the victims instead of “pushing them back deeper into closets of shame and mistrust.”
Painful to hear stories
Jeanne Hitchcock, a member of Sharp Street United Methodist Church in Baltimore, works with the state of Maryland to address domestic violence. She said it’s painful to hear these stories and these statistics, but what you don’t know you can’t address.
Hitchcock applauds the 40% reduction in crime and violence in Maryland since 2007. But, she said, 49 people died as a result of domestic violence last year. “There’s still a lot left to do,” she said.
Churches that want to do advocacy ministries can begin lobbying to strengthen protective orders, and expand hospital-based programs. There are seven hospital-based programs in Maryland and that’s not enough, Hitchcock said. “Each of us needs to stand up, speak out and stop domestic violence,” she emphasized.
This fall, the UMM and UMW will begin implementing their action plan in local churches.
4 main objectives
The plan has four main objectives:
- Increase awareness of domestic violence and resources available to address it;
- Make the church’s position on this issue clear, while using language of responsibility and healing rather than blame and punishment;
- Promote clear policies that address sexual abuse committed by pastors and other church leadership;
- Develop a long-term vision of hope for victims of domestic violence and abuse.
“For victims of domestic violence, who often get trapped in the darkness of abuse, it’s often hard to see a light of hope. As the men and women of the Baltimore-Washington Conference come together, we can be that light, said Director of Connectional Ministries Sandy Ferguson. “It is my prayer that all of our churches will begin to participate in this important initiative. Lives depend on it.”