How does domestic abuse hide in the ecclesia?
Domestic abuse remains hidden by cycles of abuse with phases of ‘reconciliation’ and calm.
In the reconciliation phase the abuser apologises, makes excuses, blames the victim for what she does or doesn’t do or how she doesn’t meet his expectations. The abuser blames personal problems like stress, anger or substance abuse, denies the abuse occurred or says it is not as bad as the victim might claim.
The abuser’s excuses are believed and victims are blamed, even by their own family and by others in the ecclesia whom he has also manipulated.
During the calm phase the victim ‘forgets’ the incident(s) and does not disclose it because of the shame involved; observers conclude everything is OK.
Domestic abuse is made worse by the brotherhood’s reluctance to believe such behaviour occurs in the community of Christ. This can extend to the victim’s own ecclesia and even their family; broken marriages are looked upon with shame; we don’t like to talk about such ‘unedifying’ subjects and can even blame the victims. All too often the ecclesia’s intervention wrongly treats abuse as a marriage problem and prescribes marriage counselling which makes the victim part of the problem, empowers the abuser and starts the abuse cycle again. Protecting third parties, ecclesial reputation and abuser ‘dignity’ and ‘rehabilitation’ sometimes is put before protecting victims and we address tangible associated abuser problems like immorality, infidelity, substance abuse, vile language and neglect of meetings rather than the ‘elephant in the room’ - domestic violence.
Unfortunately we are poorly prepared to help and few of us have formal training to assist an abuser change what is an ingrained pattern of behaviour. Ecclesial interventions peter out while the cycle of abuse rolls around. We rarely if ever incorporate domestic abuse into teaching on marriage including premarital counselling, young people’s studies and marriage enrichment courses.
If this article raises concerns you have about domestic violence in your own life or those around you can call 1800RESPECT (If in Australia) or similar services in other countries. There is also a list of support services on this website including Christadelphian Support Services.