Yesterday Christians for Biblical Equality produced a list of various ways that churches can proactively address the problem of domestic violence both within congregations and the greater community.
Rev. Anne O. Weatherholt, who is rector of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Maryland, and in 2008 authored the book, Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence, a guide for clergy, congregations and church leaders, offered some helpful guidelines for making churches “Safe Houses.”
Weatherholt’s first line of instruction caught my eye: Always assume that there are persons in your church who have experienced or are experiencing abuse. Be aware of subtle messages in your church that promote the assumption that “everyone here is okay and every marriage and relationship is healthy.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as Cleo LaRue reminds me, in I Believe I’ll Testify, has said the same thing a bit more poetically: all houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses.
For those of us whose lives have been touched by various forms of abuse, whether physical, sexual, emotional, or, maybe even spiritual- and the statistics would suggest there are many of us- I can think of nothing more liberating than a space in which to tell the truth about ourselves, that we’re often not “okay” and our relationships bear the strain.
I venture to guess that all of us, regardless of whether or not our own story has been touched by abuse, need a “safe house” of sorts.
Most of us find our safe houses outside of church.
Maybe this is because many of us have been in churches that don’t tell the truth about themselves. They pretend that everything is hunky dory, or that only certain people with a particular set of characteristics, be they, for example, gay, mentally ill, or, in some cases, simply women called to ministry, are not “okay.”
This sort of thing is nothing more than false advertising, because we’re all screw-ups in some way or another.
These days my son, like the rest of his class of kindergartners, is learning that when he is hurt and becomes angry, he can go to his safe place.
Where do we go in our churches?