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Study guide Churches: Creating a point of grace D

By Robert C. Blezard

omestic abuse affects primarily women and children in families across the whole economic and social spectrum, experts say. Abuse is often so well hidden that it goes undetected until it’s too late. But vic- tims and survivors are everywhere: in church, in Sunday schools and at potlucks. Victims and survivors are baptized and partake of the eucharist. The body of Christ is a victim and a survivor—and needs our attention. Caution: Some people may be uncomfortable, even distressed, talk- ing about domestic abuse. Give peo- ple permission in advance to leave if necessary, but welcome them into a vital discussion in the church. Begin by reinforcing confidentiality rules. Be sensitive to people’s reactions.

Blezard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Arendtsville, Pa. He has a master of divinity degree from Boston University and did subsequent study at the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) and the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia.

Exercise 1: The Bible challenge The Bible isn’t always helpful for supporting the equal value of women. Many ancient cultures viewed women as inferior to men, and this is often reflected in Christian Scripture. To justify their behavior, some abus- ers rely on reading Scripture literally. Read 1 Peter 2:18–3:7 and discuss. What is the role and place of slaves described in the passage? How does the advice concerning abuse sound to you? How might a slave- owner in 19th-century America cite this passage to justify slavery and harsh treatment of slaves? Note the transition in 3:1 from slaves to wives. To the writer of 1 Peter, are wives much different from slaves? How might this passage

embolden an abuser? How might it discourage an abused intimate partner from getting help? See also Ephe- sians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19. Though they assume a subordinate role for women, the passages above make it clear that the assumed male- headed authority is not a license for abuse. Compare and contrast 1 Peter 3:1, Ephesians 5:25-28, Colossians 3:19. What reactions and reflections do these verses raise for you? How can Christians both wrestle with these passages and deal with the conse- quences of reading them literally? What is the “final word” these pas- sages speak on domestic abuse?

Exercise 2: God as defender The Bible consistently portrays God as defender of the vulnerable, protec- tor of the oppressed and punisher of the wicked. Read Luke 1:46-55 and discuss how God empowers Mary. Read Micah 6:8 and discuss what it means to “do justice” with victims and survivors of abuse. What comfort could an abuse

victim find in these verses from the Psalms: 9:9-10, 10:17-18, 18:46-48 and 91:1-6?

In what ways might you and your community be part of God’s deliver- ance from harm?

Exercise 3: Domestic abuse? Here?

Is domestic violence much of a con- cern in your community? How do you know? How could you determine this? Given that, statistically, a third of all women face abuse from an intimate partner, as does 1 in 10 men, you can assume it’s a problem every- where. Invite a police officer, social

worker or women’s shelter specialist to talk to your church about the work they are doing in your community. Ask your pastor to address the issue in newsletter articles, pastoral prayers and sermons. Place literature from domestic violence organizations around your church—in restroom stalls, bulletin boards, etc.

Exercise 4: Spiral of abuse Experts say abuse often spirals— beginning verbally and increasing in intensity and harm—as several women’s stories in the article on page 20 confirm. An abuser often system- atically intimidates, belittles and con- trols their partner until she or he is (or feels) powerless to respond. Knowing this pattern, how can your congrega- tion better help people through inter- vention, educating ourselves, coun- seling and/or advocacy? How can young people, especially those who desire to marry, learn to have healthy relationships?

Exercise 5: Power, control and fear An abuser uses power to provoke fear and to control their partner. Do any of these things have a place in an inti- mate relationship? How about their opposites: empowerment, freedom and security?

How does your congregation help equip, educate or train its members (including youth) to have healthier, more fulfilling relationships? How can young people, especially those who desire to marry, learn to have healthy relationships? Does your congregation teach children about healthy friendships? How could it do more? What opportunities or services are available in your community?

This study guide is offered as one example of the more than 300 that are currently available on The Lutheran’s website. Download guides—free to print and Web subscribers—at (click “study guides”).

26 The Lutheran •

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