Survey reveals churchgoers not immune from domestic violence

 More than one in six Methodist members have personally experienced domestic violence, according to research commissioned by the Methodist Church. The research, highlighted in a report to the Methodist Conference at the end of the month, was undertaken by Lorraine Radford and Cecilia Cappel at the University of Surrey Roehampton, Southlands College. More than half of all ministers and lay workers questioned by the researchers said they work either frequently or occasionally with families experiencing domestic violence. Some ministers and lay workers reported that a lack of guidance and access to information on domestic violence sometimes leaves them overwhelmed by approaches from people seeking spiritual or marriage guidance. The level of support offered by the Church varied according to location, resulting in a "domestic violence lottery". Women were more than twice as likely to experience domestic violence from a partner with more than half of all perpetrators of domestic violence being husbands or male partners. One female minister reported living with her abuser for 30 years. Some ministers interviewed felt that the Church was either out of touch on this issue or seen to be out of touch with the rest of society. Christian beliefs seemed to afford ministers little guidance on how to support families living with domestic violence. Many saw a conflict in the Church's thinking on marriage, endurance, redemption, forgiveness and violence. All the survivors interviewed said they stayed longer with abusive partners because they felt they had an extra responsibility to preserve their marriages. Although survivors had found individual colleagues who were very understanding and supportive, the Church as a whole was perceived to have dealt with the issue very poorly, wanting, as one respondent put it 'brush the violence under the carpet'. Perpetrators, especially partners of ministers, were not expected to do anything about the abuse. Christian forgiveness was mostly seen to mean continuing to welcome an abuser as a member of the Church while an ex partner was excluded from Church attendance by fear. Ministers who are abused by partners feel that they are in an especially vulnerable position, fearing loss of their jobs, home and vocation if they talk about the violence that is happening to them. The researchers commented: 'In general, we were left with the conclusion that Christian beliefs had played an ambiguous role in survivors' journey to safety, in some ways helping but in other ways hindering their efforts to overcome the abuse.' The Conference report summarises the full findings of the research commissioned by the Methodist Women's Network and the Church's Family and Personal Relationships Committee and funded by the Southlands Methodist Centre. It asks the Conference to endorse work to develop the theological understanding of the family, marriage, forgiveness and violence. This would become the basis for a policy on domestic violence and establish training and good practice at all levels of the Church's life. Margaret Sawyer, National Secretary of Women's Network, said that the research clearly indicated the need for the Church to develop a policy on domestic violence and to evolve effective strategies in helping those who come to the Church for support. She hoped that the next 12 months would see "the development of a training pack for ministers, deacons and lay worker to allow them to be better informed of the damage that domestic violence can do. Those who have pastoral responsibility in the Church need to be equipped to handle sensitively yet objectively the sometimes painful and difficult cases of domestic violence with which they come into contact." source: Methodist Church Media Office

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