He had been her doctor for over 25 years. He knew everything about her social history and her medical problems. In fact, he was not only her healthcare provider, but over the years, he had even become a friend.
This is why it caught him completely off-guard when she answered “Yes” to his question.
You see, he had just attended a medical training over the weekend about domestic violence. He had learned that it was much more prevalent than he’d actually realized. That week, he’d decided he would begin asking each and every one of his patients about their experience with domestic violence.
“Are you in a relationship where you are being physically hurt by your partner?”
“Yes,” she answered. Her husband of 30 years had been physically abusing her.
He looked at her with surprise. “Darlene….why on earth didn’t you ever tell me this before?”
She looked back at him and said, “You never asked.”
Why the Silence?
The topic of domestic violence has gotten some attention in the media over the past few months. A few horrific stories have emerged, causing us as a society to take a step back and shed some light on this important topic. Medical staff are being trained, social workers are being equipped, and mental health workers are being reminded that this is an on-going issue in our society.
But what about the Church? Why is it that we’ve remained so quiet, with a “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality, when it comes to the issue of domestic violence?
There are some out there that think that maybe we expect too much of the Church at large. If we’re defining the “Church” as an individual group or institution with a pastor and a congregation, then yes, I tend to agree with that statement. Pastors are trained in theology, not in medicine, finance, counseling, sex-ed, accounting, or the on-going list of pressure that society tends to put on them. They are not called to “fix all the world’s problems” but rather, to point us to Jesus.
But when we define the Church as the body of believers at large, then the truth is we have tended to shy away from discussing certain topics and bringing important things into the light. Domestic violence is one of those things. We are called to be the ones raising our voices in our homes and in our communities, identifying injustice, and bringing hope and healing into dark places. So why is it that we stay so silent?
For one, I think many of us don’t feel qualified. We don’t think we know enough about this subject or that subject in order to begin the conversation. But what we don’t realize is that you don’t have to be an expert to be an influencer. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you can still BE the answer.
We, Church, are called to be the conversation starters. God can use our passion for justice to start conversations that bring healing and hope. It doesn’t take an expert; it only takes a willing heart. Someone who is willing to not only ask the hard questions and bring up the difficult subjects, but to also respond with grace and mercy.
Why We Need to Start The Conversation
As we tackle the issue of domestic violence, we have to realize that we can shed light on dark places by using our words. When we bring these things into the light, they begin losing their power in our lives, in our churches, and in our communities. Here are some reasons why we as a Church need to talk more about domestic violence:
1. Because it exists inside the walls of our Church. Oftentimes when we hear this topic being discussed in the news, we see it as an issue outside of ourselves. We assume that only people who are “far away” from God are dealing with these kinds of toxic relationships. As a professional counselor, I am here to tell you that that is not at all the case. I have worked with many believers who find themselves struggling within the walls of an abusive relationship, feeling like they have nowhere to turn. Not only that, but the stigma that comes with “divorce” and “separation” within the Church, actually keep them in these unhealthy and dangerous relationships. Domestic violence knows no limits, and impacts people both inside and outside the walls of the Church. We need to stop assuming and instead start asking. Because like Darlene reminded us at the beginning of this story, we may never know if we never ask.
2. Because it's a problem that only grows in silence. Like many sins and negative behaviors, domestic violence is a problem that grows in silence. Because of the nature of the violent relationship, it tends to take place behind closed doors, fueled by the silence and isolation. By not starting these conversations, we are allowing the toxic cycle to continue, essentially saying that we don’t believe these relationships exist. What we need to do instead is to call it into the light, removing the stigma and shame that comes with it by encouraging men and women who are battling these kinds of relationships to come forward and seek healing, hope, and restoration. We have to break the silence in order to make room for the sound of healing.
3. Because healing is needed on both sides of the equation. One thing we have to remember in this important conversation is that it’s not a one-sided problem. As much as we grieve with those being abused, we have to remember that there is healing that needs to take place on both sides of the relationship. Not only do we need to speak into the lives of those who are being hurt by domestic violence, but we also need to call forward those who are doing the hurting. We often neglect this side of the equation as we focus on the victim. But one thing we need to remember is that anyone who is trapped in a sinful cycle of abusive interactions toward another person is also in need of healing and hope, because like they say, “hurt people, hurt people.” As we begin having this conversation, let us be sure to go into it without judgment, but rather, to make room for healing on both sides of the relationship.
I’m proud to be a part of a body of believers who is starting to shed light on some otherwise dark topics. My challenge to you, to myself, and to the church at large is that we take up our calling to be a voice for the voiceless and strength for the the powerless. May we be the ones to start these hard conversations within and ask these difficult questions within our homes, our families, our churches and our communities. Because we will never know, until we ask.
Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. She’s also the creator of the True Love Dates Blog. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!