US churches and women's networks challenge domestic violence

By staff writers
October 17, 2007

The National Council of Churches USA's Justice for Women Working Group is working with people of faith across America in October 2007 to observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month and make sure the churches take the issue seriously.

"October is the month to break the silence that isolates God's children who are caught in the pain of domestic violence," declared the Rev Ann Tiemeyer, NCCUSA programme director for Women's Ministry, highlighting the action.

She continued: "This is the time when our churches can publicly speak about the value of all God's children and how violence against any person - young or old - dishonours our relationship with each other and withGod."

Domestic violence occurs in every strata of society, including the church and other religious institutions, Tiemeyer said. "It's about the misuse of power to dominate the other."

Domestic Violence Awareness Month evolved from the first Day of Unity observed in October, 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). The intent was to connect battered women's advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. The Day of Unity soon became a special week when a range of activities were conducted at the local, state, and national levels.

In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed. That same year the first national toll-free hotline was begun. In 1989 the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month Commemorative Legislation was passed by the US Congress.

Such legislation has passed every year since with NCADV providing key leadership in this effort.

"Sermons, bulletin inserts, educational opportunities during Domestic Violence month are a good beginning," Tiemeyer explained, "but we must also create a year round environment where the church is a safe place for people to share their story, break the silence, come out of isolation and receive the support of God's loving community."

She lauded the National Declaration by Religious and Spiritual Leaders to Address Violence Against Women that the National Council of Churches USA endorsed in 2006.

"The integrity of the declaration is in naming that there is violence against women in all communities, including the church," Tiemeyer said.

"When we honestly acknowledge that our sacred text, traditions and values have been misused to perpetuate and condone abuse, then we can begin to reclaim the power they also gave to heal."

"Domestic violence has a negative emotional, physical and spiritual impact on the person who is being violated as well as that person's family and community," said the Rev. Leslie Copeland-Tune, assistant director of the NCCUSA's Washington Office.

"We can no longer be silent or make excuses for violent and abusive behavior. Nor can we continue to allow bad theology to justify bad behavior. Scripture teaches us that God has called us to live in peace and to love one another. Domestic abuse is a violation of these sacred principles."

"As a community of faith, we should be diligent about doing all that we can to end domestic abuse," said Copeland-Tune.

The Rev Dr Marie M. Fortune, founder of the Faith Trust Institute and a member of the NCCUSA's Justice for Women Working Group, writes in her blog that progress has been made in raising public awareness of the problem of domestic violence.

"The bad news is that domestic violence remains common in all our communities," Fortune says.

"The numbers are still at least one in three women who will experience violence in her lifetime, frequently from domestic violence. We cannot rest until only one in 1,000 women experiences violence, until domestic violence is an odd, peculiar, unusual tragedy in our midst."

The Faith Trust Institute offers a National Declaration by Religious and Spiritual Leaders to Address Violence Against Women that can be accessed here. Among the signers is The Rev Michael Livingston, President of the National Council of Churches USA.

In October 1994 NCADV, in conjunction with Ms. Magazine, created the "Remember My Name" project, a national registry to increase public awareness of domestic violence deaths.

Since then, NCADV has been collecting information on women who have been killed by an intimate partner and produces a poster each October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, listing the names of those documented in that year.

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