October means colorful fall leaves, chilly winter nights, and costumed children haunting their neighborhoods in hopes of collecting buckets of candy. The month of October, however, is also tied to a darker issue that affects people of all genders, ages, races, and socioeconomic classes; October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Although October heightens the awareness of the topic,we should be aware of the terrifying truths year-round. The month may have passed, but our thoughts, prayers, and support never should. Based on statistics from the National Coalition Against Violence website, this issue has probably impacted you personally or someone you know. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some sort of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. These numbers are startling, especially when we consider the impact on the children in the home. Nationwide, 1 in 15 children are involved in intimate partner violence incidents, with 90% being eyewitnesses to the abuse. Although we’d like to think that intimate partner violence isn’t an issue in our communities, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, the statistics disagree.
The issue of intimate partner violence is not isolated to the physical abuse itself. The NCAV reports that domestic violence costs the U.S. over $8.3 billion per year. Between 21-60% of victims lose their jobs due to issues stemming from the abuse. In addition, studies show that victims are more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol as well as suffer from depression and suicidal tendencies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau reports that youth exposed to domestic violence can experience a wide variety of both short-term and long-term consequences, ranging from mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and PTSD to cognitive delays and social issues.
In reflecting on this epidemic, I thought of 1 Corinthians 12:25-26: “so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” While it’s easier to share with each other in times of celebration, it’s important to walk with our brothers and sisters in times of crisis, as well. However, even in a church setting, most people, especially those experiencing intimate partner violence, will be hesitant to share their darkest pains. As the body of Christ, we must nurture and develop our relationships with fellow church members so that we may support them in both the suffering and the rejoicing. This type of commitment to our brothers and sisters is not always easy, or neat, or convenient, but it is what needs to be done in this time of frequent disconnection and isolation for those experiencing this violence.
In addition, we need to make our churches, our schools, and our workplaces safe. As a peace church, we should explore ways to support positive and peaceful relationships. And have addressed this as an issue prior in a 1997 statement. If everyone were to speak out against violence and let it be known that it will not be tolerated, we could make a difference. Too often, victims of domestic abuse are afraid to speak up for fear that they will make the situation worse. Creating safe spaces for victims to seek help without shame or blame is a small yet important part of our role as the church. Even though October is over, our concern with the issue of intimate partner violence should not end. The holidays are often a stressful time, and the occurrence of abuse often spikes. Let’s be vigilant in our concern for our brothers and sisters, and let’s seek out ways to spread the peace of Jesus Christ with hearts free of judgement and arms open wide for those who need us.