It could be argued that much of the Bible deals with violence. Accounts of biblical history frequently mention murder, military battles, and the blood of martyrs. Often the violence came because of the sinful acts of disobedient people whose lives were corrupt in the sight of God.
Abuse and violence have become so prominent within recent years that a number of professional counselors and community groups have turned their attention to prevention. Some communities have developed telephone hotlines to give immediate 24-hour access to people who are victims of abuse. The development of self-help groups can also be helpful for both victims and abusers.
Observers have urged churches to get involved by sponsoring educational events that will increase public awareness of abuse. Churches can host peer-support groups as many are doing. It is becoming more commonplace to develop or participate in telephone crisis lines, helping to establish safe shelters for battered women and their children, and urging schools, police departments, and other community agencies to consider educative and preventive programs. All of this could be helpful, both for intervention in abuse and for prevention. Here are some additional suggestions:
- Education. Programs for preventing violence and sexual assault on college campuses have focused largely on providing information to both women and men. Assault is less frequent when students know how to protect themselves, what to do in case of an attack, where to report violence or suspected abuse, what is myth and what is factual about abuse, and where to get further information. Throughout the community, including the Christian community, public awareness is good prevention.
- Stimulate Individual and Family Stability. Abuse, as we have seen, often occurs in families where there is intense stress, misunderstanding of husband-wife or parent-child roles, or an inability to cope with family pressures. By helping people deal with the demands of child-rearing, marital pressures, or the needs of elderly parents, we can reduce some of the underlying causes that lead to abuse. Research on delinquency prevention tends to support this conclusion. Children with close family bonds are less likely to experiment with delinquency. In contrast, violence, fighting, vandalism, and other forms of misbehavior most often come when children have been raised in homes where parents lack effective parenting skills. These may not be violent or unloving parents. Often they are parents who are overwhelmed by the demands of child rearing. When these parents get help, delinquency in their children is much less likely.
- Teaching Interpersonal Skills. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that abusers often lack skills in effective communication, handling conflict, dealing with feelings, solving problems, negotiating when there are differences of opinion, managing stress, or coping with crises. Often the best way to prevent abuse is to help abusers and their victims handle life more effectively. Since victims of abuse so often become abusers, it could be beneficial to give special attention to abuse victims, teaching them how to cope when stresses arise.
- Social Action. Ultimately prevention will have to focus on ways to eliminate some of the psychological and social environmental issues that stimulate abuse and battering.
All of this may seem far removed from the ministry of the local church. Throughout the Bible, however, there is an emphasis on helping the sojourner, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the helpless, and those who are in need. In today’s society, surely no one is more powerless than the victim of abuse. The follower of Jesus Christ has a responsibility to give help and protection to those, who, for a variety of reasons, have become abused and abusers.
is President of the Southern Union Conference
Southern Union | January 2017