Building a Faith-based Response to Domestic Violence

Timothy Tardibono - Monday, February 12, 2018
It is no secret that Oklahoma ranks high in several categories related to domestic violence. The YWCA and allies have done a remarkable job educating Oklahomans on the challenges women and children face from violent men that are supposed to be loving and noble partners in developing a stable family. Driving east on I-44 towards Broadway Extension, the YWCA billboard blares the startling message that 1 in 4 women are subject to such abuse. Additionally, Oklahoma continues to rank near the top for states where women are killed by their male partners. Compounding the damage done to Oklahoma’s mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts and grandmothers is the data showing the traumatic consequences to children who are front-row witnesses to the abuse. Nationally, data shows that upwards of 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence at home. Unfortunately, this learned, abusive and manipulative behavior is showing up in teenagers as young women are increasingly reporting that their boyfriends are threatening violence or self-harm if she breaks up.

Because Oklahoma also ranks high in church attendance, it is safe to conclude that some of the female and child victims of domestic violence are also sitting next to us in Sunday school, worship services and small home-group meetings. Fortunately, faith leaders are speaking out encouraging other religious leaders to not only take the issue seriously from the pulpit but also build infrastructure into the fabric of the church body that creates a safe place for victims and provides helpful resources.  One such leader is Russell Moore who is President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention which is the leading faith denomination in Oklahoma.

In recent years, Moore has been forceful in raising the issue to faith leaders within and outside the Southern Baptist fold. Moore recognizes that the church’s response should not only be reactive. He asserts, “The time to start addressing domestic violence is not just reactively in a crisis but proactively, starting in our children’s programs. We should teach our boys to reject as unworthy of Christ the sort of ‘bro’ culture that sees women as objects, whose value is assigned by their sexual attractiveness or availability to men.”

Attorneys can assist their faith leaders by providing education on the issue of domestic violence. Here are a few ideas on places to start:

1. Attorneys should first familiarize themselves on the domestic violence/sexual assault resources in their community. The OCBA’s Lawyers Against Domestic Abuse Committee has developed information on such resources and can connect you to LADA Committee partners already providing safe, supportive resources for women and children trapped in cycles of abuse.

2. Attorneys can educate their pastors and other church leaders about those community resources and encourage their faith leaders to be bold in addressing the issue. If a pastor is struggling with where to find a Biblical model for a man that proactively prevents abuse, one should look no further than the Old Testament story of Ruth. 
When clergy usually discuss the story of Ruth it tends to be in the context of the devotion a non-Israelite woman Ruth, gives to her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi despite dire circumstances. When Ruth and Naomi’s husbands die leaving them as widows in a foreign country, Ruth does not forsake Naomi but follows her back to Bethlehem stating, “Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God.” (Ruth 1:16) But sometimes overlooked in the story is the male figure Boaz who should be highlighted by pastors as a male model against domestic abuse in three different ways.

First, Boaz was a leader in the community, both civically and in business, but did not shy away from wielding that influence in positive ways. In the custom of the day, farm owners allowed widows to come behind the hired male harvesters allowing the widows to gather excess grain. When Boaz was made aware of Ruth working in his field to gather grain for her and Naomi, he used his influence and power to prevent her abuse. Knowing that his male employees had the capacity and opportunity to take advantage of and abuse Ruth, Boaz made it clear to his employees that such abuse would not be tolerated telling Ruth, “I will tell the men to leave you alone.” (Ruth 2:9) He also encouraged Ruth to not seek out other fields to work but to stay in his field where he could use his authority to shield her.

Boaz’s model should encourage business and civic leaders to create workplace policies which will prevent and discourage domestic violence while also creating consequences for abusive activity.

Secondly, later in the story, Boaz demonstrates self-integrity and rejects the opportunity to abuse Ruth himself when he could likely get away with it. Boaz’s honorable response sets a clarion call for men to follow in rejecting the abusive opportunities power can bring.

Thirdly, at the end of the story, Boaz uses his influence to challenge a male relative of Naomi to be accountable for his family responsibility to care for Ruth. When the other man refuses, Boaz does not leave Ruth without recourse but takes action himself to secure Ruth’s future.

These three assertive actions by Boaz sets a “Boaz Standard” for discouraging abuse that could be highlighted by faith leaders as a model to replicate, especially by the men in their congregations.

3. Finally, attorneys should consider playing the role of the Good Samaritan and offering their pro-bono legal services to help guide and advocate for a fellow church-goer who has become a victim. According to studies, the highest lethality danger for an abused woman is during and immediately after her efforts to escape and protect her children. Such a dangerous time is clearly a point when the legal community needs to urgently step in and invoke legal protections.

These three steps are not the only steps attorneys can take to help their faith leaders embrace the fight against domestic violence, but hopefully they are three initial steps to help faith leaders develop a Boaz Standard against domestic violence in their congregations and surrounding communities. 
Timothy Tardibono is a Member of OCBA’s Lawyers Against Domestic Abuse Committee and the President of the Family Policy Institute of Oklahoma which is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization focused on protecting families and strengthening communities to improve the well-being of Oklahoma’s children and families. For more information on how FPIO can assist faith leaders on topics like domestic violence, foster care, human trafficking and children of incarcerated parents please email or call 405.664.6514.

Article originally published by the OK County Bar Association in the May 2016 “Breifcase” newspaper on p. 21: