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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




When Silence Isn't Golden

Victims of domestic violence need their churches’ intervention

By John W. Kennedy
Aug. 1, 2010

Soon after she started attending an Assemblies of God church, 19-year-old Annie* found herself attracted to 21-year-old Keith*, who projected a serious commitment to the Lord.

“He raised his hands in church, danced around up front and loudly spoke in tongues,” Annie says. “We prayed together; we worshipped together.”

Annie knew Keith had a history of felonies, including being a registered sex offender. Keith even told her that he earlier had beaten another teenager who attended the church. But just before she met him, Keith recommitted his life to Jesus. By his model behavior, Annie — and everyone else in the church — believed Keith had turned his life around completely. After dating for several months, Annie married Keith at age 20.

But appearances can be deceiving. Just after the wedding ceremony, Keith reverted to patterns responsible for his prior legal troubles.

“He started out shouting, cursing and throwing things at me,” Annie says. “Then he started hitting me with closed fists, strangling and raping me.”

The trauma continued every week or two for almost a year. Annie says Keith showed great proficiency in punching her in places not visible to others: her legs, upper arms, stomach and parts of her head covered by hair.

“I never did anything to provoke him,” Annie says. “He always apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. But it would happen again.”

During one beating, Annie ran toward the door, but it only spurred Keith to whack her harder. So she decided never to try leaving again.

Again and again, Keith criticized Annie. He claimed she was being inadequately submissive or not godly enough. He told her she had botched modeling the Proverbs 31 wife he deserved. If she had been living in Old Testament times, Keith warned his wife, he could have stoned her to death for failing to properly show love to him. Keith took away Annie’s car and cut off practically every friendship.

Annie tolerated the pummelings and never thought of striking back. Convinced that some in the congregation believed even a violent marriage needed to be preserved at all costs, Annie occasionally wished her husband would die in a car crash or job site accident so that she could avoid legal proceedings.

After Annie nearly died from suffocation by choking, one of her few remaining friends convinced her to talk to the pastor. The pastor immediately drove to pick her up and took her to a safe house operated by a laywoman in the church who later took Annie to a police station. That night police arrested Keith.

After a year of court battles, Keith finally pleaded guilty.

“He denied the accusations, and there were several occasions where I wanted to give up,” Annie says. “But church and family members encouraged me to see it through. I’m glad I did.”

Keith served a six-month term in jail for third-degree assault and since has been banned from appearing on church grounds.

Annie had to rebuild her life. Keith took out credit cards in Annie’s name and ran up $17,000 in debt, forcing her to file bankruptcy. Yet Annie found help through Christian counseling and kept going to the church.

While Annie found congregants supportive afterwards, she still is troubled.

“Some church members later said they knew something was going on, but they didn’t think it was any of their business,” Annie says. “It really would have helped if they had tried to coax it out of me. He had threatened to kill me on multiple occasions if I told anyone about the abuse.”

Keith had forced Annie to quit college because he didn’t want her out of the house. After the divorce, Annie returned to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Now 25, she is a business office manager. She has been remarried for three years.


Finding help

Annie fit the classic definition of a battered woman: a female who is repeatedly subjected to any forceful physical or psychological behavior by a man in order to coerce her to do something he wants her to do without any concern for her rights. Women in the church aren’t immune from husbands who trap them in a cycle of threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation and blaming.

Elizabeth Dermody Leonard, author of Convicted Survivors: The Imprisonment of Battered Women Who Kill, says battered women are likely to feel responsible for the abuse and believe that the man will change. Domestic violence is the top cause of injury to women, even though many incidents are never detected.

Around 1.3 million women are victims of a physical assault by an intimate partner each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reports that almost one in four women in the United States reports experiencing violence from a current or former spouse or boyfriend. One in five medical visits and one in three emergency room visits by American women is because of domestic violence, according to Peace and Safety in the Christian Home. Females ages 20 to 24 are at the greatest risk of intimate partner violence, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Some take the abuse for years and never tell anyone. On average, three women per day are killed by a husband or boyfriend, according to the Department of Justice.

“This is a society-wide plague,” says Leonard, who is a Vanguard University sociology professor. “For us as Christians, it has especially been hushed, silenced and invisible.”

Leonard began researching battered women in California prisons in 1993.

“I had no clue that such violence could exist in a home,” Leonard says.

Some churches are emerging from an earlier era where pastors commonly urged women to stay with their husbands regardless of physical abuse. Numerous battered women left church because they felt condemnation for divorcing, Leonard says.

“Even the most well-meaning people can do harm because of their ignorance,” Leonard says.

Leonard says Malachi 2:16 should be read beyond its opening of “ ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.” The verse continues: “And I hate a man’s covering himself with violence” (NIV).

“Divorce doesn’t break the covenant,” says Leonard, 62. “Violence breaks the covenant.”

Assemblies of God Chaplain Julia “Judy” Clark has been helping victims of domestic violence since 2005 as chaplain at the Bexar County Family Justice Center in Texas. She sees between five and 20 clients a week.

“When there is violence, a woman always needs to get help,” says Clark, 60. “They need to do whatever they have to do to keep safe and keep their children safe. Going back may mean murder.”

Any instance of violence needs to be reported, Clark says, whether it’s calling 911, going to a police station, or phoning a crisis intervention hotline.

“If it happens once, it likely will happen again because most of the time a perpetrator does not change his way,” says Clark, whose husband, Wayne, is pastor of San Antonio First Assembly.

An abuser is influenced by various factors, including alcohol, illegal drugs, a lack of anger management, bipolarity or learned behavior from what he saw his father do to his mother, Clark says. Women remain for myriad reasons, including emotional attachment, guilt, financial security or feeling they have no place to take their children, according to Clark. A woman, on average, leaves home seven times before making a final break, she says.

Clark prays with victims and offers them a Bible. But mostly she just listens.

“They can be broken, crying, angry or numb,” she says.

According to Clark, numerous clergy refer congregants to her, and many churches are open to helping domestic abuse sufferers with housing, food and utilities.

Leonard says church members may obtain tools from the FaithTrust Institute (faithtrustinstitute.org), Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (peaceandsafety.com) and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (nrcdv.org).

Congregations could have informational brochures in the foyer and helpline numbers displayed in women’s restrooms. In addition, Leonard encourages pastors to devote sermons to the topic so that abusers, victims and the whole congregation know there never is justification to hit a woman.

“Teaching on one-way submission is a toxic message for a home where there is abuse,” Leonard says. “It empowers the abuser and tells the victim that God approves of this control.”

In 1997, the AG Executive Presbytery adopted a lengthy statement on physical violence.

“God is opposed to all abuse,” the proclamation declared. “The innocent must be protected, and the abuse must be stopped, and the abuse dealt with appropriately.”

The AG paper stressed the importance of others intervening, because abuse victims often have a distorted view of the husband’s biblically authorized position as head of the home, and they feel guilt for making their mate angry.

“The first step for anyone who becomes aware of abuse is to report it to someone who can stop it,” the statement declares. “This should occur regardless of who is involved; how it takes place; or where, when or why it transpires. Far too often abuse is never reported.” e


*Names have been changed.

Editor’s note: General Superintendent George O. Wood talks about what AG church members can do about domestic violence at sinbysilence.com/ag.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Email your comments to pe@ag.org.