Domestic violence: The sermon we don’t preach

Meredith Flynn —  September 26, 2014

COMMENTARY | Eric Reed

In the past couple of weeks, I found myself reaching for the remote every time the news showed that video of NFL football player Ray Rice coldcocking his future wife in a hotel elevator. Seeing him drag her, unconscious, into the hallway and dumping her body on the floor is too much to take. For some of us, domestic violence hits too close to home.

A 2010 survey by the Centers for Disease Control showed 24% of women and 14% of men have been “hit with a fist or something hard, beaten, slammed against something at some point in their lifetime” by a partner. And yet, new LifeWay Research shows 4 out of 10 pastors never preach or teach about it, and only 2 in 10 raise the topic annually.

Country Church InteriorThat means in two-thirds of our churches, attenders might hear domestic violence, which affects one-fourth of households, referenced in a sermon or large group meeting once a year, if at all.

Spousal abuse still isn’t a subject for public conversation—even from the pulpit.

In my years of hearing and reading sermons, I’ve encountered only one on domestic violence. The preacher was a quiet man, unmarried, and he gave no indication what prompted him to tackle the subject. He chose as his text the account of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11.

So many more familiar verses would have supported his argument and from a more positive angle: Man, God made womankind to be your perfect complement (Genesis 2:18). Love your wife as Christ loves the Church; love her as you love your own body (Ephesians 5:25, 28). And as simply as this: love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).

But instead the preacher trudged faithfully through the gruesome report of a rash vow that ended, by most interpretations, in the slaughter of an innocent woman. This wasn’t violence of a husband against wife, but the horrific act of father against daughter was just as unthinkable. And the preacher’s willingness to tell the bloody story made domestic violence very real, even within the sanctuary.

The preacher applied Jephthah’s brutality to parents who abuse their children and husbands who beat their wives. He even spoke of domestic partners and live-in relationships where it appeared degradation perversely motivated staying together, even when no law required it and no church encouraged it.

Knowing his congregation, that was a brave move. In his neighborhood there along the streetcar line, brutish Stanley Kowalski was still a common character. TMZ attests he still is.

Not many pastors tackle the subject as bravely. Even pastors who preach on domestic violence once in a while are more likely to think violence in the home troubles their community (72% said it did) more than their church (only 25% said so). Lifeway Research says half of senior pastors (52%) say they don’t have enough training to deal with the issue. Many say nothing.

I remember my mother wearing sunglasses in church of necessity, and rehearsing an excuse that she ran into a door should anyone question her. No one did. Even as she directed the choir and led the singing behind shades, the cause of her bruises was never raised.

But what the church historically hasn’t done, perhaps TMZ and the NFL will force us preachers to do: bring what happens in angry, broken households into the light and hold it up against the Word of God.

Because for too many of us, domestic violence hits close to home.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

–Statistics from BP.net and LifeWay Research

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.