DALLAS, Texas (Mennonite Mission Network) —Mennonite church plants in Dallas are responding to the issue of domestic violence by exposing the injustice of abuse and learning about peace theology.
Esther Martinez is a survivor of domestic violence from her 20-year marriage. She feared for her life and what the violence would mean for her children. Desperate, Martinez approached the pastoral leaders at her church seeking help and guidance. They told her to stay in the marriage and have faith that God would change her situation.
By Rebekah Paulson
Fear motivates children to run up spooky basement stairs and adults to lock their doors at night.
However, experts say when fear is used to manipulate or control a family member it becomes domestic violence. Domestic violence is against the law.
According to Mennonite Central Committee’s Women’s Concern program, abuse is broader than just physical abuse. Domestic abuse can take place through physical, emotional, verbal, sexual or many other forms of mistreatment.
Abuse can be spiritual, when the abuser prevents or ridicules the victim’s religious practices. Financial abuse exists when a spouse withholds or misuses household funds.
Not all victims realize they are being abused. The elderly are targets of abuse when a caregiver does not provide for their basic needs like dressing and eating.
In some domestic violence situations, the abuser might not want the victim to leave their sight or hold any independent conversations. The abuser may seek control by preventing the victim from disclosing the violence to others.
Victims’ psychological warning signs of domestic violence range from anxiety, depression, substance abuse and chronic fatigue to suicidal tendencies and symptoms like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Physical warning signs may be hidden by clothing but about half of all physical injuries are present on the head and neck. Characteristics of abuse might be bite marks, burn marks, rope burns or defensive injuries such as on the palm of the hands.
Every domestic violence relationship involves the dominant characteristic of fear that takes away the victim’s ability to function as an individual.
If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship or children who are being abused please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for more specific information about what help is available in your area.
Martinez said, “People kept telling me, ‘Your faith is going to save him.”
She stayed and the violence escalated.
“I thought walking away would be walking away from God,” said Martinez. “When I walked away, I walked away from the church as well.”
Martinez led a committee that planned “Made in the image and likeness of God,” a domestic violence workshop in San Antonio, Texas. South Central Mennonite Conference and Western District Conference hosted the event from March 31 to April 2. The workshop focused on the biblical teachings of a healthy gender identity relating to the degrading of women through domestic violence.
As a woman in ministry Martinez felt uplifted by the message. Some men were hearing it for the first time and were resistant.
The workshop was open to church members but it targeted church leaders in the Mennonite church plants from the area. There were 85 adult participants as well as about 20 children who took part in a similar children’s event.
Speakers César Moya and Patricia Urueña, Mennonite Mission Network workers in Quito, Ecuador, focused on the equal participation of women in the church and how Bible interpretation produces violence towards women by men, church and society.
Marco Güete, associate conference minister of Western District and South Central conferences and a Mission Network urban ministry director, said Urueña “gave a woman’s perspective on how women have been treated, particularly by male leaders in the church.”
Martinez said some in the Hispanic community retain a sense of patriarchal supremacy that can be abused. According to Martinez, domestic violence is more prevalent among minorities and immigrants because many will not call the police. However, every social group contains domestic violence.
Güete said, “People participated in small discussion groups, they responded back to the whole constituency on how they felt and also looking for solutions on how the church could become an agent of liberation for the women.”
The Mennonite church plants are bringing in new members from all walks of life and they bring their baggage with them, Martinez said. New members still have to be taught to accept the peace identity of the Anabaptist teachings.
Martinez said, “I would hope that someone who has been Mennonite for a long time, or a period of time, would embrace the peace witness in all areas of their life including the home.”
The church that advised Martinez to stay in a threatening situation also contributed to her stress. Church leaders demeaned her concern by not taking it seriously and blamed her for wanting to leave her husband.
It took Martinez’s second marriage to lead her back to the church after years of feeling like she had turned her back on God.
She believes that it is the church that should reach out to the victims of domestic violence and provide options and support when possible. If someone approaches the church for help it should be taken seriously. The workshop, she hopes, helped train and educate churches.
Martinez said that if only someone had offered to help her it would have made leaving easier. She had noplace to stay and no money to support her children. Leaving did not look like an option until it was the only option.
“The injustice I suffered, I know God was unhappy with that, it saddened his heart,” she said.
The workshop trained individuals within the church to recognize the characteristics of victims and abusers. If the church can expose domestic violence as a sin, victims are released of blame and congregations can provide proper support.
Speakers advised congregations to know local help centers, counselors and shelters before they are needed. The victim has to decide whether to stay or leave the situation, Martinez said, but the church should provide support and help them see their options.