Review of ‘Religion and Intimate Partner Violence’

Solid Shattered Multiple Pieces Healing Semi-finished Fully Healed

Rob Blanchard Photo UNB

The aim of the book is “to assist those who walk alongside religious victims, perpetrators, and their families as they cope with life in the aftermath of domestic violence. This includes religious leaders – such as ordained clergy, priests, pastors and others in positions of spiritual leadership – as well as families, friends, and co-religionists who offer assistance and support. It also includes professionals, many of whom may be secular in orientation and training but also work with clients in the social work, criminal justice or therapeutic fields” (page 7).

Religion and Intimate Partner Violence certainly accomplishes this aim and hopefully will be of assistance to thousands named in these various realities of connection to intimate partner violence.

I find the book gives very detailed, insightful and challenging findings from the perspective of the victim/survivor, abuser, congregation and religious/spiritual leaders.

What stands out for me in regards to the perspective of the victim/survivor is clergy or spiritual leaders are a help or an obstacle/hindrance to disclosure, support and healing. It raises the awareness and an alarm bell to clergy and religious leaders that consequences are devastating to victims/survivors and families when we are an obstacle/hindrance instead of a help.

The findings from the perspective of the abuser that stand out for me are the insights into the central features of the lives of religious men who act in abusive ways.  These features include:

  • their upbringing  and religious context;
  • the errant theological views they use to justify abuse; and
  • their capacity to manipulate clergy and religious leaders if the religious leaders lack knowledge about the dynamics of abuse and lack adequate training.

There are many findings regarding congregations and congregational life that ring true for me.  For example, what a congregation looks like at its best and at its worst in regards to issues related to domestic violence and intimate partner violence. As well, this book names clear challenges for congregations to take seriously and make appropriate changes. One example would be the underestimating of the prevalence and severity of abuse within the congregational membership.

There are also startling findings in this book regarding religious leaders. I am struck and challenged by generally, how ill-informed, uninformed and ill-equipped we are in responding appropriately to domestic violence and intimate partner violence.

I think the essential gift and one of many hopeful pieces of this excellent work is the fact that it is both data driven and solution oriented.  In particular, from a clergy, pastor, religious leader and congregation perspective, there is a section in each of the first three chapters that has a detailed and practical component called “Searching for Solutions.”  As well, the fourth chapter focuses on Training Religious Leaders and offers a Resource Base for this.  This is all so very helpful in moving us forward in both our awareness and on-going formation.

For me personally, I definitely will continue to benefit from the findings of the research presented here. I will continue to receive training and promote it among other clergy and pastoral leaders. I will take steps at St. Dunstan’s parish in working collaboratively within our congregation and other partners – groups, individuals, and others in the world of social work, therapeutic professions and criminal justice – to work and live out of a wider context in being a larger part of the solution to domestic and intimate partner violence.

Rev. Bill Brennan, St. Dunstan’s Catholic Church, Fredericton, New Brunswick

15 January 2018