Studies indicate that as many as 20 percent of couples in the United States experience intimate partner violence – a figure consistent among both the churched and un-churched – yet some Seventh-day Adventists still have a hard time believing that those victims might be sitting in the pew next to them on Sabbath morning. A team from Southern Adventist University’s School of Social Work is working to debunk this myth and provide tools for church leaders to better counsel members when the abuse does occur.
Several years ago, René Drumm, dean of the School of Social Work, conducted regional studies of spousal domestic violence in the Pacific Union. Drumm and her team surveyed 49 churches and more than 1,400 men and women in the first study. In the second study she interviewed 40 Seventh-day Adventist women who were abuse survivors. Her studies showed that victims of domestic violence had approached pastors but in many cases their stories weren’t believed or they were given poor advice.
“The study demonstrated that spousal domestic violence is as prevalent in the Seventh-day Adventist church as it is in common society,” Drumm said.
From this research was born the Christian Abuse Response Education team (CARE), headed by Drumm. It features a team of individuals based out of Southern, who are committed to addressing the problem of abuse in the Adventist church.
The team first conducted a pilot study with Adventist churches in the Chattanooga area to see if pastors were interested in learning how to effectively respond to the victims. The team received an overwhelmingly good response and Rick Greve, one of the ministerial directors for the Georgia Cumberland Conference (GCC), felt all the pastors in his conference needed to be trained.
“We want all our pastors to be better prepared to face these challenges that are in our local churches,” Greve said. “ I am very grateful to Southern’s School of Social Work for putting this on.”
More than 50 people came out to the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists on February 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., where the CARE team provided training. President Gordon Bietz attended the training session, along with 35 of GCC’s pastors. Participants were given a pre test and post test to measure training efficiency. The five-hour session included a victim’s testimony, signs of abuse, appropriate and inappropriate responses, approaches, how to work with abusers, and a call to action.
“Our goal was to help make pastors first responders,” Drumm said. “We’re not trying to make them experts, just better informed so that they can direct people in the right ways.”
During the training, four social work graduate assistants who had been involved with the research – Amanda Chase, Jennifer Reynaert, Amy Koffler, and Lisa Koffler – presented pastors with a variety of possible scenarios they might encounter during their ministry. The CARE team encouraged the pastors to form abuse teams at their local churches and preach sermons addressing domestic violence. CARE will also conduct bi-annual follow-ups with the pastors to see what progress has been made and to further their research.
“It really helped to solidify in my mind that there is not only a need for my line of work, but that there is specifically a need for it in the church,” Amanda said.
For more information, visit sdaabuseresponse.org.