The Sacred Silence of Abuse: Lessons from Research on Abused Spouses in the Adventist Romanian Church
By MargiAnne Isaia, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
“Sacred Silence” in the Adventist Romanian Family is the secret which must be kept inside the holy circle surrounding husband and wife. I recently completed a qualitative research study, in which I was interested in exploring the experiences of Romanian Adventist abused spouses while they kept silence about been abused.
A group of five abused spouses who live in the US and Romania, including four women and one man, answered open-ended questions about their experiences while been abused, as well as its impact on their beliefs, feelings, attitudes and their children’s lives. I also compared the study’s findings with information that was available in the reviewed literature. It’s important to note that the findings of my study can’t be generalized to all Romanian Adventist families—rather, they offer a glimpse into the ways that some members of this cultural group experience intimate partner violence.
The Romanian Adventist abused spouses I studied did not immediately seek help for their abusive relationships. The victims kept silent for a while, trying hard, based on their religious beliefs in changing their abusive spouses. It took time and deterioration of the participants’ health or their home situation got unmanageable in order for them to speak up.
The participants lived with depression that was not present in their lives before getting married. The experience of participants with a history of psychiatric disorder supports the fact that domestic violence is under-detected in mental health services. Their children’s health was negatively impacted.
The main coping mechanism they used was holding to their spirituality and a sense of hope. Denial of the abusive situation prevented one of the participants for looking for specialized help. At the same time, their religious beliefs influenced their views of getting help, or it led them to refuse to express shame or fear or ask for help somewhere else outside their pastors.
Regretfully, participants reported that the Romanian Adventist pastors they encountered provided victims with an unsatisfactory spiritual counseling. Moreover, while providing counseling, the pastors often made the abused spouses feel guilty. The benefits of specialized help were emphasized by the participants. However, participants said that their pastors didn’t make referrals to other resources for help.
The fact that study participants belonged to both genders could challenge the Christian fundamentalist view of women’s position in the family as submissive to her husband, and men’s position of authority, as the head of the woman. When applied in the context of family violence, it can become a toxic theology.
Secrets about spousal abuse create distress for survivors’ physical, emotional, intellectual, social, occupational and spiritual health. Based on my research, I believe that people who promote “Sacred Silence” in abusive situations do not take into account the psycho-social health of victims. It is very difficult to recognize the fact that the abuse does happen in religious communities. Religious people, religious authorities included, often do not have the courage and maturity to face the reality and work toward stopping the abuse.
My research suggests that some religious authorities deny or ignore or enforce the abuse. It takes maturity and wisdom from religious leaders to team with mental health professionals and provide comprehensive support for survivors of abuse. Likewise, it takes courage from religious leaders to recognize their accountability in perpetuating the abuse in the church. Overall, it takes compassion and authentic concern for people in order to work toward stopping the abuse.
Dr. MargiAnne Isaia, MD, MPH, is a Counseling MS Student at Loma Linda University/School of Behavioral Health. She is also the Program Developer and Initiator of Document X, a documentary film for raising awareness with regard to Child Sexual Abuse, and the film is available in Romanian and English, and very soon in Russian and Spanish. You can contact MargiAnne at www.enthusiasticlife.net and firstname.lastname@example.org.