By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Many people view their faith communities as a major source of social support and connection in their lives. For many, a faith community can even come to feel like a second family, which shows just how deeply valued these connections can be for people of faith.
On the positive side, the strength of these social connections offers a potentially valuable source of support for survivors, including those currently experiencing abusive relationships. This support can be practical (e.g., providing transportation or housing), emotional (e.g., providing validation when telling one’s story), moral (e.g., coming to court hearings to support a survivor), and spiritual (e.g., prayer and spiritual encouragement).
Unfortunately, however, some of the survivors in our research faced isolation, separation, and loss of status within their church communities after others found out about the abuse they experienced. Consider, for example, the following quotes:
It’s important to note that faith communities often have sub-groups and different social networks within the larger congregation. Therefore, it is possible that survivors of intimate partner violence may find that some segments of their communities are more or less isolating than others. It certainly is possible that the survivors quoted above encountered smaller segments of a population that did not represent the beliefs of the larger group or the leadership of the faith communities.
However, social isolation is an important issue for leaders and members of congregations who want to ensure that their faith communities are welcoming and supportive to survivors of abuse. It is important to consider how every level of faith communities can offer a consistently supportive environment to members and others who seek help for abuse.
Faith communities offer a potentially valuable source of social support and connection for survivors of intimate partner violence. However, survivors may feel isolated and unwelcome if they encounter stigmatizing reactions within their faith communities. Therefore, it is important for churches to be proactive in fostering environments that encourage survivors to reach out for connection and support.