A full room of people leaned in as presenters from MCC and Genesis House took time to talk about a topic not many pastors feel equipped to handle when victims of domestic violence open-up about their abuse.
Genesis House Executive Director Ang Braun said this education day was filtered through the Christian lens and how important the pastoral response is to people in domestic violence or intimate partner violence situations.
"A lot of times people think pastors will have all the answers, and in this room today we've been talking about the fact that they feel vulnerable at times, recognizing they don't have all the answers but would like to respond in the best way possible. For example, when a person comes to them to speak about what's happening in their home, how crucial it is they believe them. Believe them and support them."
MCC Abuse and Response Prevention Contract Worker Val Hiebert said rates of domestic violence are high in the province of Manitoba and equally as high within the church.
"Pastors need to be better equipped with how to respond appropriately in ways that can hopefully take people down a healing journey versus further traumatization."
She added, often victims don't tell anyone about the abuse, but if they are to tell anyone at all, sometimes it is their pastor. Reiterating, their response is crucial.
MCC Abuse and Response Prevention Coordinator Jaymie Friesen explained how scripture can be used to empower the victim.
"Part of the day includes also looking at how we can spiritually and theologically talk about some of the scripture passages that often get used, sometimes to keep a victim in an oppressive situation, but how we can reframe those and what types of spiritual teachings can actually be empowering for those who are on healing journeys."
Hiebert explained why the topic of "Forgiveness" was one of the sessions touched on at the end of the day.
"I think because forgiveness is such a central concept within Christianity, there is a tendency for church leadership when they're dealing with a situation where a woman is being abused, to suggest that one of the solutions would be to forgive. To put forgiveness at that point in the journey actually will cause further trauma because then correcting the problem becomes her problem, when actually what we need to do is address the person who's causing the harm."
Braun echoed the importance of this teaching, as forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation, it can mean being able to come to terms with the situation and move on in a healthy way for both parties.
Friesen acknowledged pastors are often dealing with both abuser and victim in the same congregation.
"Certainly, I think that the church can play a pretty critical role in coming alongside both individuals, if done in an appropriate way and I think the information and knowledge we're sharing today hopefully helps people understand what it actually looks like to walk with a victim on a healing journey. And what it looks like to support someone who's abusive, in terms of changing their behavior and offering support and accountability. So, it looks very different what it looks like to walk with the victim versus someone who's been offending."
Braun said the victim often owns the abuse and feels responsible to change the situation and the abuser, acknowledging that is not feasible. She encourages pastors to believe them, support them and to let them know, it's not their fault.
She went on to say pastors play multiple roles in a church and being the first point of contact is an important role but it's not fair to expect them to be experts in all subjects. She encourages them to refer those seeking help to an organization better equipped to handle these situations.
Jeff Krahn, Associate Pastor at the Altona EMM church, shared one thing he learned about his role in domestic violence ministry.
"Definitely that we can be better listeners. We can understand that people are coming from real life situations. There's a lot of hurt, there's a lot of pain, and can we understand them? Can we at least be listening ears? And can we then network and connect them? If we're not the best resource for their particular situation, how can we connect them and be there for them?"
One concept really rung true for Krahn.
"Using your voice to help others find theirs, I think that's been a big take away for me."
Hiebert emphasized the importance of training and educating people who work in the church like lay leaders, pastors, and youth pastors to reduce domestic violence and to protect predominantly women and children and to keep them healthier, producing a better next generation of people.
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