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How Does a Congregation Respond to a Battered Woman?

Oct 21, 2007 — Categories:

“. . . then the congregation’s leaders should help her reach an accommodation with her ex.” No, the congregation’s leaders should help provide for her safety.

“. . . then the congregation’s leaders should help her reach an accommodation with her ex.” No, the congregation’s leaders should help provide for her safety. The “Ethicist” is a regular column in the NYTimes Magazine. A recent question to him caught my attention.

"A formerly married couple  belongs to our congregation. The wife has an order of protection against her ex-husband requiring him to keep a certain distance from her, but she is uneasy around him even then, and so while he still comes to services, she does not. Do we have an obligation to intervene on her behalf? — Name Withheld, Manhattan"

The “ethicist” responds to this question with mixed results. He does suggest that the layperson ask the woman what she needs. Good start. But then he minimizes the danger to her evident in having a restraining order against her ex-husband.

It would seem clear that the “ethicist” has no knowledge of domestic violence nor did he seek counsel from a religious leader who might have that knowledge.

Here is my response to him:

“Mr. Cohen: Your response to the congregant who is concerned about a member of their congregation with a restraining order is inadequate at best. It is very likely that the woman has a restraining order because she is a victim of her ex-husband's violence. Her pastor or rabbi should approach her and offer the support of the congregation in her efforts to be safe. This includes offering her the option to attend services and inviting her abuser to attend services elsewhere. If she has a restraining order against him, he cannot be there while she is there. In other words, her needs for her congregation have priority. She needs the support of her faith community to be safe. He needs to be called to account for his abuse. They do not need to be helped to "accomodate" or "cooperate". This approach could well endanger her life.”

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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