Drop the denominational walls and tackle domestic violence united.
That was the call of representative of the Barbados Evangelical Women’s Commission, Jennifer Johnson, as she addressed the first rally on domestic violence in Heroes Square.
The representative of Women of Purpose said that a local study had shown that the church was often the first avenue to which abused victims turned for support. She added that churches needed to stop telling them to simply pray and not make the experiences of the victims seem trivial.
There is no justification for abuse, she said, adding that some representatives of churches were reaching out more and more.
“Yes I believe in prayer and I have proven the power of prayer up to today, but we have to recognise that there is also the danger of sending persons back into situations where their lives are in danger. So we can’t just say pray. Prayer can work, prayer will work, but put the person in a safe place.
“We cannot make their cry for help seem trivial. I would like to apologise to all the children, to the women, to the men who have been hurt in this way,” she offered.
She told the story of a pastor who apologised to a woman in church after he had prayed with her and sent her home, only to be called to her home to find her face swollen and “beaten to a pulp”.
“We have to be careful in the church as we tell people to just pray and go home. There are places to go. There are numbers to call and there are reputable counsellors in NGOs who have systems in place to help persons in these situations,” she said, urging women to find someone they could talk to or tell about what was happening to them.
The problem becomes great when it is not cut at the root, said Johnson, who is also a representative of the Caribbean Evangelical Women’s Commission.
“The question is asked, ‘Where is this kind loving God when my sister or my brother was killed? Where was this God when they were set on fire?’
“But I say to you with great confidence tonight, God is a loving God, he is a fair God. However, living a virtuous life does not prevent us from being sinned against. Abusers need help and as we seek to help the victims or the survivors, we must also seek to help the perpetrators. Many times we just put them in jail,” she said, arguing that often after completion their sentences they were back to repeat the cycle.
Stating that she did not know why bad things happened to good people, she noted that some stayed in bad relationships because they believed they deserved what they got because of their lifestyle, but no one deserved to die at the hands of another or raped.
While it was often said that the church did little to nothing about domestic violence, she argued that the NGOs and other agencies which helped were comprised of people, some who were Christians and members of churches.
As some church were actively creating avenues for victims, she called on religious institutions across the island to band together for the good of those they hoped to help.
“We must believe when complaints are made for the member of the church, for the deacon, for the pastor, or even for the pastor’s wife. As an abuser we should get help. We should not trivialise what the persons have said or the complaints are given, rather than put a mask on our faces or make the abused person feel greater abuse because of our religious actions.
“The church in Barbados must drop all denominational walls and come together. This group here, this group there. We all want to make our own shelters, but what if we decide to come together, first to speak about eliminating the violence and then joining together in these harsh economic times to build a home – a home that will be available to me, whether I belong to your denomination or not, because we are just people,” she said.
Children should also be protected from the emotional and physical violence seen in the home, adding that she has seen children wanting to take their own lives or acting out by being bullies to others.
She further challenged those in the church that rather than trying to help victims themselves and perhaps making the situations worse, to instead send them to qualified counsellors.
“We can help joint ventures and network through the social media to spread antiviolence messages, work together in establishing shelters; with the limited resources, we need to do it in this time. Forever our aim should be to eliminate domestic violence and not just be satisfied with building more shelters,” Johnson stated. (LB)