This article is Part 3 of 3. To read Parts 1 and 2, click the appropriate links below:

  • Part 1: From Horror to Hope: Find out how one Foursquare church member started a ministry that has rescued thousands from lives of terror.
  • Part 2: Uncovering Abuse: How to recognize the signs of domestic violence
     

"I know a lot of pastors are worried that if they begin addressing [the issue of domestic violence], it's going to open a can of worms," says Stacey Womack, founder and executive director of Abuse Recovery Ministry & Services (ARMS). "Unfortunately, the can is already there. God isn't afraid to address this issue. This ministry is a testimony to that."

Marc Shaw, former pastor of Evergreen Christian Center in Hillsboro, Ore., where Stacey and her family attended for many years before the rapid expansion of ARMS, agrees that this type of ministry is vital.

"Testimonies abound from a host of women and men whose lives have been transformed," he told Foursquare.org, "both from the victimization and perpetration of violence in the home to one of measurable growth in self-dignity and mutual respect. This includes many saved marriages."

But until pastors get trained and begin speaking from the pulpit about abuse, it will remain hidden, Stacey asserts, adding that if a church makes it safe for victims to come forward, they will.

"You don't have to be an expert in domestic abuse," she explains, "but you do need to get trained, know what to do and what not to do, and know where to send people when it comes to your attention."

Problematic in the church setting, however, is how often the issue is mishandled, potentially placing victims in an even more vulnerable, and perhaps dangerous, situation. Church leaders are often unaware of the complexities of domestic violence, not realizing that advice given in naiveté may cause more harm than good.

Stacey outlines several points she feels pastors should know about domestic abuse, so that they may better help people in crisis.

  1. "Domestic abuse is not about marriage; it's about power and control," she explains. "That's why typical marriage counseling doesn't work, and can be even more dangerous for the victim." Instead, she adds, the husband and wife need to work on their issues separately and, after that—if it's safe—they can do some work together.
     
  2. "Domestic abuse is about oppression; it is not an issue of submission," Stacey asserts. "God never meant for relationships to be about one person having power over another person. Marriage should be mutual, equitable—modeled after how the Trinity works together. Not a hierarchy, but mutuality in all things. The husband ruling over his wife was the bad news, part of the curse. Jesus redeemed us from the curse."
     
  3. "I believe God sees domestic abuse as a child abuse issue, because we are all His children," Stacey says. "If my child were being harassed, oppressed or abused at school, I would not sit in my chair and tell them to pray harder and win them over with their quiet and gentle spirit. ... I wouldn't think twice to remove my child from that environment. How much more would God do, who loves us more than we love our children, to rescue those who are experiencing this?"

The founder of ARMS and mother of six, married for 29 years, has seen many instances of families being healed and establishing new, healthy patterns. That, along with helping victims in unworkable situations get free and become strong, makes all the hard work worth it.

"If I didn't believe healing was possible, I wouldn't be doing this work," Stacey says. "It's amazing to see how many [of a couple's] problems go away when the abuser humbles himself and works on his power and control issues. It's a lot of work, but it is possible."

And if the relationship can't be restored?

"Then we need to help them grieve the loss, and get them help," she continues, "so they don't repeat the cycle."

Bobbie (not her real name) is one of the women helped by ARMS who broke the destructive cycle. Trapped in an abusive relationship for many years, she stayed with her husband, hoping she could win him to Christ by her humble submission. She finally left when she realized he was capable of killing her and her son. And she found healing.

"I wish I had known before that I am loved by God unconditionally, that I do not have to earn His love," Bobbie explained when Foursquare.org asked her what she knows now that she wishes she had known back then. "That God forgives. That I need to love myself as much as others. That in allowing myself to be mistreated, by being afraid to set the correct boundaries, that I was, in fact, being disrespectful to God by rejecting His love for me."

She continues, and her remarks is an important reminder to all believers: "I put my husband's wishes before God's Word. I was more in fear of my husband than I had faith in God's love and protection."

For more information on the ministry of ARMS, including training for pastors and leaders, log on to www.armsonline.org.

This article is Part 3 of 3. To read Parts 1 and 2, click the appropriate links below.

  • Part 1: From Horror to Hope: Find out how one Foursquare church member started a ministry that has rescued thousands from lives of terror.
  • Part 2: Uncovering Abuse: How to recognize the signs of domestic violence

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By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles