African American Women suffer deadly violence from family members at rates decidedly higher than for other racial groups in the United States. The number one killer of African-American women ages 15 to 34 is homicide at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. Keeping this in mind, we have to realize this issue touches the church much more than we realize – even with wives among leaders.
As you can see with James Fortune, he assaulted his wife in October 2014. By January 2015, this was the advertisement:
The verdict hadn’t even happened. But church folk took it upon themselves to “restore” James anyway. After all, “everyone makes mistakes”. So I understand this James Fortune case – not because I was ever hit with a bar stool, but because I understand the dynamics of fear, church misogyny, and apathy when it comes to domestic violence.
For the church, much of what happens with domestic abuse is under-reported far too often. And while causes behind this phenomena are varied, there are reasons why many of our abused women stay in the shadows and/or are kept there.
1. Very little support among church leaders, if any.
Many church leaders are not educated about domestic violence and most times ill-prepared. When the woman attempts to seek intervention from the pastor or bishop for abuse in the home, many times the leader will tell the woman that he/she will look into it or “have a talk” with him. The spouse may be a part of the “good ‘ole boys’ network”. Due to this laissez faire response, the pastor feels satisfied he has done his duty. Meanwhile, the offending spouse goes home to victimize the woman all over again for embarrassing him. Also in some cases, women are encouraged to go along to get along. The church’s first goal is not the safety of the woman, but how to avoid a scandal.
2. Financial Impact.
Many women in the church feel as though they can’t say anything because how financially dependent they are on their spouse to provide. Especially among full-time leaders in the church, many men bring in high six figures or even seven figures per year. But good luck trying to prove this in family court. On paper, he may only make 30,000 to $35,000. Houses and cars in the name of the ministry. Furthermore, many of these “kept” women after decades “serving” in the ministry, find themselves with no real job skills. You think Deacon Johnson will hire her at his company? Nope. He sides with the pastor and/or doesn’t want to get “involved”.
The shame that cloaks domestic violence in the church is beyond terrible. Even if a church provides some type of special “ministry” or “counseling” to aid women in cases of DV, they are often in the basement and the counselor works for the pastor. So if the abuser is the leader, it’s a conflict of interest. And don’t let anyone one SEE you go to this office. Plenty of women would take it as a sign that her husband was really meant for them anyway. Instant messiness. She could seek secular assistance, but then that would mean putting her husband in a bad light to the unsaved. How does she explain that the one abusing her is the pastor or an award-winning gospel music artist?
4. Loss of friends.
Unfortunately, because many women spend so much time at the church (especially in ministry), their only outlets tend to be persons within their circle at the church. They serve together, eat together, and celebrate together. When domestic violence is exposed, people start calling less and less. The church may even put a gag order on the whole matter where no one is allowed to speak on it while giving the persons their privacy. She can quickly lose her sense of community. When dealing with a spouse who is famous and/or beloved, people go into hear, see, and speak no evil stage.
5. Wariness of the Court System.
This includes the police, prosecutor, and judge. It can be very overwhelming just to think of this as a solution – especially if your husband is in the public eye. Many times, the court is the very last, desperate attempt for help in the face of a crisis or dangerous situation. Even for James Fortune, his attorney managed to wrangle a ten-year suspended sentence and 170 hours of community service. After he burning his step-son and violence against his wife, he should have been forced into incarceration.
6. Being labeled as Petty or Bitter.
If you do happen to run into some and you bring up what’s happening, you can be seen as vindictive, petty, “church-hurt” and bitter. This can make the offending spouse even more popular. To your “friends”, they just can’t understand why you won’t let it go and move on from it. Yeah, you had to spend time to recover in the hospital. But that doesn’t help the Body of Christ and the spouse is still anointed. This is just to name a few of the dumb things church people say.
7. No Really. Get Over It.
This usually comes from the crowd that endured their own abuse like a good soldier. They dealt with hidden bruises and fear until they found their grit. These things can happen in marriage. You are not special.
The church has a lot of work to do when it comes to domestic violence within its own ranks. James Fortune had a series of gospel music performances last year despite pending charges and an injured wife. The Gospel Music industry should have thrown their support behind his wife first instead of nominating him for Stellar and BET awards. But this is how the church generally does. Don’t worry. Domestic Violence will not come up at the next leadership conference. It’s a shame that all this time it took a judge to finally issue a sentence for James Fortune – even if it is a measly 10-year suspended sentence and community service. Women in the church lose again. Does anyone care? Not many…..