Our CEO, Dr. Brooke Jones and Executive Director, Dr. Christy Sim, were able to spend time talking with the Reverend Al Miles following his presentation at the North Texas Facing Family Violence Pre-Conference.
Rev. Miles gave a wonderful presentation about what spiritual abuse looks like in the context of domestic violence. He explained that spiritual abuse violates the very meaning and purpose of a person. Spiritual abuse is about tearing apart a person’s core belief system by using divine beings, sacred texts, culture, family teachings (and so forth) to say ‘I have the right to take control over you.’
So what are faith communities to do?
How do groups of people, who gather together for worship, hold offenders accountable for spiritual abuse and at the same time, empower victims of spiritual abuse?
Rev. Miles gave several answers to this crucial question. He suggests:
1) We collectively learn what intimate partner violence is and what it is not. He encouraged us to educate ourselves about domestic violence, to look for what is minimized by one person and what is maximized by that same person.
Click below to access our training materials on Domestic Violence:
2) Know what our sacred texts actually say. They do not speak about male headship and they actually speak about intimate partners being equal.
3) Evaluate the stereotypes of abused women. Here are a few to start evaluating:
- She must have done something to provoke it.
- If it was that bad, she would have left by now.
- She must have done something to deserve it.
- She just wants attention.
- That’s how she was raised.
- She just has a low self-esteem.
- She’s weak.
- That’s what women like.
4) Evaluate the stereotypes of abusive men. Here are a few to start evaluating:
- He’s a person of color.
- He’s a drinker.
- He’s just like his father.
- He’s had a tough childhood.
- He’s the provider. She should manage the house better.
- I’ve never seen him act like that. It must not be true.
- He’s a strong man. That’s good.
- He takes care of his family. That’s all that matters.
5) Evaluate the masculine dominate teachings in your faith community and make sure it lifts up males and females. Here are a few to begin to evaluate:
- You can do anything you want, as a man.
- You have rights and privileges, as a man.
- Men are the head of the household.
- There’s girls you fool around with and girls you marry.
6) Hold offenders accountable. One of the most fascinating and crucial quotes from Rev. Miles was: “most men, who batter, are not evil. And as a whole, in society, we don’t hold those evil acts accountable.”
He told the story of a man who wanted him, as his faith leader, to come to court with him. The offender knew that if his minister was there, it would show the judge how great he really was. Rev. Miles said he put his arm around the man and said, “oh I’ll go with you. But it will be to look at the judge and say, ‘Your honor, please hold this man accountable for everything he has done.’”
This is how we respond to violence in faith communities—we hold people accountable for their actions, because we care about them.
As Rev. Miles closed the workshop session he had the group begin to brainstorm about appropriate responses to both the victim and the offender. He insisted the audience keep in mind that domestic violence is a gender based problem but that we realize and acknowledge that most men are not batterers. Most offenders are male but most men aren’t offenders.
To hear Rev. Al Miles at The Riverside Church in New York, click below: