The relationship between faith/spirituality and domestic violence is not a simple one, but it is definitely one that should be understood with the nuance it deserves to be leveraged effectively in responding to the problem. While religious language can be used in distorted ways to justify or continue harmful attitudes and behavior, faith and spiritual living can serve as a coping mechanism and a source of healing for victims and survivors and can potentially deter abusiveness among some prospective perpetrators. Moreover, clergy have an important documented role in influencing religious communities on issues of marriage and family life.
A common reference for the scholarship that looks at faith-based interventions is the understanding that religious personnel, the discourses they use, and their responses to communities can both contribute to the continuation of the problem of domestic violence and serve as a positive influence in efforts to address the problem (Istratii and Ali, under review). While clergy are well-positioned to respond to domestic violence in religious communities, they often lack an understanding of how their own discourses and responses can unwittingly reinforce negative norms, attitudes, or situations, and how to support victims and perpetrators with awareness of safeguarding risks and due processes.
My last essay spoke about breaking the silence around the invisible women in the Orthodox Church experiencing spousal violence and how we need accountable theology to stop the promotion of the notion that domestic violence is a cross to bear—but that both are essential but insufficient measures of redress. Here I probe further: How do we change the institutional norms that allow clergy to use their spiritual powers to propagate ideas condoning domestic violence? How do we make our churches accountable for upholding dignity and compassion for all? How do we create internal mechanisms with authoritative impact so that, with time, there is zero tolerance among believers for any justification of domestic violence? Continue reading →
Some of the readers of Public Orthodoxy may have read my book Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church. Those who have will have heard of Fr. Raphael Morgan. Others might not have read the book, but may be aware of him, perhaps due to his Orthodoxwiki entry or an essay by Matthew Namee over at orthodoxhistory.org. Morgan’s case is a fascinating one and one that has only become a bit more fascinating both because of what has been recently discovered about him and because of the times in which we live. I’ll first unpack some of his background and what’s now newly known and then offer a word of caution for the Orthodox Church as his story becomes more widely known. Continue reading →
On the 18th of May, 2019 G., a Coptic female nurse living in Sydney, Australia was suffocated by a plastic bag and stabbed seven times as she was leaving the hospital after completing her night shift. The murderer was her husband. Insider information suggested that on the 16th of May, a high-ranking member of the Coptic Orthodox clergy pressed that she return to her husband despite being informed that her husband was allegedly a drug addict and was continuously beating her. It is alleged that G. did not want to return to her marital home, but she was told this is her cross and she must carry it. The case is the latest in a string of incidents that we have witnessed in Egypt and among the Coptic Diaspora of women sacrificing their lives as they succumb to the clergy’s pressures upon them to bear their cross. Another case in Brighton a few years ago involved a very similar scenario: a woman violently killed by her husband had been pressured into returning to her marital home. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity shared that the local parish (Coptic) priests had pressed the victim to return to her marital home-against her expressed wishes not to return to him—and despite their awareness of his long history of wife-beating. While they did not physically force her, according to the sources, they certainly exerted a lot of pressure, urging her to bear her cross for the children’s sake. Continue reading →