Violence is hard to talk about because we have such mixed feelings about it, especially in America. A country that has more guns than people clearly has a relationship with violence We might say we abhor it—until we want it for our protection. Violence is almost tantamount to patriotism: we’re a nation that was formed by means of a war, and that believes we’re “kept free” by our military. But it’s not just America. Think of all our stories about shining knights and heroes who save the world, or at least a fair damsel: they almost always do it, in the end, by fighting. We don’t like violence yet we enshrine it. We also harbor a deep level of sexism and misogyny. Men are expected to be more powerful and controlling of women. Domestic abuse and relationship violence thrive under these conditions.
Domestic violence is one of those things we need to talk about precisely because we don’t want to talk about it. Part of how the violence endures is that it’s secret. Abusers don’t want to be exposed. A culture of silence protects the violence. One of the most important things we can do is to break the silence. Domestic violence happens everywhere, in every community, among members of every church of every kind. Members of your congregation have experienced it. They need to hear a healing word about it. They need to hear that it’s OK to talk about. That there is no shame in being the victim of assault. That they didn’t bring it on themselves. That they are still beloved, whole, and powerful. And if they are still in an abusive relationship they need to know that church will be there for them, and not abandon them, judge them, or avoid them.
They do not need for the church to try to rush in and rescue them: part of their reality is the sense of being robbed of their power. They need to make their own decisions. It may be hard for those of us who know and care to stand by, because we want to fix things. But the abused don’t need to be rescued. They need to be respected, empowered, supported and accompanied. But not treated like they’re helpless.
All of this is coherent with the gospel and Jesus’ message honoring those whom other would shame, respecting those whom others thought powerless, and staying in relationship with those others would distance themselves from. The gospel highlights the power of nonviolence. It consistently condemns oppression, violence and the abuse of power. It calls for justice, not through retaliation against perpetrators but empowerment of those who suffer. And the gospel invites us to see each person as a whole person, not merely a “victim” or an “abuser.” Our goal is redemption of all people and healing of the whole culture.
The pain of a victim of domestic abuse or relationship violence is complex and many-sided. Among many wounds there’s physical pain; grief and brokenheartedness from being hurt by someone you love; shame that there’s something wrong with you; anger and self-judgment for not being “smarter” or more deserving of respect or more able to prevent the abuse; embarrassment that prevents you from talking about it, which then leads to deep loneliness; persistent fear, because you know it can happen again; and inner conflict of wanting to both escape the violence and stay in the relationship…. And most of these wounds are invisible. The victim feels the need (or is forced) to put on a happy face and pretend everything’s fine. All of this pain cries out for healing. And for the church to break the silence.
The church needs to confront its own complicity in domestic violence in the common message given to women in abusive relationships that they ought to submit, and stay in the relationship because “marriage is sacred” or even because “woman are subservient.” This is both psychological torture and also theological bullcrap, and needs to be renounced from the pulpit. We also need to renounce our history of assigning shame. The church has behaved as if it’s in the business of distributing God’s judgment, especially in the form of shame. Shame is both spiritually and theologically inappropriate, and also psychologically contraindicated. Shame is sticky stuff. As a teenager I was sexually assaulted by an older man; for decades I felt embarrassed as if I was “weak” or did something wrong. Victims of domestic abuse and relationship violence need to be assured: there’s no shame in this. There’s nothing you did. It’s not about you at all. Victims need to hear God’s grace and also to be given a place to reclaim their belovedness, power and dignity.
We also have a calling to offer redemptive relationships with abusers. (Yes, there are likely some in your congregation.) They need to hear the gospel too. They need to be invited to accountability, self-awareness and repentance, without shame or judgment. After all, they are simply acting out inner wounds they haven’t been able to process. You become an abuser by being abused. Bullies learn bullying by being bullied. They need healing, too. And it begins with forgiveness, even before they repent. Forgiveness is not the same as condoning their action, but simply letting go of any judgment that impedes our full love for them. In a safe and accountable place, they can face their wounds, repent of their violence, and start the long road to recovery. Jesus would have us invite them all in, “the bad and the good,” to experience redemption.
The Bible is full of stories of relationship violence, troubled families, and sexual assault. (Think of Hagar, Tamar, Bathsheba…) Most of the stories maintain the culture of silence, focusing on the lives of the perpetrators, and silencing the victims and ignoring their experience. In many, like the story of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19, or the woman caught in adultery, the woman is not even named, as if she’s a mere prop in the story. Further, the perpetrators of the violence are not reprimanded. (Where’s the man caught in adultery?) This needs to be examined. We can use these texts in preaching— to expose and confess our complicity, and even our scripture’s complicity, in the conspiracy of silence.
Many of the lament Psalms give voice to the cry of the abused. (They often cry out against “my enemies.” Those enemies might be abusers, but they might also be a person’s inner enemies: my own fears, blame, self-doubt and shame…) I think especially of Psalms 4; 54; 62; 70; 91; 121; 130; 142 and 55.1-8, 12-14, 16-22. Psalm 88 is a song of acute despair. Try paraphrasing a psalm in the voice of a woman. (Swallow’s Nest, A Feminine Reading of the Psalms, by Marchiene Vroon Rienstra, offers paraphrases of the Psalms in a voice that victims of violence and abuse might use.)
Consider texts about power, like Philippians 2.5-11, or the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5.22-23. The Exodus is a story about people escaping abuse. Think of the shame victims feel, the “uncleanness.” In Mt. 15.11 Jesus says it’s what you do, but not what happens to you, that defiles you. Consider the Beatitudes, both as a model of nonviolence, gentleness and respect, and also a message of healing, honor and redemption for victims of violence or abuse. Victims often feel “poor in spirit,” ashamed, and powerless. They need to hear Jesus’ blessing and assurance.
Leader: God of life and healing, we come to you.
All: God of gentleness and compassion, we turn to you.
In a world marred by violence and domination,
we seek your ways.
You who are gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
give us your grace.
In a world weary with hurt and fear, we seek your healing.
Bind up the brokenhearted, give courage to the fearful,
and give hope to those who despair.
In a world that condones cruelty and selfishness,
teach us you ways.
Give us wisdom to see the hurt around us,
boldness to act for justice,
and gentleness to bring resoration.
In the spirit of Jesus, give us hands of healing,
words of grace, and hearts of love. Amen
God of love and healing, we pray for one another. For all among us who have been hurt, we ask healing. For all who are afraid, we pray for hope and courage. For those who feel shame, hold them in your adoring arms. For those in troubled relationships, give them wisdom to know what to do, and to ask for help. For those who don’t know what to do with their anger, who act hurtfully, who are controlling, give them honesty to see themselves, faith to want to change, and courage to seek help. For all of us, we pray that we may be an honest, supportive and healing community, welcoming all and blessing all, in the gentle spirit of Jesus. Amen.
O Infinite Love,
we pray for all who are wounded,
who are abused or terrorized.
O Crucified Christ,
we pray for all who are made victims
by violence, by pride, by greed,
by overt acts and subtle systems.
O Holy Spirit, may those who hurt
find true freedom and joy.
For those whose hearts and bodies
bear scars seen and unseen,
we pray for healing.
For spirits shadowed by fear
we pray for peace and courage.
Sustain them who must carry grief or fear,
who feel they must pretend.
Your mercy surround them,
your Spirit strengthen them,
your hope guide them.
For those among us who bear such pain
may we offer welcome, safety,
and the end of shame.
For a culture that nods at violence
we ask your forgiveness,
and pray that we may become a people
of gentleness, justice and joy.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
God of love,
we who readily silence the truth
and the voice of the wounded,
The crucified Christ is quiet,
Help us to hear.
Prayer of Confession
God of love, we confess the violence of our culture.
We confess our complicity in it.
At times we have looked away from the suffering of others.
We have excused hurtful behavior.
We have given approval to domination.
We have hurt others out of fear and the need to control.
We confess our brokenness;
we repent of our partnership with violence,
and we open our hearts to be changed.
Forgive us, heal us, and grant us the heart of Christ,
the fruit of the Spirit:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
…. Silent reflection … The word of grace
Response / Creed / Affirmation
We entrust ourselves to you, God, Creator of all, who rule not by force but by love. You are gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
We entrust ourselves to you, Jesus, the embodiment of God’s love, who healed the broken, fed the hungry, empowered the weak, honored the shamed, and included the outcast. Victim of our violence, yet still forgiving, you were judged and killed; but in love you were raised rom the dead. And still you speak to us in the voice of all who are made victims, who are judged, who are abused, who are in terror. Christ, crucified, yours is the voice of life and resurrection among us.
We entrust ourselves to you, Holy Spirit, spirit of love and gentleness, courage of non-violence, power of healing and forgiveness, wisdom of liberation and freedom. Yours is the power in us to act against violence, to bear witness against injustice, to bring forth your Realm of grace and peace. Gentle God, we are yours. We submit ourselves to your guidance, your hope, and your power. Amen.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
Loving God we thank you, for you create all people in your image.
You covenant to be our loving presence, provider and protector.
We marvel at your divine humility, serving us not as master but as servant.
You are gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
You condemn the forces of violence and oppression.
You freed the slaves from Egypt, and your will is to set free all who are oppressed.
As a mother gathers her children, you gather us at your table as one,
regardless of our pride or shame, for all are beloved.
Therefore with all Creation we sing your praise.
[Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.
[or alternate version]
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who embodied the gift of your gentleness and the power of your love.
He fed the hungry, healed the broken,
honored the shamed and witnessed on behalf of those
who were made victims in any way.
He himself was made victim of our violence, rejected and crucified.
Yet you vindicated him, raising him from the dead.
He invites us to this table, to share this bread,
the bread of suffering, the wine of grief,
made life-giving by your resurrecting spirit.
(The Blessing and Covenant) *
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
[Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ will come again in glory.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
filled with your love, joy and peace,
moved by patience, kindness, and generosity,
radiant with faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
May this meal be healing for those who suffer,
redeeming for those who feel apart,
and encouraging for those who seek justice.
Transformed by your grace, may we do you will,
for the sake of the haling of the world.
in the name of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit.
[Spoken or sung]
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for
the mystery that you give yourself to us /
this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
Feasting on the bread of Christ that rises from pain and humiliation, moved by the wine of resurrection granted to all who suffer or struggle, may we go forth in gentleness and peace, for the sake of justice and healing, in the name of Christ. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page.)
(Tune: Blest Be the Tie that Binds…
downloadable file also includes a version set to
DETRIOT, Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive.)
For homes where love is shared we give you thanks, O Lord,
where all your children hear your grace and know they are adored.
We pray for homes where fear and hurt and loneliness stay.
For those abused, unsure, not free, your blessing, God, we pray.
As when from Egypt slaves escaped and crossed the Sea,
God, make a way and go with those who are becoming free.
God, give us hearts to speak, to break the silent shield
that covers the hurt, protecting the sin: so violence may be healed.
God help your church to be a home, a healing place,
where all are free and whole and blest and honored in your grace.
When Fear Lives Close (Tune: GIFT OF LOVE / The Water Is Wide)
We pray for those who live in fear,
where secret hurt and shame live near
that they may know your loving grace,
and find their way to freedom’s space.
And God of love, we pray for those
whose inner darkness overflows,
that those who wound, control or use
may be healed, too, their demons lose.
We pray, O God, that we may be
your gentle ones who set them free,
with deep respect, with love and prayer,
create a world of gentle care.