In order to stop domestic violence from turning deadly on church property (and beyond), church staff—especially pastors—need to better understand the realities of domestic violence and recognize it when they come across it, Chinn said.
“There are so many pastors and counselors who themselves are not educated on the real dangers of domestic abuse,” he said. “They view it as a spiritual and temporary problem. It may be spiritual, but it’s not temporary.”
Even before pastors are alerted to abusive relationships, they can create environments that discourage abuse. Crippen suggests that pastors read about the issue and preach on it regularly—or, if they feel unqualified to do so, have a guest preacher teach on the subject.
“Don't think you have to wait to see signs of physical abuse, because it is often absent,” he said. “The best thing for any church to do is to assume that there is at least one abused woman in their midst. The evil is far more prevalent than most want to admit.” (While both men and women are victims of domestic violence, women are more likely to be victims of severe violence, and 7 out of every 10 victims killed by an intimate partner in 2007 were women, according to the 2014 Sojourners report cited above.)
According to Chinn, pastors need to understand that abusers are unlikely to stop abusing, no matter how much their spiritual lives may improve under pastoral care and counseling. Once a churchgoer reveals an abusive relationship to a pastor, the pastor should take steps to protect the abuse victim. For instance, in many US states, pastors are legally required to report abuse if they find out it is happening. Every pastor should know the reporting laws in his or her state. Pastors could also suggest that, if someone has disclosed an abusive relationship, a security team keep watch over them to protect them on church premises, Chinn said. If the pastor is concerned about compromising privacy, he or she should ask the person who disclosed the abuse for permission to share the concern with the team, or at least its leader.