In a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, family experts believe another pandemic has been going on that doesn’t often make headlines but is often as insidious and deadly — violence against women and children.
And in a year that has seen many programs and initiatives delayed or canceled, Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders believe that now is an urgent time to highlight the scourge of domestic violence and advance proactive steps to prevent it.
As on every fourth Saturday (Sabbath) in August each year, August 22, 2020, will see thousands of local Adventist congregations around the world hold a special service to create awareness and reflect on fighting violence against women and children across communities and churches. The initiative, called enditnow, was launched in 2014, and every year the program seems to become more comprehensive. Leaders reiterated that, while at the beginning the idea was promoted by the Women’s Ministries department of the Adventist Church, it has grown to reach across other departments and ministries of the world church.
“We are glad to report that in 2020, enditnow has involved several church departments, including Health Ministries, Education, Family Ministries, and Children’s Ministries,” said Raquel Arrais, associate director of Women’s Ministries for the Adventist Church. “There is a committee, chaired by Women Ministries director Heather-Dawn Small, that even includes Youth Ministries and the Ministerial Association,” she added.
According to the website created by Women’s Ministries, the enditnow special Saturday (Sabbath) this year will feature a sermon by Adventist Church associate ministerial secretary Anthony Kent and a seminar by Health Ministries associate director Katia Reinert. It will also include a handout on individual and community responses to domestic violence by Mable B. Dunbar, who also authored the booklet The Dynamics of Domestic Violence.
A Global Scourge
“We live in a world filled with uncertainties and fear,” reads the letter sent to family ministries, women’s ministries, and children’s ministries leaders around the world. “We are faced with political unrest, wars, epidemics and pandemics, loss of jobs, inability to handle the daily needs of our families, and the list goes on and on.... All these factors impact us spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Sadly, emotional distress without a firm spiritual foundation leads to abuse in our house and society of many kinds.”
The enditnow website explains why it’s essential to help the fight against domestic violence. According to the quoted statistics, in the United States, one out of every six women is a victim of an attempted or completed rape. Worldwide, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16, and one out of four women experience violence during pregnancy. Statistics also reveal that one million children, mostly girls, enter the sex trade each year. Church advocates believe Adventists should work actively to change these statistics. Leaders believe it is something that Seventh-day Adventists are uniquely positioned to do, thanks to their emphasis on whole-person treatment.
“Treatment of families experiencing violence and abuse requires integrating the needs of the whole person,” wrote expert Marie Fortune, quoted in a handout on individual and community response shared around the world. “Thus, the importance of developing a shared understanding and cooperation between secular and religious helpers to deal with family violence cannot be emphasized too strongly.”
Individual and Community Response
The handout included in the 2020 enditnow package calls for people to educate themselves about the topic and become aware of domestic violence dynamics. It is something, it reads, that includes, among other things, reading books, watching videos, and attending workshops and seminars. It also calls people to be proactive in contacting and assisting programs in their area that provide safety, advocacy, support, and other needed services for victims and perpetrators.
Among other suggestions, the list calls for promoting a victim-centered response to violence and access to community resources, holding offenders accountable, and ensuring all communities, including underserved populations affected by domestic violence, have a voice and access to culturally appropriate responses and resources.
“[It is essential to] promote a collective position on awareness of domestic violence as a community problem and a community responsibility to prevent it and an intervention protocol when it occurs,” it reads, and to “establish a coordinated community response to domestic violence to include representatives from law enforcement, the school system, [and] mental health professionals.”
Why Adventists Should Do More
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s longstanding campaign against violence and abuse started originally with a focus on women and girls and has moved to a more global focus on violence and abuse against anyone — male, female, young, and old, Reinert said in the seminar included in the 2020 enditnow package. According to her, faith leaders from many denominations have shared how these materials have been a blessing to them also. Yet, Reinert believes, there is much more that pastors and church leaders can do to raise awareness, prevent abuse, and help survivors.
“Too many still live under the unhealthy control of an intimate partner, parent, child, boss, pastor, teacher, or someone else who employs sexual, physical, or emotional abuse without recognizing it as such,” she wrote. “Too many who do recognize it and try to get help by speaking to a pastor, church leader, or fellow member still may not find appropriate, well-informed help and, instead, may find themselves blamed for their situation or told to pray about it. Too many remain indifferent, unaware, or unintentionally blind to the needs of survivors or perpetrators who are desperately seeking hope and healing for their brokenness.”
Reinert said she wonders what would happen if every congregation had an enditnow coordinator who is knowledgeable about abuse and, working with the pastor, engages the church in prevention and assistance for those in need. The goal applies to future pastors as well.
“What if every seminary student and pastor could receive training in basic knowledge about abuse and how best to help a survivor and a perpetrator?” she asked.
Reinert said she believes there is much more we can do, and every pastor, church leader, and member must assess how they can make a difference. “We must not grow weary but continue to make our presence felt in words and action as we learn together and bring to light forms of abuse that dehumanize others,” she wrote.
Why should we do more? For Reinert, perhaps the most crucial reason to do more is that we are God’s hands and feet in this world, called to represent His love and healing power and serve others as He did.
“Jesus summons us to treat each other with love and respect when He says, ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’ [John 13:34, 35],” she wrote. “Therefore, it is our duty as pastors and church leaders to continue reaching out to abuse survivors with compassion — as Jesus did — doing what we can to prevent and appropriately deal with abuse and violence in all its forms.”