by Virginia Pignato, MA, LMHC
It was all over the evening news…again. A man walked into the sanctuary of the church with a loaded gun and shot two pastors in the head, before he was tackled by two parishioners. It was later discovered that before he arrived at the church he had shot and killed his wife at their home (Tampa Tribune).
Jeremiah Fogle had murdered a spouse before. According to police, Fogle was arrested in 1986 and charged with the murder of his then wife, Diane Fogle. The charges were reduced to manslaughter, and he received 10 years probation on a plea deal. The pastors who found themselves at the other end of Mr. Fogle’s gun on September 19, 2011, miraculously survived; his spouses were not so fortunate (TBO.com).
Sadly, statistics reveal that spousal abuse and domestic violence are as common within evangelical churches as in secular society. About 25 percent of Christian homes experience abuse of some kind.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another.” Abuse and domestic violence affect every layer and group within our culture. Witnessing domestic violence in one’s family is the strongest risk factor for carrying the cycle into the next generation. Hence, we can no longer afford to ignore or minimize the problem as a marital discord issue that can be fixed if the wife submits to the husband.
Some of the signs of abuse include: “rigidly controlling finances; making a spouse account for every penny she spends; withholding bare necessities [e.g. food, medication, clothes, shelter]; quoting Scriptures to shame or manipulate another person; unpredictable temper; threatening to take the children or to commit suicide if the spouse leaves; isolating the spouse from friends and family; physical violence (Helpguide.org).” And the list goes on.
As members of the community of Christ-followers, we must band together to support and disciple those who struggle with abuse and domestic violence: the victims and the perpetrators. We must emphasize the sanctity of human life since “both men and women were created in the image of God, as equal partners with distinctively different roles” (Got Questions.org). The Bible commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25), and never treat them harshly (Colossians 3:19). In loving marriages, where Christ is at the center of the relationship, both spouses will love, respect, and submit to each other as unto the Lord. Pastors, lay counselors, and Christian counselors must educate themselves about this silent but deadly epidemic. They must learn to counsel and to provide a safe environment and resources within the church for victims of domestic violence, instead of relying on secular agencies.
As the survivors of Mr. Fogle’s abuse recover from the carnage he has left behind, I pray for the day when we, as Christians, will be able to detect, prevent, and offer unconditional support to the victims of abuse and domestic violence. To continue to ignore the problem has fatal consequences.