Domestic violence: Church problem or national problem?

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The Jamaica Observer of Monday, January 29, 2018, quoting from research by The Violence Prevention Alliance, noted that “Domestic violence contributes to most hospital-treated injuries in Clarendon.”

Not so long ago, on July 6, 2018, the Jamaica Information Service ( JIS) revealed, “Each year there is an increase in the number of persons who are victims or have been affected by intimate partner violence in Jamaica.”

The Sunday Gleaner of October 7, 2018 screamed: ‘Cruel Christians! – Church elder blasts those who use the Bible to justify abuse’. I recoiled when I first saw the headline.

We have a problem!

From the news reports above, it’s clear that:

1) Domestic violence is a growing problem.

2) There’s increasing societal impact.


A pastoral colleague of mine told me a story from his early days as a junior pastor. There was an issue of domestic violence in the church and the senior pastor, without hesitation, excommunicated the man who had beaten his wife. The senior pastor then called a meeting of the church and made the following statement:

“Any man of this church who dares to hit his wife will be immediately excommunicated without fear or favour!”

One male congregant shouted, “What about the women?”

The senior pastor continued, “And any woman of this church who dares to hit her husband…that husband will be immediately excommunicated without fear or favour!”

When the junior pastor questioned the wisdom of the senior pastor’s ruling, he was told that it’s the duty of the husband to create such love in his home that neither his hand will need to be raised against his wife, nor hers against him.

As much as I dislike the Sunday Gleaner headline I would be the first to admit that it is the duty of the Church to demonstrate, teach and work to create such love environment in society that these issues of violence, domestic and otherwise, will surely go away.

That said, it is important to examine the following:

1) Does the Church sanction domestic violence?

2) Is the Church doing anything to convince its congregants that there is no room for this sin in their lives?

3) Is there any correlation between domestic violence and our current high level of societal violence in general?

4) What is really at the root of the violence problem and can we solve it?


Let’s quickly settle the first question. The Church cannot sanction domestic violence or abuse of any sort because it is diametrically opposed to its teaching on love of God and love of neighbour.

The Church as a community will always have people who, through their free will or immaturity, step outside of the mandates of the Word of God, whether clergy or laity. It is particularly sad when it comes from clergy who should have long emptied themselves of the “dutty sit dung in a dem”. Those who are still guilty — and we know there are a few — are encouraged to go get immediate help.

The individual sin is to be addressed decisively and redemptively, no matter what shape or form it takes. Like the pastor in the story above, I would hope that all pastors would redemptively address the issues of domestic violence in their congregations, without fear or favour. Such behaviour is not a part of God’s kingdom.

Which leads us to our second question. The Sunday Gleaner article went on to say that the Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Professor Isabel Apawo Phiri, acknowledged that “…the Bible has been used by some Christians in instances to justify abuse in the church…”

She is quoted as going on to say, “I know there are some who read the Bible and they think the Bible is telling them to be violent to their partners, and that kind of reading of the Bible we are saying ‘no’ to, because it is a wrong way of reading the Bible.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Professor Phiri. Any reading of the Bible that results in a doctrine or decision to abuse, harm, or destroy anyone is an incorrect reading of the word of God and does not reflect the whole counsel of God’s word!

If such thinking exists, then perhaps the challenge to all pastors is to preach with more clarity on the love of God and its relevant application to domestic relationships. It is one thing for it to be happening because of human weaknesses and immaturity, but quite a different thing to justify it on biblical grounds.

Last week Sunday, my column was titled, ‘Clear signs, follow them! Act!’ The spate of domestic violence and murders over the past few weeks is a clear sign that we must speak and act to help our people understand that there is no room, no reason, and no biblical rationale whatsoever to abuse your spouse or children…or anyone for that matter. To commit murder, or to maliciously maim another is wicked and evil! To sanction it, or know about it and do nothing about it, is just as evil!

It is time we stop participating in the actions of evil men and women. Yes, you participate every time you know of violence and murder yet do nothing to try to help get the perpetrator caught.


Domestic violence & societal violence

Our third question now looms. The easy answer is: Yes, there is a correlation between domestic violence and general violence in our society. The more difficult question is why.

Violence has root beds in family, community and societal structures such as schools and clubs. Those who suffer violence at home are more likely to experience it as normal, expected, and to be utilised as a method to relieve frustration or settle disputes. After all, children live what they learn. If the violence learned in family is reinforced by community and societal structures, then violence becomes the only or most likely option that a growing child will choose to settle differences, even celebrate victories, domestically or otherwise.

Domestic violence does not start when a perceived act of violence is committed. Its seed was sown from childhood in a heart and mind that was not correctly taught and trained in fundamental values that form character. Often that child’s heart and mind does not experience love, positive fatherhood, and guidance. A life not taught to value self and others, not taught to respect the sanctity of life and the rights of others, I believe, will more easily embrace violence. A life not trained to develop self-control, discipline, caring, communicating, and relating by dialogue will likely not develop them.

It is this poor quality seed that has grown and produced citizens who are ill-tempered, insecure, selfish, easily angered citizens, and therefore prone to violent behaviour. This same seed, when accompanied by a social environment of poor education, poverty, injustice, constant observance of negative hostile behaviour in homes, community, and the visual images of Hollywood will naturally produce a society with a high incidence of violence.

Domestic violence and criminal violence spring from the same seed. Our major national problem is that we continue to prioritise solution analysis of the fruit we see and feel, completely forgetting to examine the seed that produces the fruit. Supporting this thought is the accepted, expert-researched view that character in children is formed between birth and eight years old, and solidly cemented by age 12. Very little change in personhood comes after that, except by a Damascus Road experience, like Paul the Apostle had in the book of Acts.

If as a society we know that to be true, then it must mean that early childhood and primary education must be centred on character development as the priority. The academics are important but cannot take the priority at this stage of the development cycle. The evidence suggests it should be character development, supported by academics, and not academics without character.

This is why US President Theodore Roosevelt correctly said: “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” If Roosevelt is correct then we may have discovered one reason we have such a high number of males who are a menace to society.

With all the knowledge we have at our disposal, yet when we look at our current educational models, especially at the primary level, the focus and drive is to pass the Grade Six Achievement Test or mastery in the Primary Exit Profile, with little or no interest in the child’s character development.

Do any of the exams test our children on values and attitudes or life’s success pillars? At the early childhood and primary levels values should be infused in the teaching of every subject area. By way of information there are educational programmes existing that are doing just that in the US and Canada, and a few here in Jamaica. The evidence in the USA shows that these schools are not having the problems of the public schools and the academic achievements are even higher. Sadly there are those who are more concerned with forcing sex education with homosexual material at the early childhood stage more than they are to have morals and values infused and taught. What a something!

Good family life training and sound value-based education are the keys to stable societies and great nations. The first eight years of a child’s life should be reserved primarily to shape and lay the foundation for the integrity and quality of character necessary for productive and successful adulthood.

The stature of a person is not judged by their ability or possessions but by who they are in character. The concept stated here, albeit imperfect as it was, is how the early Jamaica was built. The shift of the last 35 years has produced what we have today. What will we do about our tomorrow is the question we must wrestle with now.

We cannot afford for it to be lost on us that undisciplined and angry children who lack self-control become undisciplined and angry adults who lack self-control. The angry adults we have today menacing spouses and communities with violence are those we raised yesterday. So it’s imperative that we act quickly with our current crop of children so that our tomorrows don’t keep worsening.


The root?

It is time we accept the clear signs that domestic violence is a growing problem just as criminal violence in its various expressions. It’s time we understand that this is so, for the same primary root causes.

An undisciplined, uncontrolled angry mind with insecurities and identity issues will display violent behaviours in any situation of the least conflict. This is a reality for significant numbers in our population and is more pronounced in our men — the main perpetrators of societal violence.

Much of this goes back to the often-stated family breakdown, fatherlessness, poor education, economic lack, and the weakening ability of the Church — or even the opportunity — to boldly inculcate the proven, time-tested, Christian values and attitudes into a changing culture.

Yet these values are the only things that historically have successfully worked in transforming lives. We must face that we have a major violence crisis perpetrated mainly by the 15- to 36-year-old cohort which can easily be correlated to a lack of moral values and a breakdown in the education and training from home and school in the last 35 years.


Crisis times call for crisis action

I have been publicly calling for us, as a nation, and the Government in particular, to treat the crime and violence giant as a societal epidemic. Take urgent, drastic, yet positive measures. Attack the root causes in a curative way while applying short-term palliative measures to quarantine and ease the pain being caused by the fruits.

I have recommended in my columns a workable Fresh Start approach to tackling our violence issues from a relevant moral-based approach. I have called on the Church corporate to unite and, through its leaders, join me in pressing the Government to take a Fresh Start approach toward our crime and violence.

To date neither the Opposition nor the Government has responded. I restate that we will not let up until a clear response is given. Be mindful that our country’s condition cannot allow a long wait. I am now making an additional call for a response.

I invite all citizens to join in the call. It is directed firstly to the Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid and by extension to our new-era, change agent Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Government. Minister Reid, lead the way in tackling the seed of our violence problem by refocusing our early childhood and primary education processes to be firstly value-based character development, and secondarily academic and testing for comprehension on both. If no, tell us why not. If yes, tell us when.

I have only a Jamaica First, national transformation agenda for the progress and prosperity of our people and the glory of God the Father. If you do too then take up your pen or electronic pad and write to Minister Reid. Title it: ‘Values Curriculum for Early Childhood Now!’ Let’s do it!

Copyright © 2018 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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