On a beautiful November afternoon in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Andrew Sutherland, a Master of Divinity student at Acadia Divinity College sat down with Dr. Stephen McMullin, Academic Dean and the Sheldon and Marjorie Fountain Associate Professor of Evangelism and Mission at ADC. They chatted about Dr. McMullin’s new book, Religion and Intimate Partner Violence: Understanding the Challenges and Proposing Solutions, which he co-authored with Nancy Nason-Clark, Barbara Fisher-Townsend, and Catherine Holtmann.
Q: Could you tell me a little about the book and how it approaches the topic of the intersection of religion and intimate partner violence?
A: Sure. The four of us who wrote the book are all sociologists and for a number of years have been studying how churches and church leaders can play a role in responding to victims of domestic violence. Not only responding, but addressing the problem as well. Through some major research projects, we have looked at communities across North America and how religious communities and leaders are involved, or not involved, with those in the community who respond to victims of domestic violence. In particular, I’ve visited seminaries in the United States and Canada, seeing how they are preparing people who will be serving as pastors.
Through the years we’ve published a number of articles on the issue, and actually some books too. You could say this book is the final product that puts together a lot of the conclusions of our research.
Q: How did you, as Professor of Evangelism and Mission at ADC, get involved in working on a book focused on intimate partner violence?
It really goes back to when I was a pastor. I discovered there were a lot of people who were victims of domestic violence, in the community and within the congregation. I became convinced, and I still am, that addressing those needs is an important aspect of the witness of the church. And when the church ignores the needs of people, or when their lack of understanding of social problems can lead to people being in even greater danger, that really can damage the witness of the church in the community. I think that in terms of evangelism and mission, it is very helpful to our witness when people see that the church is engaged with people’s real problems and that we want to respond with love and practical help.
Q: Why is this topic, domestic violence and abuse, a relevant and important topic for our ADC community, and local congregations, to think about and discuss?
Because it is in every community and it is in every congregation. Our research discovered that a lot of pastors do not realize that someone in their congregation has been a victim. And yet, whenever we have done anonymous surveys in congregations, we discover about 25 percent of women say they have been a victim of abuse, either at the hands of their husband or a previous friend or partner. And that has been a surprise to many pastors. It cuts across pretty well all lines, whether rural or urban, wealthy or poor, educated or uneducated. Victims of domestic violence are really found everywhere. I think the book will show pastors that right in their congregation they have people who are victims. And probably perpetrators of the violence as well. And beyond each congregation, the needs of the people in the community are great.
Q: That is a shocking statistic, looking around our communities and realizing that 25 percent of women have experienced domestic violence…
A: That doesn’t mean right now, it could be years in the past. But they have experienced it, yes.
Q: What are some of the ways in which the book encourages us to respond and engage with the reality of intimate partner violence in our churches and communities?
A: We suggest that pastors and churches need to be a part of a wider community response. There are some things we believe pastors and churches can do very well. For example, knowing how to help a victim find safety immediately when they are in danger, being able to provide the kind of spiritual care that they will need over a long period of time, and providing community for that person. I should point out that victims of domestic violence can be women or men. Even addressing the issue in a sermon can be very therapeutic for people who have been a victim, for them to know that the church clearly states that this is behavior is wrong. But we also think that it is important that pastors not try to handle these situations on their own, but rather refer to others in the community who are trained, such as a counselor or therapist, or law enforcement, as the case may be.
Religion and Intimate Partner Violence is published through Oxford University Press, and will be available through the publisher and various online retailers on November 22, 2017. Dr. Stephen McMullin is the Academic Dean of Acadia Divinity College and the Sheldon and Marjorie Fountain Associate Professor of Evangelism and Mission.