POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 5, 2011
The most challenging problem the Rev. Al Miles faces in dealing with domestic violence among churchgoers is the denial that the problem exists.
"It doesn't happen here!" is the oft-repeated response from faith leaders.
"People have this idea that church is this fairy-tale creation where everyone loves each other and things that happen in the world don't happen here," said Miles, a national and statewide consultant on violence in the home and longtime chaplain at the Queen's Medical Center.
"Everywhere I travel, it's the same thing," he said.
The situation has not improved in the 10 years since the book was first published, he said.
Miles cites a 2006 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System that almost 1 in 3 women nationally suffers physical abuse. He said the statistic holds true today and applies to Hawaii.
And the numbers do not reflect the more pervasive emotional, spiritual and psychological abuse of victims, he added.
In his updated edition, Miles recognizes two new factors. The economic downturn exacerbated the stress often blamed for violence, based on the 2009 National Census of Domestic Violence Services. Miles also prods clergymen who believe homosexuality is a sin to give gay people the same support and compassion as heterosexuals.
Miles said pastors who do not believe violence exists among their parishioners often tell him, "The women never talk to me about it."
But if the problem is never discussed at the pulpit, it gives the impression the pastor is not open to victims or qualified to help them, and women take it as a signal to remain silent, he said.
AGENCIES OFFER HELP TO VICTIMSVictims of domestic violence and church leaders seeking training and assistance can contact the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 832-9316 or www.hscadv.org.
The coalition is the umbrella organization, at 716 Umi St., Suite 210, in Honolulu, for service provider agencies on each island.
Some of the main agencies are:
» Big Island — Child & Family Services: 969-7798 (East Hawaii); 326-1607 (West Hawaii); West Hawaii Family Crisis Shelter: 322-SAFE/7233 (24-hour).
» Kauai -- YWCA Family Violence Shelter & Crisis Line: 254-6362 (24-hour).
» Lanai — Women Helping Women: 565-6700 or 579-9581 (24-hour collect calls).
» Maui — Women Helping Women: 242-6600 or 579-9581 (24-hour).
» Molokai — Hale Ho'omalu Shelter: 567-6888 (24-hour).
The initial response of pastors is, "I can't believe these are the men I know," as the perpetrators might be an exemplary church leaders or good friends, he added.
"My pastor says to stay, pray and obey and everything will be OK," victims tell Miles.
"They're given a lot of Scripture that would trap them," he adds.
As Scripture has been used to justify slavery, racism and child abuse, some Scripture is wrongly quoted out of context to justify turning a blind eye to domestic violence, Miles said. Several passages are used to advocate forgiveness of the perpetrator without holding him accountable for his actions.
In his book, Miles says, "God, Jesus Christ, the Bible and church doctrine offer no excuses or justification for this kind of abuse; in fact, they all condemn domestic violence."
He has found that clergy often hesitate referring women to safe shelters or secular agencies for help because they might recommend victims leave their homes and marriages. During training sessions, clergy usually protest that "the marriage has to be saved at all costs," Miles said. "I tell them they are putting the sanctity of marriage before the safety of women and their children."
He added, "I impress upon them (pastors) that it is the woman's decision to stay or leave, not the pastor's or any counselor's."
Miles urged faith leaders to get training and connect with service providers before they talk to their congregation because "dozens of women will come to them, and they're overwhelmed." They should be prepared to give out brochures and a list of resources and have a service provider on hand at church, he said.
"I get worried when I hear pastors say they will set up training themselves. I've been doing this for 25 years, and I still collaborate with others because they have more specific training than me. I cannot say it enough: I don't want clergy to try to take this on themselves.
"They mean well but they're causing more harm," Miles said.
Usually, pastors call the two parties together to try to get at the truth, which can put the victim in danger of punishment later. He said pastors are often taken in by perpetrators who appear to show sincere repentance, and arrange quick fixes, but it takes years and years to make lasting changes.
Nanci Kreidman, executive director of the Domestic Violence Action Center in Hawaii, said a recent Domestic Violence Report also said 1 of 3 women globally is abused. Although evidence seems to support the statistic locally, it is difficult to pin down exact numbers, she said.
The number of local clients seeking restraining orders has increased since the economic downturn began two years ago, Kreidman said. Her agency frequently holds training sessions with Miles, who has "been the champion" among clergy in the state to end the violence, she said.
"Clergy want to hear from other clergy. I think people are uplifted by his message. It helps them (victims) sort out the biblical doctrine they're confused by when they're suffering," Kreidman said.