Many years ago Catherine Clark Kroeger faced a decision that would influence her life's course. Serving alongside her pastor husband, Catherine became aware of a woman in her church whose husband was physically abusing her.
Incredibly, several influential church leaders discouraged Catherine from getting too involved. "To them, I was destroying the home by encouraging the woman to get away from the abuse," she remembers.
Then Catherine received a call from the battered woman's counselor, who said, "You've got to get either the husband or the wife out of the home, or you're going to have a murder."
So Catherine drove to the woman's house to pick her up and help her find shelter. "I decided preserving the life was more important at that time than preserving the family," Catherine says. It wasn't a popular choice among members of her congregation, but the woman likely is alive today because of it.
It was the first in a series of similar incidents that made Catherine realize the prevalence of domestic violence within Christian circles, and how women desperately need help. She went on to become a seminary professor, counselor at a local shelter, and coauthor of two books on domestic violence.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. And this statistic often excludes incidents of emotional and sexual abuse that go untold.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than cancer or traffic accidents. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gyneco-logists, domestic violence is the cause of nearly a quarter million hospital visits every year.
In their book No Place for Abuse (IVP Books), Catherine and coauthor Nancy Nason-Clark reveal that 83 percent of American and Canadian clergy interviewed during a six-year study shared that at some point in their ministry they've counseled a woman who has an abusive spouse or partner. Additionally, Paula Silva, cofounder of Focus Ministries, a small Illinois-based organization that reaches out to battered women, reports that her ministry alone received 2,000 calls, e-mails, and visits in 2007 from Christian women in abusive situations seeking help.
"Saying that abuse isn't happening to women within the church is like saying sin doesn't happen," says Paula, who's also coauthored Violence Among Us: Ministry to Families in Crisis (Judson Press).