Culture of Kindness Can Help Combat Domestic Violence,
By Jimmy Phillips, Adventist World intern, and Mark A. Kellner, news editor
It is more important to be kind than it is to be right,” Seventh-day Adventist world church president Jan Paulsen told a cohort of church family ministries specialists from around the world on June 12 during remarks to an “Abuse and Violence Taskforce” convened in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The two-day session drew church leaders from North America as well as the Inter-American and South Pacific church regions. Types of abuse studied included violence against “intimate partners,” such as spouses, as well as child abuse and elder abuse. A chief recommendation was that pastoral resources to help fight abuse need to be strengthened, since a large number of victims approach pastors about abuse but say the response isn’t always optimal.
In informal comments to the group, Paulsen emphasized that while the “rightness” of Adventist doctrine is vital to the church’s mission, it is equally important, if not more so, to leave others, even family members, with an understanding of our care for them as individuals.
KINDNESS COUNTS: Jan Paulsen, world president of theSeventh-day Adventist Church, emphasizes the need for kindness among church members and with others during a taskforce meeting on abuse and violence held in Silver Spring, Maryland, as Karen Flowers, codirector of the church’s Family Ministries Department, looks on.“Sometimes we can be so aggressive about our ‘rightness’ that our capacity to communicate the other values Christ wants us to communicate [is] lost,” he added.
“It is very, very important for us, for our own spiritual experience, how we treat one another [and] how we act with one another,” Paulsen said, recalling recent commencement remarks he delivered at church-owned Walla Walla College in Washington State. “It’s important that we know what we believe, but surely it is important that we treat each other well.”
He emphasized that “violence of any kind in the church” is unacceptable: “We need to develop a culture of kindness, care, consideration, [and] non-abuse,” Paulsen said, adding that abuse “is not just physical; mental abuse can be just as bad.”
While acknowledging the diversity of cultures within the Seventh-day Adventist movement, the world president said there are “elements of humanity that transcend all cultures, and we must stand” for these.
“It matters a lot to Christ how we treat the people who cannot speak for themselves,” Paulsen added.
Dr. René Drumm, a sociologist who chairs the social work department at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, was the principal researcher on a field study of abuse in one North American region of the church. The study, which focused on the North Pacific Union Conference, covering the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, is believed to be the first of its kind in any denomination.
Drumm surveyed 1,431 adults—men and women—and found some startling results. Nearly 34 percent of women and more than 20 percent of men reported being assaulted by an intimate partner. For women, these numbers were on the high end of previous studies. But for men, the percentage was significantly greater.
Ron Flowers, world church codirector of Family Ministries, believes that the groundbreaking data is a vital piece to “help break the silence on abuse in our denomination.”
Drumm agrees and adds that we must do more than talk about abuse: “Now that we have the data, it is our ethical and moral responsibility to promote peace and healing to ultimately end abuse in the Adventist Church.”
She believes any action toward this goal must be initiated and cultivated by pastoral teams because they are “the center of operations for the Adventist Church.”
Pastors have a unique opportunity to present these messages from the pulpit and work with their unions and conferences to sponsor special antiabuse Sabbaths in their local churches.
RESEARCH DATA: Dr. René Drumm, a sociologist who chairs the Social Work Department at Southern Adventist University inCollegedale, Tennessee, was the principal researcher on a field study of abuse in one North American region of the church.However, that is only the threshold, she said. Drumm advanced numerous ideas she would like to see implemented in the global Adventist Church including Adventist shelters for women, greater pastoral education on abuse, and the opportunity for churches to hold parenting and healthy relationship seminars.
While getting these initiatives moving is important, Drumm feels the real key is in the evaluation: “We need to make goals, put things in place, and then measure the success. Then we have systematic things happening; that’s what I want to be a part of.”
Despite being limited to one church region in the United States, Drumm says the data is pretty indicative of Caucasian Adventists in North America. One of the reasons she feels confident about this fact is that a smaller survey done at Andrews University had nearly identical results. This she says “adds strength and validity to our survey.”
And while the survey is not indicative of the church outside of North America, discussion at the Task Force showed abuse to be a global issue. Drumm suggests how other cultures can use this study as a platform: “This survey can be a starting point for other cultures to sift through and decipher what applies to them. Then they can use similar instruments to gather information about their own people.”
In 1995, 1996, and 1997, the world leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church issued several statements on abuse issues, which can be found online by clicking here.